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Covering oneself is an instinctive phenomenon. This is seen in the story of Adam
and Eve who were covering themselves with the leaves of Paradise when they were
unclothed due to their sin. Clothing, whether one may deny it, plays a religious role
wherein one has to keep certain areas covered while interacting with others or while
praying. There is also a specific dress code while one is performing the pilgrimage to
Mecca. In this paper I wish to discuss the role of the Islamic dress. How it was perceived
and how it is seen now. My thesis is that clothing are Islamic if they honor the belief
and tenets of Islam. Specification of a particular dress is an unjust approach towards
clothing and there are many Muslims who are under this impression. The
for a
woman and a particular style of headscarf
would be considered Islamic. Wearing
trousers for women in some places is stigmatized. For a male, Islamic apparel is an
, or a Pakista@ni
, a cap, or sometimes a particular color turban. The
ideal situation is seen in hajj wherein the dress code is very different from what a person
may wear outside of
, yet in
one is to follow a code established by the religion.
The purpose behind a Muslim’s life is to worship God the way shown by the
Prophet and thus Muslims must live their lives not having or creating any obstacles
within this worship. If Muslims consider worship and the
different from any
other part of their lives, they will not understand the true essence of Islam. Based on this
pretext, clothing of a Muslim must reflect ones worship in order to create ease in
performance of the worship. Islam is a religion catering to the world and all cultures
within it. Within the companions of Muh{ammad there were Arabs, Iranian, African, and
even Russians. He himself respected and wore clothing of different cultures; Yemeni
cloak, Ethiopian socks, Roman shirt. He also wore clothes of different colors such as
black, yellow, white and green. His practice is full of wisdom confirming Islam’s global
intent and showing that Islam is not a religion to be confined to the Arabian Peninsula
and restricted to the Arab customs.
Guidelines from the Tradition and Scripture
literature shows the reader a code that can easily be noted if one
extracts the permissible and forbidden pointers regarding clothing. Silk and gold is
forbidden for men and permissible for women.1 The clothes must not be see-through or
tight fitting. The Prophet Muh{ammad once mentioned two types of the persons entering
into hell. Of them were those women who are dressed yet they are naked.2 The clothing
must not reflect pride such indicating pride by wearing clothes below the ankles, which
seemed to be the sign of pride in the pre Islamic Arab culture. Regarding this the
Prophet had said that God does not look at the person who drags his/her clothes out of
pride.3 The clothing can be colorful, full of richness and beautiful as the Qur’a@n refers to
ones clothing as an adornment
.4 The clothing must not make one resemble the
opposite gender and regarding this the Prophet said, “Allah has cursed the men who
make themselves look like women and the women who make themselves look like
1 Muh{ammad b Isma ‘i@l al Bukha@ri,
Al-Ja@mi‘ al-S{ah{i@h
, (Da@r ibn Kathi@r, 1993) 5493.
2 Yah{ya@ b Sharaf Abu@ Zakariyya@ al-Nawawi@,
Sharah{ al Nawawi@ ‘ala@ Muslim
, (Da@r al Khair, 1996)
2128. 3 Ibid, 2085.
, VII:31.
5 al Bukha@ri,
Al-Ja@mi‘ al-S{ah{i@h,
(Da@r ibn Kathi@r, 1993) 5546.
Analysis of Paintings
In this section I will be analyzing paintings from the Umayyads, Abbasids,
Mamluk, and the Ottomans. Starting with the Umayyad, I used one coin and two frescos
within Qus{eir Amra. The Qus{eir Amra was built early in the 8th century, sometime
between 723 and 743, by Wali@d b Yazi@d (126/744) , the future Umayyad caliph Wali@d II,
whose dominance of the region was rising at the time.6 The coin (Fig.1) depicts a king
(in this case ‘Abd al Malik b Al-Marwa@n (86/705) whose head is covered with either a
turban or a scarf. He is wearing a long dress like garment that is just above the ankles.
He is carrying a sword in his hand as well. The details on the clothing show that the
dress wasn’t plain rather it had a lot of color with detail and richness. Within the Qus{eir
Amra there were many paintings and even one depicting a women in a bathhouse
showing nudity. However the fresco I was more interested in was one showing one
person hunting and another person dancing. (Fig.2) The fresco depicts an individual
(man or woman) who is wearing a two part dress one shorter and one longer. The shorter
dress falls to the knee and the longer one is to the feet. The person has a belt of some
sort around his/her waist. There are clearly different colors in her dress. It is not clear
whether her head is completely covered or not, however it does seem to be partially
covered. On the left of the dancer is a a hunter who is also wearing a long dress until
below the knee and the dress has a lot of print and design on it. The clothes are very
Within the Abbasid paintings, the same pattern of clothing exists. I chose the
panting showing two women. (Fig. 3) This painting is reconstructing the image of
6 “Qas{r ‘Amra”, in
, last modified on 29 January 2014,, (Accessed Feb 20, 2014).
unveiled female dancers depicted in a fresco from
Jausaq al-Kha@ga@ni@,
Samarra, Iraq. It is
from early Abbasid period, about 836-839 from the museum of Turkish and Islamic Art,
in Istanbul. In the painting there are two women who are wearing long robes up to their
feet. Their heads are covered yet the hair can be seen in four braids. They both have
scarves covering their bosoms, and their dresses clearly have a lot of patterns, and
designs on them. They are also very colorful. Their feet seem to be covered either by
shoes or socks. The second Abbasid painting depicts an execution. (Fig. 4) It shows
Mans{u@r al-H{alla@j (309/922), a Persian mystic, revolutionary writer and teacher of
Sufism, most famous for his poetry, and his accusation of heresy and his execution at
the orders of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir (320/932) after a long, drawn-out
investigation. The clothing worn by the ones watching outdoors is the subject here and
it seems that they are all wearing turbans and very colorful dresses. All the men are
wearing a band around their waste. The richness of their clothing is very apparent.
