Quranic dress code for women – What Muslim women can or can’t wear?


News reports from Pakistan brought to my attention some self appointed moral policemen who walk to women in Karachi and tell them to cover up their heads. According to the widely held belief among Muslims, women are required to cover themselves from head to toe.

‘Of course and why not? ‘, I thought. ‘They are doing the rightful task assigned to them by Allah in divine text. I decided to support and contribute in this holy task by making my mum, sister and wife cover up themselves using Burkas (body veil). I thought of doing some research as I will need help to convince them.

While googling over the internet for some support for my cause, I discovered this individual called Queen Rania of Jordan. She claimed herself as a devout Muslim, offers prayers five times in a day and yet wear sleeveless shirts and knee high skirts. That is a contradiction, I thought. Shouldn’t she at least wear a Hijab to cover up her head, if not a complete Burka, in order to call herself a devout Muslim? How can she be a devout Muslim, while she is violating Quran on its prescribed dress code for women? I was outraged by her hypocrisy. I decided to contradict Rania by putting direct quotes from the Quran on her website and expose this hypocrite to the world.

Using indexes, I could only find one such verse in Quran that state dressing requirements for Muslim women:

24.31 “Enjoin believing women to turn their eyes away from temptation and to preserve their chastity; not to display their adornments; to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to display their finery except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ father, their sons, their step-sons, their slave-girls; male attendants lacking in natural vigour, and children who have no carnal knowledge of women. And let them not stamp feet when walking so as to reveal their hidden trinkets”

For my better understanding, I broke Surah into smaller, manageable portions and used an English dictionary for my aid. The results were not that helpful and instead pointed in the opposite direction:

Enjoin believing women to turn their eyes away from temptation and to preserve their chastity.”

Turning eyes away from temptation and preserve chastity (chastity means purity or virginity). Common knowledge tells that wearing skirts and short sleeves does not result in loss of virginity. If I can think of this then so can my wife, mum and sister, so no help here.

not to display their adornments; to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to display their finery”

Adornments mean ornaments, jewellery or other accessories, drawing veils over bosoms means covering their breasts (not the head, not arms, not legs, not the shoulders or abdomen but only breasts) and not to display their finery, meaning fine or fancy clothing. Damn! No help here.

except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ father, their sons, their step-sons, their slave-girls; male attendants lacking in natural vigour, and children who have no carnal knowledge of women.”

I thought, ‘hmm! Interesting, if applied smartly, it can help me save on some of the shopping expenses. ‘ But nothing to build a case for my argument on Burka.

And let them not stamp feet when walking so as to reveal their hidden trinkets”

To stamp feet when walking so as to reveal their hidden trinket (trinkets meaning small ornaments or small pieces of jewellery).

So all help I could get from the Quran was that they must not wear jewellery and fancy clothings while leaving home. They don’t have to cover head, use a Burka or to stay indoors. Even worse, they now have complete legitimacy to wear clothings showing off arms, legs and even abdomen. Grrrr….!

Outraged by my discovery, I turn my anger towards the so called Muslim Ulmaz (clerics) instead, who have somehow managed to deceive me and many others like me into the absurd concept of forcing women into head to toe Burka and locking them indoors.

I do not understand how was this straight forward Surah translated as such that it would make common folks lock-up women indoors, cover them up head to toe and bar women from talking to men? Even if for a while we assume that women are violating prescribed dress code, where does the Quran ask men to self-appoint ourselves as moral police over women folks and ask them to cover up?


6 Responses to “Quranic dress code for women – What Muslim women can or can’t wear?”

  1. Babar said

    I have received following link from a friend containing 17 videos of average 8 minutes each i.e.2 hours duration of total viewing.
    Speaker has covers in detail the Islamic concept of Hijaab qouting various Quranic verses. I do not oppose or endorse the views of speaker, yet feel that it is worth viewing.

  2. Zargham said

    A point to understand while interpreting Quran is "One need to look towards Hadith also". Quran alone doesn’t describe everything in details. Simple example is how to say prayers. Quran tells how many prayers are there and their timings but not the How?. There are orders of Ablution, Hajj and many others and you can only understand all this if you read Hadith along with Quran.

    This is not the only Ayat about the veil

    "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their [jalabib] (Jilbabs) over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." 33:59

    The term jilbab or jilbaab is the plural of the word jilaabah which refers to any long and loose-fit coat or garment.

    As mentioned earlier Head to toe is in Quran and is further explained in Hadith. For more you can look what is legal Satr defined for a woman in Islam. As far as locking up is concerned, in literal sense it is allowed in extreme cases (again for further read Hadith) and woman are forbidden to leave their homes until it is really necessary. In the last I will suggest to research and understand at least the basic concept before venturing into the subject. I know it is really in "fashion" to speak about very basics of Islam just because we think its “free world” and we are free to say anything we want. I can assure you one thing "reading Quran is one thing and understanding that is another". It’s like reading a book on surgery doesn’t qualify you to be a surgeon it takes much much more than that.

