Hijab and Muslim women’s dress code
By Dr. Abdullatif Aljibury

What has occupied Muslims and non-Muslims about the topic of hijab as the proper dress for a Muslim woman turns out to be a non-issue from a true Islamic point of view. There is no connection between
hijab as mentioned in the Quran and the woman’s dress code as is clearly advocated in the Quran. The subject matter is treated here in a purely rigorous Islamic methodology using the Quran and the authenticated Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) as the main sources of information regarding this matter. It is a purely an Islamic approach aimed at reaching the truth with regard to this issue which has become of great concern in our time. The truth of the matter turns out to be, (that hijab as is used in the Quran), has nothing to do with the Muslim woman’s dress code. The dress code for a Muslim woman has been clearly defined in the Quran. The dress code is very flexible in keeping with the changing times and circumstances ─it takes into consideration the social growth of the society.

Wisdom and logic have been mandated on us by our creator as the way to deal with matters of interests. (1) 16:125

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. أدع الى سبيل ربك بالحكمة والموعظة ألحسنة وجادلهم بالتي هي احسن أن ربك هو أعلم بمن ضل عن سبيله وهو أعلم بالمعتدين.

Allah admonishes us to “invite to the way of Allah with wisdom and proper calling and argue with them in the most gracious manner…”

To begin with let us see what connection there is, if any, in the Quran between hijab and the dress code of a Muslim woman. There are seven places in the Quran where the word hijab has been mentioned. We will scrutinize each and every one of them to see if there is any connection at all between the two.

The verses are:
1- Verse 7:46

Between them shall be a veil, and on the heights will be men who would know every one by his marks: they will call out to the Companions of the Garden, “peace on you”: they will not have entered, but they will have an assurance (thereof). وبينهما حجاب وعلى الأعراف رجال يعرفون كلا بسيماهم ونادوا أصحاب الجنة أن سلام عليكم لم يدخلوها وهم يطمعون

In this verse God tells us about the way the people who inhabit paradise are separated from those who inhabit the hell fire, there is a barrier or an obstacle that separates the two.

The word hijab is used here to clearly mean an allegorical physical or spiritual barrier between those who were endowed with knowledge and discernment of truth and goodness and those who denied the truth.

2- Verse 17:45

When thou dost recite the Quran, We put, between thee and those who believe not in the Hereafter, a veil invisible وإذا قرأت القرآن جعلنا بينك وبين الذين لا يؤمنون بالآخرة حجابا مستورا

In this verse God tells the Prophet (pbuh) that whenever he recites the Quran God places a barrier which provides protection between him and those who do not believe in the hereafter.

Here again God uses the word hijab to mean a barrier to protect the Prophet while reciting the Quran from those who do not believe in the hereafter. There is no connection here between the word hijab and a dress or clothing. Here the word hijab is used to mean either a physical or a spiritual barrier for protecting the Prophet from the non-believers while he was reciting the holy Quran.

3- Verse 19:17

She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. فاتخذت من دونهم حجابا فأرسلنا إليها روحنا فتمثل لها بشرا سويا

Here God informs us about the story of the Virgin Mary when she withdrew from her family and kept herself in seclusion from them while God had sent her an angel of revelation to bestow upon her the gift of a son.

In this verse the word Hijab is used to mean a place of seclusion which has nothing to do with a dress or a garment.

4- Verse 33:53

And when ye ask (his ladies) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs. وإذا سألتموهن متاعا فاسألوهن من وراء حجاب ذلكم أطهر لقلوبكم وَقُلُوبِهِنَّ

In this verse God is teaching the believers at the time of the Prophet some manners and etiquettes of how to communicate with the wives of the Prophet in difference or reverence thereof. God says that you who have attained faith whenever you want to ask the wives of the Prophet for anything that you need then you should ask them from behind a screen such that it will deepen the purity of your hearts.

The word hijab is used here to mean something that intervenes between two things or conceals or shelters or protects the one from the other. From the context it implies a barrier, or an obstacle or a screen, physical or abstract that should be observed whenever the believers had to address the wives of the Prophet in consideration of their sanctity and the reverence that is due to the mothers of the believers.

The word hijab as it is used in this verse refers to a barrier or a screen which could be either of a physical or abstract nature that should exist between the believers and the wives of the Prophet in deference to their sanctity and reverence as mothers of the believers.

5- Verse 38:32 

And he said, “Truly do I love the love of good, with a view to the glory of my Lord,”- until (the sun) was hidden in the veil (of night): فقال إني أحببت حب الخير عن ذكر ربي حتى توارت بالحجاب

This verse refers to the setting where Prophet Solomon (pbuh) proclaims that, while the horses were running before him, that he loves the love of goodness that brings him closer to God, as the steeds raced away disappearing into the cloud or the veil of dust into the distance. This is part of the story about Prophet Solomon’s love to horses and how that love never deterred him from remembering the love of the Supreme Being.

