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How is a Muslim Supposed to Dress?

One of the quirky questions reverts are often asked when embracing Islam is: “Do you have to dress like that?”

That often implies the long dress coupled with the headscarf for women, and not to mention, those that are predominantly black, as popularly portrayed by the media.

Men are not exempted from the same question too, with the general populace of Muslims being represented by the stereotyped Arab on television, who is often seen standing proud in a robe, a piece of clothing that represents Arab culture and was also donned by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during his lifetime.

It is funny that with only 15% of Muslims being of Arab descent, the image of a Muslim plays so prominently a role in the mind of a sceptical or curious non-Muslim. But new Muslims tend to wonder the same thing though: Do I need to dress like that now that I’m a Muslim?

The answer is no.

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The majority of scholars have agreed that the dress code for a Muslim is definitely stipulated in the Quran as one that is loose, modest, non-transparent and covers one’s body, without imitating the dress of the opposite gender.

As to how much one should cover, the minimal that Muslim men need to cover is from the navel to the knee, as a provision for those who work outdoors in fields. As for a Muslim woman, she covers her whole body, save for her hands and face.

But that dress code that people often question is not necessarily about the length of the dress or the material of the hijab (head cover). It is rarely about the color of the dress or wearing the turban. The worry of dressing “that way” runs further than just mere appearance.

Does it mean when a new Muslim dresses up the way a stereotyped Muslim does, he or she draws a curtain between the world and him or herself? Does it mean that there is no longer space or time for fun and games, relaxation and leisure? Does life have to be devoted in the continuous humdrum of worship without any breaks? Does the sun set on way a person’s lifestyle used to be, only to be warped in gloom of that dress code?

In the Quran, God lists out the way of dressing and behavior for Muslim men and women. He says:

{Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is acquainted with what they do.

And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their head covers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succed.} (24: 30-1)

So it falls as an obligation upon Muslims to observe the same to guard a person’s modesty and to bring out the intellect and drive of a Muslim that does not revolve around physical appearances and materialism.

The media plays the temptation harp in today’s negative influences, with women being lured into a shallow world of fashion, being enslaved to latest cosmetics, desperately following trends of the do’s and faux-pas when it comes to hair dye, shoes, handbags and lipsticks – all in the name of physical beauty, and mostly to please the opposite gender. And to say that men are exempted from such a fray is also a fallacy.

The rise of metro-sexuality has also caused the traditionally more callous gender to take a little more interest in their appearance: their skin, their hair, the abdominal muscles, and this can be seen in the suite of products tailored for them too –including the skimpier shirts- those that run a little tighter to show off their biceps and a little shorter, possibly to showcase their six-packs.

So when the Quran talks about modesty, it addresses both genders to remove temptations from each other and from competing within gender too. Without this certain air of self-indulgence, Muslims can concentrate on what is more pressing as a follower of the Islamic faith –to obey God’s orders and follow the exemplified way of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Yet as much the Quran relays the importance of modesty as half of the faith, it does not encourage – in fact, it shuns – Muslims from becoming antisocial hermits, wary of every temptation that comes their way.

Prophet Muhammad socialized with his neighbors, spent a lot of his time with his family, and greeted everyone who crossed paths with him – whether they were Muslims or not, whether they were friends or mere acquaintances.

He even spoke to strangers with great respect and modesty at the same time. He did this all with an air of joy and a sincere smile while wearing his traditional robe and turban. His companions were no different – they met with hoards of different people, travelling together for leisure, journeying on business trades, convening for social gatherings and when engaging in important dawah work.

As for the women – those who are so easily portrayed in the flowing black dress, twinned with a headscarf, the seerah relays of their adventures of horseback riding, co-leading political excursions, participating in lively debates in the mosque, educating the illiterate and curious, raising the next generation of Muslims, and holding prestigious careers of their time. They did all of this while dressed like that.

To say that Muslims have to become segregated from society and their dress code is testament to such seclusion is a grave misconception that has been propagated by those who are still learning about Islam. The Prophet said that Muslims can do anything they want to do, as long as it does not embarrass them:

“If you have no shame, then do as you please.” (Al-Bukhari)

And the Quran is strict on keeping away from the handful of prohibited material, such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco, and the excessive intermingling between genders that can cause chaos – besides that, Muslims are just required to cover up and just let loose in the open society as members of progression and fore-running development.

The material of clothing does not have to be of certain color or brand – as long as it is in consistent with the guidelines of modesty as laid out in the Quran and Sunnah, a Muslim has fulfilled the Islamic dress code. What is more important that in line with this modesty, any social, political or economic interaction plays in sync with the message of Islam – total submission and love for God and the emulation of Prophet Muhammad’s behavior at all times.

But still, to dress like that – why would you want to dress like that? Despite the important principles of clothing and cover as laid out in the Quran, Muslims are reminded that whatever comes with God’s creed holds wisdom like no other. There are plenty of benefits of observing loose and modest clothing.

Besides the curtailing of sexual innuendoes by both genders and the mitigation of self-indulgent materialism, loose clothing is also healthier to observe. It facilitates blood circulation, ventilation (especially in warm weather) and prevents a host of other illnesses such as yeast infection, heartburn, acid reflux, nerve condensation and can even curb the risks of dehydration and fainting.