  3. Babar said

    Thank you for sharing your views Zargham.
    The sole purpose of above writeup is to make people, especially Muslims to think, debate and discover the religion of Islam by growing over our dogmas and regional taboos. To me at least, it is not just a fashion statement. So far and by large we have conveniently outsourced Islam to others, mostly those who we consider as saintly individuals or “Ullmas”, not putting in much effort of our own.
    Firstly, the word Jilaabah/Hijaab, which is generally translated as veil and means cover, separation, barrier or conceal is used in Quran at several occasions. For example in 41.5 it is used as a separator or a barrier between Muslims and non-Muslims:
    41.5: Yet most men turn their backs and pay no heed. They say: 'Our hearts are proof against the faith to which you call us. Our ears are stopped, and a thick veil stands between us. Do as you think fit, and so will we'
    In 17.45 it is used as 'cover' casted on the hearts of non-believers:
    17.45: When you recite the Quran, we place between you and those who deny the life to come a hidden barrier. We have cast veil over their hearts lest they understand it, and made them hard of hearing.
    Veil hence cannot be a 'long and loose fit coat or garment', considering the above uses in the Quran.
    With regards to Hadith, we must appreciate the fact that most Hadith were written more then 100 years after Prophet's death and were first compiled 200 years after PBUH died in year 632AD. The narrative of Prophet's life was passed on through word of mouth for over four generations (and more) before it was first written and then finally compiled. The possibility of errors in details are therefore quite eminent.
    This is also the time of first and second 'fitna' or civil wars between Sunni and Shia Muslims. As they say 'truth is the first casualty of war', same was attributed to the two narratives of Hadith as well i.e. the Sunni narrative and the Shia narrative, depending upon which one of the two Fiqas one follows. In last 1200 years, since these two narratives were first introduced, there is not even a single Hadith, which is agreed upon by all Muslims i.e. those written by Sunni scholars are unacceptable to Shai Muslims and those written by Shia scholars are unacceptable to Sunni Muslims.
    This is primarily due to the fact that Sunni scholars followed the narrative of Prophet's life given to them by the first three caliphs and Shia scholars quote the narrative of Prophet life given by Hazrat Aysha, the fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali, Hazrat Amam Hassan and Hazrat Amam Hussain. If you examine these narratives it becomes quite clear that there are very settled contradictions between how the Sunni Muslims and the Shai Muslims sees and narrates Prophet's life.
    There is also a third category or third narrative of Prophet's life i.e. of neutral or non-Muslim scholars who have taken their own independent stance on various aspects of Prophet's life. Yet as we all agree that Prophet Muhammad PBUH is a “Rehmat” for all mankind, we however do not agree on how he lived his life.
    Besides the above, some scholars, both the religious and secular, have also presented an argument that Prophet lived his life according to teachings of Allah given in shape of Quran to him. Life of Prophet and his followers besides being influenced by teaching of Allah was also subjected to the cultural norms and taboos of year 600AD tribal Arabia. Therefore, Quran which is sent for entire humanity, for all times and all cultures can not be examined in narrow scope of Arabian culture of that specific period. Especially when there is not much of an agreement on how the holy Prophet actually lived his life.

  4. Zargham said

    Word used in both Ayats is Hijab which is different than Jilbaab. Please get a good Arabic dictionary for the meaning. You are right Hadith was compiled more than 100 years after Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). But you didn't mention how much effort was put in this task. To distinguish right one's from wrong one's by tracing back the narrator to the Prophet (PBUH). Thats the reason you will see weak and strong Hadith. There is altogether different branch of knowledge knows as Asma-ul-Rijal for this field.
    Your knowledge about Sunni and Shiat hadith is also faulty. Sunni hadith are taken from any companion of the prophet that includes four caliphs, wives of the prophet (PBUH) and other Sihabas. Shiat hadith are mostly from Hazrat Umer and certainly not from Hazrat Ayesha.
    As I said earlier it’s not wise to comment on something about which one doesn’t have enough knowledge. The proper method would be to get as much knowledge as one can, not thinking it as a part time job and then may discuss that with some other knowledgeable person and then one can comment considering the fact that other's might have better opinion. Although I have general idea but I wont go into the why Shiat and Sunni Hadith differ as I haven’t study in detail on this topic.
    You just can’t keep Hadith aside and think that you can understand Quran. It’s just not possible. For example Can you tell me how to say prayers from Quran ONLY?

  5. Babar said

    But you would agree that even in the regular five prayers there are settled differences among Muslims in how they must be performed. This is primarily because both sects disagree on how Prophet used to perform his prayers i.e. Shias offer prayers at different time then Sunnies does and that Shias raise hand at each Takbir while Sunnies only at first.
    Sorry for putting Aysha instead of Fatima Zehra in my previous response. A mistake on my part. Shias follow traditions of 12 Imams and Hazrat Fatima Zehra (All Shia hadith are narratives of Prophet 's life coming from these sources). In Shia belief the first 3 caliphates of Sunnies are non valid. According to their faith Hazrat Ali was the first Imam, followed by his 2 sons as second and third, going all the way to 12th Imam, after which the Imamat ended.
    These traditions (Shia Hadith) are documented as Usul al-Kafi, Man al yahduruhu al-Fiqih, Al-Tahdhib and Al-Istibsar.
    There are quite settled differences between two traditions/narratives of Prophet's life in Shai and Sunnie schools of thought. Unfortunately in Pakistani school system, only Sunni traditions are taught with Shia kids totally relying on private training at homes. Hence not many Sunnies in Pakistan knows of these differences as well as the Shia kids do.
    With regards to translation of Quran following are the prominent ones for 24.31.
    YUSUFALI (By Yousaf Ali 1872-1953, an Indian Muslim):

    And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.

    PICKTHAL (By Marmaduke Pickthall 1875-1936, a Britisher who converted to Islam from Christianity):

    And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.

    SHAKIR (By Mohammedali Habib Shakir a Pakistani businessman and owner of Habib Bank and several other businesses):

    And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.

    In first two translations 'Jalbaab' is translated as veil and not as head-covering or for that matter any other form of garment. Only in the case of more recent translation done in 1980s in Pakistan, during General Zia's marshall law by Mr. Habib Shakir, 'Jalbaab' is translated as a head-covering.
    Sir my point here is simple, how are the first two translations wrong and the last one right. I just can't be so.

  6. Faruque Malik said

    My comment is only this “A never-ending darkness of MUNAFAQAT always spreads in the society when state highjacks religion for it’s own nefarious continuation.

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