Here, again, the word hijab refers to a cloud of dust that was raised by the horses and made them disappear as they were racing away from Prophet Solomon. There is no connection between hijab as it is used in this verse and the inkling of a dress or garment. The word hijab means here a cloud of dust that is kicked up by racing horses which made them disappear behind a dust of cloud.

6- Verse 41:5

They say: “Our hearts are under veils, (concealed) from that to which thou dost invite us, and in our ears in a deafness, and between us and thee is a screen: so do thou (what thou wilt); for us, we shall do (what we will!)” وقالوا قلوبنا في أكنة مما تدعونا إليه وفي آذاننا وقر ومن بيننا وبينك حجاب فاعمل إننا عاملون

The rendering of the word hijab in this verse is the same as in the above mentioned verse 7:46 which means a barrier either physical or abstract that separates between the non believers and those who deny the truth and the messenger.

7- Verse 42:51

It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a messenger to reveal, with Allah’s permission, what Allah wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise. وما كان لبشر أن يكلمه الله إلا وحيا أو من وراء حجاب أو يرسل رسولا فيوحي بإذنه ما يشاء إنه علي حكيم

God declares that He is not to speak to a mortal person unless by way of inspiration or from behind a barrier or by sending a messenger to reveal the message.

There is a root word (Mahjooboon) in verse 83:15 which mentions that at the unbelievers are separated from seeing the creator by a partition either allegorical or physical.

It is quite clear from the above seven or eight verses (if we count the last verse containing the root word) that there is no connection at all between the word hijab as it is used in the holy Quran and a dress or a garment.

Having exhausted the references to hijab in the Quran and having found out that there is no connection between it and the dress or garment for a Muslim man or women as is wrongly claimed by many, let us see what our Creator has instructed us on the dress code for the Muslims. There are, in total, three verses in the Holy Quran that address this issue.

The first verse that addresses this issue is verse 7:26

O ye Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness,- that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition! يا بني آدم قد أنزلنا عليكم لباسا يواري سوآتكم وريشا ولباس التقوى ذلك خير ذلك من آيات الله لعلهم يذكرون

God is telling us, the children of Adam, that He has bestowed upon us from on high the knowledge of making garments to cover your nakedness and as a thing of beauty; but the garment of righteousness or of being conscious of God is the best garment of all. These are some of God’s signs that they (children of Adam) may take to heart.

It is to be noted here that when God wants to tell us about our wear, He clearly uses the word “Libas” which is wear. He says it clearly and uses it to mean what He wants to express directly and accurately.

The above verse is as clear a statement as any that the best garment to have is that of being righteous and conscious of God in our behavior and in our dealings and when coming into contact with others. No other garment that we may wear can substitute for this essential ingredient of what every Muslim, man and women, must wear and put on to appear before the others. There is no mention in this verse the extent of coverage of the garment that God has instructed us to use to cover our naked bodies for either men or women. The reference to be noted here is that these garments are also meant to be worn for beauty which means that the garments are meant to look beautiful. It is in the opinion of the writer that God is encouraging us to wear garments that are neat and beautiful and not ugly or drab looking as is the case nowadays in some Arab or Muslim cultures. These garments are a far cry from what God has clearly meant the garments to be. They are meant to show some beauty and neatness and not the exact opposite!

The second verse that addresses the covering of the bodies in the Quran is 24:31

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss. وقل للمؤمنات يغضضن من أبصارهن ويحفظن فروجهن ولا يبدين زينتهن إلا ما ظهر منها وليضربن بخمرهن على جيوبهن ولا يبدين زينتهن إلا لبعولتهن أو آبائهن أو آباء بعولتهن أو أبنائهن أو أبناء بعولتهن أو إخوانهن أو بني إخوانهن أو بني أخواتهن أو نسائهن أو ما ملكت أيمانهن أو التابعين غير أولي الإربة من الرجال أو الطفل الذين لم يظهروا على عورات النساء ولا يضربن بأرجلهن ليعلم ما يخفين من زينتهن وتوبوا إلى الله جميعا أيها المؤمنون لعلكم تفلحون

God is ordering the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity and not to display their charms in public beyond what may decently be apparent. Hence let them draw their khimar over their bosoms. And let them not display more of their charms to any but their husbands and their fathers or their husbands fathers or their sons or their husbands sons or their brothers or their brothers sons or their sisters or their women folk or those whom they rightfully possess or children that are yet unaware of women’s nakedness; and let them not swing (strike) their legs in walking so as to draw attention to their hidden charms, and always you believers turn to Allah in repentance that you may attain success.

