Can Cultural Clothing Be Modest Too?

03 February, 2017
Q Dear brother or sister, I am stuck in a dilemma and I am hoping you can help me. I have been married for three years. I have a one year old son and another baby on the way. My wedding was arranged in Pakistan, but I have lived in the UK all my life. I get on well with my husband, but there is a rift growing between us and it is because of hijab. Currently, I wear a headscarf and abaya every time I am in public, be it for work or family event. He has never objected to it before, but for about a year and a half now it is all he objects to. He would like me to dress in traditional Pakistani clothes with a headscarf when I am in public. He does not wish for me to wear the abaya anymore. My parents-in-law also do not want me to wear the abaya as they feel it is not appropriate nor necessary. I have grown up with the belief that the abaya and headscarf was the best method of hijab. Do traditional Pakistani clothes worn in an appropriate manner meet the requirements of hijab? My husband says I must do as he says as he is not happy with the way I dress and that I should dress to please him, even in public, the way he would want me to, is he right to ask this of me and by refusing him am I wrong? Will I still meet hijab requirements in Pakistani clothing? Please help.


Asalamu Alaikum Saima,

Thank you for writing to us.

Your main question illustrates your dilemma between wanting to dress according to Islamic rules, while at the same time trying to please a husband who asks you to wear traditional Pakistani clothes.

It seems you think the clothes he asks you to wear are “less Islamic” than the ones you prefer wearing.

Obeying God or Pleasing Spouses?

The general Islamic rule is that there is no obedience to a human — no matter whom, even parents or spouses — if they use their authority to make us disobey God.

However, before applying this rule, we need to make sure first that what’s being requested is indeed a disobedience to God.

There are many side points in your question that I believe are equally important for you to establish peace in your life by the grace of Allah.

Let me tackle them one by one:

1. There is a growing rift between you and your husband. This is a symptom most couples experience after a few years of marriage, especially if children are born with a short time in between, straining the personal relationship and putting additional pressure on the woman as a mother, which drastically affects her role as a loving wife.

As a Muslim woman, you have an obligation to balance the two roles of wife and mother, while your husband has an obligation to help you regain your balance by offering you additional understanding, consideration, and tenderness, as well as by physically helping with your chores if possible.

You have to realize that within the short span of 3 years, your marriage has been arranged, you had to move from the UK to Pakistan, Allah has blessed you with two children, while you keep a job as well. Your parents-in-law seem to have a say in your personal life as well due to culture.

These are a lot of responsibilities for you to deal with in such a short time. Both of you as a Muslim couple need to put in a conscious effort to strengthen your bond and to get through these continuous tests of adapting and adjusting to each other and to new elements in your life.

This can only be done by getting closer and by showing more understanding to each other, asking Allah for support and guidance, and to plant love and compassion in your hearts and your home to please Him as best you could together as a couple.

I believe if this point is addressed seriously a lot of problems will disappear, including the one about your clothing, because it seems to me that what your husband is seeking is to make his presence as a husband felt in your busy life.

2. You are a Pakistani Muslim brought up in the UK. This means you needed to juggle two cultures to live happily in the UK, while retaining your identity and your religion.

Now you’ve gone back to Pakistan, so you are in a reverse culture shock. This is when people experience extreme stress trying to re-adapt to the mother culture after already having adjusted to another one for so many years.

There is always a dilemma between two traditions and cultures, and also balancing those with religion, and in your case, married life and children. A person moving to a new environment is already under a lot of pressure trying to conform to the local traditions in dress and behavior.

Unfortunately, sometimes this is done at the expense of true religious rules, which are nearly lost in the process of trying to keep social appearances.

Dress colors and style are a tradition, while clothing specifications are part of our religion which is applicable anywhere anytime and to all kinds of people from all kinds of cultures. Consequently, it’s unfair to label only one style of clothing as appropriate and over-rule anything else.

There seems to be a general misconception among Muslims today that the jilbab or abaya (culturally an Arab mode of dress) are the only permitted Islamic type of dress, when actually, any kind of clothing that meets the Islamic criteria is considered a lawful Islamic dress.

Moreover, the focus is only on women’s clothing, while the criteria for Islamic dress code and accompanying conduct extend to both men and women. According to the Quran and Sunnah, there are basically six criteria for Islamic clothing:

  • Obligatory cover: males should cover at least from the navel to the knees. And women should cover the complete body except the face and the hands. Islamic clothes for both sexes should NOT be:
  • So tight to the extent of detailing the figure.
  • Transparent or see-through.
  • So alluring that it is meant only to attract attention.
  • Particular of the opposite sex.
  • Resembling styles that identify — or are symbols of — other’s religions.

So, now you can see that there is a multitude of dressing styles that meet these criteria, and consequently can be worn by practicing Muslims. There is no reason for undue restriction.

In light of the above, you can easily please Allah, yourself, your husband, his family, and your society by dressing in the traditional Pakistani attire, because this mode of dress- as well as any cultural dress- can meet the Islamic hijab as long as it fulfills the above specifications. Abaya, or the Arab approach to hijab, is not the only way to fulfill hijab

May Allah always bless your home and give you a happy life. Please stay in touch.


Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Why Is Hayaa So Important?

Making Allah The Heart of Your Marriage

Why Is Islamic Marriage So Blissful?

Father’s influence: Between Culture And Religion

About Sahar El-Nadi
Sahar El-Nadi is an Egyptian freelance journalist who traveled to 25 countries around the world and currently based in Cairo. Sahar also worked in many people-related careers in parallel, including presenting public events and TV programs; instructing training courses in communication skills; cross cultural issues; image consulting for public speakers; orientation for first-time visitors to the Middle East; and localization consulting for international educational projects.