Short Answer: Muslim men are told in the preceding verse to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. Women are told in this verse to lower their gaze, guard their modesty, and cover themselves.
Salam (Peace) Dear Amy,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Your questions are always welcome. It’s a sign that you are reading and thinking a lot. I don’t consider any of your questions disrespectful.
A Woman’s Hair is Her Adornment
The verse in the Quran that tells the believing women to draw their veils over their bosoms also tells them to not display themselves to men.
The verse in full says:
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 vigor, 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. (Quran 24:31)
This is a clear order, and not something just based on cultural norms of the time.
Hijab for Men
Muslim men are told in the preceding verse to lower their gaze and guard their modesty. Women are told in this verse to lower their gaze, guard their modesty, and cover themselves.
If you don’t think that women’s hair is part of their adornment, then tell me why there are so many shampoos, creams, and conditioners on the market? Why there are so many beauty salons?
Perhaps because of this, it is rare (from my experience) to see a bare-chested man in Muslim societies (except at the beach).
In fact, the first Muslims I knew, Malaysians, told me that men had to cover their chests in front of women.
They might sit around the house without a shirt, but they would always put one on if a woman came to the door.
I’m not sure what you want to ask about this. You seem to accept that in many cultures men can expose more of themselves than women, so I think that what you’re really saying is that you can’t accept that women should cover completely.
I will say this much, though, that a long loose dress is a lot cooler in summer than jeans and a loose t-shirt!
Women Wearing Clothing for Men
Regarding wearing the clothes of the opposite sex, it is reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) cursed the man who imitates a woman and cursed the woman who imitates a man (Al-Bukhari and others).
For this reason, according to Al-Qaradawi,
… the Prophet (peace be upon him) forbade men to wear fabric decorated with large, loud, or bold designs. In his Sahih, Muslim reported Ali as saying, ‘The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) forbade me the wearing of a gold ring, a silken garment, and clothing with bold designs’” (The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam).
“Modesty” Determined by Culture
But what exactly defines men’s and women’s clothes is, in part, based on culture, and if you ask several different scholars about wearing pants, you’ll probably get several different answers.
Years ago I was at a party with other Muslim women and we talked about clothing. A woman from Syria said, “We were taught that it’s haram [forbidden] for a woman to wear pants [trousers].”
A woman from Pakistan responded, “We were taught in Pakistan that it’s haram not to wear pants.”
Note that in Pakistan, both men and women wear pants with a long tunic, but the men wear dull solid colors while the women wear bright prints.
However, you ask about loose jeans and a sweatshirt or shirt. I don’t think that such a top really meets the requirements of hijab.
Hijab must be opaque and loose enough and long enough to not define the shape of the body. Women’s waists and hips definitely hold attraction for men.
I hope I have answered your questions satisfactorily. I know that you—and many others—are struggling to understand and accept these issues. May God guide you to the right path!
Thank you and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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