The first thing to note in this verse is that God is ordering the believing women to lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity and not to display their charms in public beyond what may be decently apparent. The operative word here is decency. It means that a believing woman should not show of her charm more than what is normally acceptable as being decent. To be sure, decency is a relative thing. It can change in time and place and what may have been decent at some times in the past may not be decent at present and vice versa. The same goes from one location and the other. There are, however, some minimum standards for decency that are applicable to all times and localities. One of these minimum standards is what God is telling the believing women to use their khimar to cover their bosoms. He is definitely telling the believing women that showing their bosoms are out of the range of decency. To assist us in determining other minimum standards is to look into what the khimar was covering at the time of this revelation. The word khimar was a kind of a shawl that used to be placed on top of the head and goes down to cover the upper part of the back. It was used as a means to cover part of the head and the back as well as to enhance the feminine charm at the time. Apparently, the Khimar was worn such that it would leave the bosom exposed. So in this verse God is ordering the believing women to extend the khimar to cover their bosoms. Nothing is mentioned here in covering the entire head or the face.

The word Khimar is very critical since part of it should be used by the order of God to cover the bosom that was previously exposed by the women of that period to attract attention. The word Khimar is an Arabic word that means a piece of cloth which is not a total garb or dress that was used to cover the hair either totally or partially and the upper body from the shoulders and down. It is closest to what is now known as a shawl.

In this verse God is asking the believing woman to use their Khimar to cover their bosoms and not their heads nor any other parts of their body that appear normally whose exposure is necessary to allow the believing woman to carry out her tasks. The matter of covering the whole hair, the face, the neck is definitely not mentioned in this verse. The only reference to this issue is what of these parts of the body is regarded within the realm of decency. The deliberate vagueness of the phrase is, in the opinion of the writer, to allow for all the time and place changes that are necessary to accommodate for the social changes and growth that is necessary to allow the believing woman to function as an important part of the society. Here we must be truly thankful for God’s grace in His infinite wisdom to show us the proper path to follow under various times and different circumstances. What God is telling the believing woman is not to show more than what is decently acceptable of her charms in public.

It is, perhaps, worth emphasizing here that in this verse God does not accept that a believing Muslim woman covers her entire body, from head to toe with or without eye holes which is most emphatically un-Islamic. God is granting the Woman the right of appearance of parts of her body and is advising the believing women not to over-emphasize or extend the appearance of those parts of her body that are necessary to allow her to carry out her tasks above socially acceptable standards of decency.

The third verse in the Quran which also addresses the dress code for a Muslim woman in Islam is verse 33:59

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. يا أيها النبي قل لأزواجك وبناتك ونساء المؤمنين يدنين عليهن من جلابيبهن ذلك أدنى أن يعرفن فلا يؤذين وكان الله غفورا رحيما

God tells the Prophet (pbuh) to inform his wives, daughters and the women of the believers that they shall draw over themselves some of their outer garments when in public so that they would be recognized (with decent cover) and not to be harmed, and God is all forgiving and a dispenser of grace. Here again we notice, the infinite mercy of the creator, that he has allowed through the deliberate vagueness of the term (Yudneena) which means some covering of their bodies so as to appear with decency in public and be recognized through their decent garments so that they would not be harmed.

As we can understand, it seems that it is God’s intention that the vagueness of the term allows us the freedom to keep up with the changing times and the changing social environments. The only requirement as to the length of the Muslim woman’s garment is to be socially recognizable as decent. There is no specific mention as to the length of the dress whether it is to the knees or below the knees or to the ankles or how much above the ankles. It is left for the time and the local circumstance to determine how decent the length of the Muslim woman’s dress to be. This we should be quick to add that it is up to the believing woman’s determination that the best way to show her appearance in public is when she can reflect her inner righteousness and consciousness of God at all times and for all to see and recognize.

Therefore, in order for a Muslim woman to be known and recognized as she walks in the streets are for her to wear a garb that she be recognized as such and not to wear something to hide under and consequently cannot be distinguished from others in order to command the respect of those who are bent on evil desires. How does one distinguish between a Muslim Woman from a woman of desire when they are both covered from head to toe?

It is apparent that Hijab as a dress code has nothing to do with Islam or with the Quran. The word has somehow crept into the culture to indicate foreign and restrictive attire to the Muslim women. The drab looking coverings from head to toe that seems like a walking prison is not Islamic as we have clearly shown in the above mentioned verses from the Quran.

God wants the believing woman to decently cover her body and not to show publicly parts of her body more than what is socially recognizable as decent. God has given her the freedom to appear neat and respectable in public and not to draw undue attention to herself or to her attire. She should also take into consideration the requirements of the time and the environment in which she lives. Above all, the best dress that a Muslim woman can wear and show in public is her righteousness and her being conscious of God in her social behavior whether at work or in her leisure. That, in a nutshell, is the dress code of a Muslim woman. That is what the Quran teaches us and we must be thankful to God for showing us the right path.