Modesty is a Part of Faith
A few years back a friend of mine asked me whether it’s okay or not for a Muslim sister to wear jeans. Instead of giving her a quick yes or no answer, I gave it a bit of a thought and I figured that it’s better for her if I teach her how to catch a fish instead of giving her a fish.
So I came up with a simple 3-step guideline which is applicable to both Muslim women and Muslim men.
Step 1: Follow the Islamic dress code
We Muslims do have a “dress code” and a code means a set of standards. This is a huge topic in and of itself that covers from head to toe, but as an example, I would like to take one aspect of the dress code and that is the parts of the body one must cover.
There are certain parts of the body that we need to cover and the requirements are different for men and for women, according to situations.
When I say “different”, I don’t mean one is better than the other. It just means that they are different and there’s nothing inherently wrong about that.
These parts are called ‘awra which linguistically means “that which must be kept hidden”. It also refers to that which causes or should cause one to feel ashamed if exposed. It is also commonly translated as “nakedness”.
Since ‘awra is meant to be kept hidden, it makes sense why we shouldn’t wear anything tight or see-through. Even though technically speaking one does cover oneself with tight or see-through clothing, one doesn’t keep the ‘awra hidden. The ‘awra is still considered exposed.
This applies to both the men and the women, however I have to stress it a little bit towards the women. The Prophet made a prophecy that there will come a time when there will be a group of women who are dressed and yet they’re naked (because you can still see the ‘awra).
Abu Hurayra narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said, "Two groups of Hellfire I have yet to see ... and the other are women who are clothed yet naked, ... They shall not enter Jannah, nor even smell its fragrance, even though its fragrance can be smelt for such and such distance." (Reported by Imam Muslim)
At this point I would like to emphasize that just because someone doesn’t adhere to the Islamic dress code, that doesn’t make that person less of a Muslim than any other Muslim. You’ve probably heard this phrase countless of times: nobody is perfect. That phrase is true the first time you heard it, and it is still true now.
We all make mistakes and we are all trying to be the best Muslim that we can be. One day you might see a sister without a hijab, but who knows, somewhere along the road she might be rockin' a hijab, a jilbab, a niqab, and eating a kebab, with her super-cool husband.
Step 2: Be comfortable
I don’t think I have to explain this point, but I would like to mention that I purposefully placed this step after step 1 which is adhering to the Islamic dress code and before step 3 which is…
Step 3: Be fashionable and presentable
Let it be known that Islam is not against fashion. Islam doesn’t prohibit us from looking presentable, as long as the dress code is not violated.
In addition to that, check out this Hadeeth:
Once the Prophet (pbuh) wore a beautiful cloak on Friday ... , gifted to him by a neighbouring ruler, and the people said, "We have never seen any garment like this!" To which the Prophet (pbuh) replied, "Are you impressed with this?! Verily the handkerchief of Sa'ad bin Mu'az in Paradise is better than what you see." (Reported by Imam Tirmidhi)
The main point here is simple: there is nothing wrong with looking good and wearing beautiful clothes, as long as we don’t attach our hearts to them. They are just things.
So if someone spilled water all over your fancy shirt, don’t go all berserk. It’s just a shirt.
Those are the 3-step guideline for how to properly dress up in Islam. These steps are the order of priority and keeping that priority in check is easier said than done - allow me to elaborate on that last point.
Some of us might sacrifice our comfort in the name of fashion. Wearing very uncomfortable clothes just to be seen as fashionable and hip. However, there are times when you have to sacrifice your comfort to safeguard the dress code.
For example, say that you work in a restaurant and your boss made is compulsory for you to wear shorts (the kind of shorts that make boxers look more modest). If there is no room for negotiation, the right thing to do is to defend your right to express your religion or to quit the job. That is not something that many of us can readily do because we are essentially sacrificing our comfort i.e. having a job and getting paid. But it is a sacrifice worth making in the long run.
But whatever the situation may be, when it comes to keeping our priority in check in terms of how we dress as Muslims, there is one key question that we have to ask ourselves, “Are we trying to impress the people or are we trying to impress Allah?”
Remember, modesty is a part of faith, and your faith will be tested.