Woman Dress Code, Religion Versus Tradition
We have three major areas of debate when it comes to Islam in relation to women dress and dress codes. First being the face covering, linked to several security as well as social issues, and hereunder we will explain how unrelated it was to Islamic traditions. Then the bodily appropriate coverage, which Islam had advised-on in broad and elastic terms. Finally, we will discuss the controversial head covering.
Face Covering and Loss of Identity:
The commonly perceived to be Muslim women dress code, covering her entire body including her face, hands, and feet has nothing to do with Islam. It is a nomadic habit among Asian tribes, more related to the male domination nature of these societies, when we compare it to the African Sahara habit of covering faces of both male and female, like in the case of Tuareg tribes, where uncovered male face is a source of shame while women face covering is a voluntarily act, we shall then understand it was a matter of appropriateness to environment as well as ancient tribal tradition and not a religious tradition.
Today, this tribal habit became part of history in Turkey, at least in major cities, while it remained a living practice in Saudi, wherefrom it was exported to the whole Arabic world during 70s, 80s and 90s of the 20th century when Muslims from allover the globe were employed to build the petroleum civilization of Saudi kingdom. In Saudi, you will hear a lot about that habit. About how it encouraged adultery among women and men, due to lack of identification of woman persona. Even in Egypt, a court case I read once was about act of fornication committed by a totally covered woman, when she kept inviting her lover home, even when her husband was there, astonishingly she could make it because her lover stepped-in all time as a face-covered friend of her. It took three years until the cheated man hare a moaning from the room, to open the door and face his lifetime shocking scene!
First verse being “And tell the believing ladies to cast down their eyes (upon seeing a stranger) and guard their chastity, and reveal not their charm save what is outward; and let them cast their veils over their bosoms” Light: 31. And as we can see, the verse advises Muslim ladies to guard their chastity, and limit their charm (meant body charm) to their husbands and their 1st degree kinship, and as by this time, women dresses usually had longitudinal clefts to enable nursing mothers feeding their babies, the verse advised the ladies to use their veils (that was already used before Islam to cover part of the head by the bedouin adornment habit) to cover these clefts and accordingly ensure covering their breasts. The second verse is”O’ Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing ladies; to get well covered (meant when they go out) so it is likelier to be known (as free and regarded ladies), so they do not be subject of any harm. God is all-forgiving, all-compassionate” Allies: 59. We find the verse here giving a general command for appropriate dress that does not reflect looseness, aiming to decrease women exposure to verbal as well as physical harassments.
In both verses, we find-out the following points:
Both used the term “tell”, so it was not “order” or “force” , which means women dress of whatever nature shall not be enforced to all women (like the case of Saudi or Afghanistan). The idea in the verses was about educating women how they should be dressed appropriately, not to force them to a nomadic black uniform. Both verses were directed only to the “believing women” with special emphasis on apostle’s wives and daughters in the second verse. It was not directed to other women in the Muslims state in Medina, specially knowing that Medina had a plenty of Jews and some Christians. Accordingly, whatever role Islam has in this regard, shall never be enforced and dictated on non-Muslims living in a Muslim state, which means again that Wahabism system in Saudi is baseless in this regard, only as it is baseless in many other. Quran commented a specific problem in the first verse, which is the breastfeeding clefts that was a necessity before buttons and zippers, and proposed an environmental solution to it which is the use of the bedouin veil, usually used by bedouins as a tool for adornment, to cover it. Also in a later part of the verse, Quran advised women to adopt a gait that supports the same impression of a serious woman, to avoid being thought-off as playful lady and subsequently lower the possibility of harassments. The 2nd verse gave a general recommendation, using the term “Youdnin Alihenna men Glabibhenna” which has the direct translation of “to get their dresses closer over them” that we interpreted and translated as “to be well covered” or simply appropriately covered. This is more or less related to the broad recommendation in the first verse, advising believing ladies to show only what is outward of their charm and feminine beauty. Both verses were deliberately general and broad termed, to give a room for changing time and conditions. Today, a woman can use a modern trousers and shirt during work or studying, and she will be fulfilling the recommendations as far as her dress does not reveal her charm and feminine treasures to everyone. In both verses, God educated women about the reason they should control their charm. It was their own welfare and safety. It had never been a matter of protecting men from seduction as the traditional jurists used to claim. The term “tell the believing ladies” gives an idea about the assets Quran relied on to define the broad terms in these verses. That is the “feminine intuition“. As everywoman knows by heart how she can be appropriately covered and how she can be seductive. If the woman is truly believing and convinced that God wanted her to leave the right impression, she can look in an appropriate way according to the society wherein she lives. On the other hand, she can whenever she wants look seductive even under the layers of “shadoor”. I can write a hundred pages on the difference between seductive and appropriate dressing for women, and it will be all meaningless. Only everywoman knows how to hide or reveal her charm, this is why the verse particularly relied on convincing not forcing women to adopt modesty in dressing.
Supporters of head covering rely on these two hadieths, while their opponents rely on the fact that both hadieths are mono-referenced hadieths, a matter that decreases its credibility and doubts its linkage to apostle of God, claiming mono-referenced teachings to be only enough for advisory, supporting or detailing concepts supported by other scriptures, but not to establish a concept independently.