Anyone who thinks about it recognizes the falsehood of the old saying “Clothes make the man.” Yet for many the piety of a Muslim woman is defined by how she dresses.
Men who do not themselves pray regularly or fast Ramadan often become very agitated by a Muslim woman who does not cover her hair, as if by doing so she is automatically following the faith. However, the Quran tells us that the best garment is righteousness:
O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of God’s signs, that they may take heed. (7:26)
Interestingly the Quran does not require a woman to cover her hair, but rather to dress modestly and to cover her chest as we see in the following verses and their footnote from Dr. Rashad Khalifa’s translation of the Quran:
Dress Code for Believers*
Tell the believing men that they shall subdue their eyes (and not stare at the women), and to maintain their chastity. This is purer for them. God is fully Cognizant of everything they do.
And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes, and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their chests, and shall not relax this code in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake and reveal certain details of their bodies. All of you shall repent to God, O you believers, that you may succeed.* (24:30-31)
*24:30-31 Dressing modestly, therefore, is a trait of the believing men and women. The minimum requirements for a woman’s dress is to lengthen her garment (33:59) and to cover her chest. Tyrannical Arab traditions have given a false impression that a woman must be covered from head to toe; such is not a Quranic or Islamic dress.
These verses make it clear that the intention is for Muslims of both genders to be modest in their dress and behavior. If a woman chooses to cover her hair it is fine. However, in Western society she may draw less attention to herself if she does not cover her hair, but just dresses and behaves modestly. Perhaps the issue has been confused by the fact that the Arabic word for the covering on the chest is the same word that has come to mean the hair-cover. In actuality it simply is the word for a cover, any cover, and does not imply a cover for the hair.
This stress on dressing modestly rather than in any specific “Muslim uniform” is reiterated in the following verse:
Dress Code for Women
O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized (as righteous women) and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful. (33:59)
Again we see the intent is to be modest, to be recognized as being righteous. But does dressing modestly mean looking plain and unattractive? Not if we take the descriptions of how the dwellers of Paradise will be dressed as examples!
They have deserved gardens of Eden wherein rivers flow. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and will wear clothes of green silk and velvet, and will rest on comfortable furnishings. What a wonderful reward; what a wonderful abode! (18:31)
God will admit those who believe and lead a righteous life into gardens with flowing streams. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and pearls, and their garments therein will be silk. (22:23)
On them will be clothes of green velvet, satin, and silver ornaments. Their Lord will provide them with pure drinks. (76:21)
Surely if the believers dress beautifully in Paradise, it cannot be unrighteous to do so here. And indeed God tells to dress nicely when we go to the mosques:
Dress Nicely For The Masjid
O children of Adam, you shall be clean and dress nicely when you go to the masjid. And eat and drink moderately; Surely, He does not love the gluttons. (7:31)
Thus, God makes it clear that we can and indeed should at times dress well. We do not need to be plain to still maintain modesty.
In all of this discussion, the most important thing to remember is that: “the best garment is the garment of righteousness.” If you keep your focus on pleasing God, the garment of righteousness will never fade, or wrinkle, or become moth-eaten. It will never go out of style, nor become too small. Clearly it is the most important garment in your wardrobe!