The Mamluk paintings seem to echo the same ideas of a long dress and turbans.
The painting I have used is a frontispiece from a manuscript of the sulwan al-Muta' of
Ibn Zafar (565/1170) which depicts three young hunters. (Fig. 5) The color of the
dresses is very apparent. I had discovered armbands in the clothing of the Mamluk, and
all the men had their dresses above their ankles. As for the women, a painting from
maqa@ma@t al H{ari@ri@
(Fig. 6) shows a lady wearing a red dress with a white outer garment.
Her left hand is uncovered up to just below her elbow. Either she is crying and wiping
her face, or covering her face before the judge, however the left half of her face and her
neck is open. Her feet are covered in contrary to the man next to her whose feet are
open. The lady also has her head covered but her hair is open in the front. She is wearing
a turban on her head just like the men however the only difference I found was the white
cloak-like dress she is wearing perhaps to cover her feminine curves.
Ottoman women clothes were also very colorful. I used a painting depicting a
late 17th-century Ottoman garden party hosted by the Queen Mother (
Valide Sultan
) for
Madame Girardin (1855), wife of the French ambassador. (Fig. 7) It shows the same
style of dress up till the feet and the heads are covered. However many of the women
have their necks open, and hair showing from the front. Regarding men they have long
robes of different colors, and are all wearing turbans. The men have beards and unlike
the mamluk, I noted that the men do not have the armbands and their dresses flow to
just above their ankles. (Fig. 8)
Islamic Clothing Today
A simple Internet search showed me that for men it is the traditional Arab dress
(Fig. 11) or the
style garment worn in South Asia. (Fig. 12) Only a few
places the covering of the head was showed and if the head was covered, it was by the
. (Fig. 13-14) Sometimes a cap is shown as an Islamic dress (Fig 15) yet it
seems Islamic scholars of this day and age have disputed this. Interestingly the turban is
never shown. The Saudi men
(Fig. 16) is also a popular Islamic dress that is
normally black or brown with a gold trim. As for the feet there was a few pictures of
leather socks (Fig. 17) because of certain Muslim schools of jurisprudence who allow to
over the socks during ablution
however there is a difference of
opinion amongst Muslim jurists in this matter.
For women is was a lot more complicated. Typically a long cloak or
, (Fig.
18) which would be one color, with minimal patterns on it. The top is more fitted and
the bottom is like a skirt. Some
were very loose on the top (Fig. 19) and bottom
and some very tight. (Fig. 20) There was also a few face covers for women
) (Fig.
21) and I realized there was also different
fashions showing different ways to
cover the face. I found armbands that were like socks for the arms that women would
wear to women to ensure their arms were covered. (Fig 22-23) The head cover or scarf
(Fig 24) was also shown and there was many methods the
would be worn.
(Fig 25) At first sight it seemed that the
was the most essential clothing for
Muslim women. All the
styles were focused on covering the hair completely and
only a few showed the ear lobes. (Fig. 26) It seems this was to accommodate earrings
worn by women. As for their feet, they weren’t noticeable because the
fell below
their ankles. If the shirt was higher then their ankles the women were wearing baggy
pants to below their ankles. (Fig. 28) For women who desired to swim there was also the
. (Fig. 27) There are many exceptions to the above however my analysis is based
on how Islamic clothing is depicted in the western world today.
What are the Differences?
In comparison it appears that the plain and simplistic style of the
nowadays shows the woman’s body much more than the way women dressed in the past.
In the past, the many layers of clothing covered the curves of the body and made them
less noticeable. In illustrations of the clothing of this day and age the clothing are much
more sexual than they were in the past. In the past, the paintings, whether orientalist
paintings or non-orientalist paintings, sexuality was visible through the nudity of a
woman, and obviously more depicted in the orientalist paintings, but the women needed
to be naked to be sexual. The way a woman would pose in the pictures nowadays paint a
different picture that with clothes on the woman is still sexual. Women are attractive
whether they wear clothes or not, however the depiction of sexuality within clothes is
what I am referring to. A second point of difference is that it seems in the past it was
about the essence of clothing which is to cover oneself and keeping oneself safe and
warm, yet now its about the clothing and the peer pressure in the type of clothing worn.
Clothing differentiates man from animals, helps to maintain our body temperature. We
also wear clothes for protection from the environment, hygienic reasons and self-
expression. A third difference is the rigidity and monotony of the choice of Islamic
clothing today while the richness of the clothing of the past Muslim. A fourth difference
is the looseness of the clothing pre colonial, that would allow one to make ablution with
ease without having to take off ones shirt, and to be able to perform prayer, going up
and down, with ease. Many of the trousers now, as well as the skirts and
are very
tight and do not give ample room for a man or women to be able to perform prayer
comfortably with them on. A fifth difference is the covering of the head for men and
women. It seems that the objective in the past was to cover the head but not be very
rigid in covering the hair. Thus the braids in a woman’s hair can be seen in the front or
sides of the turban or scarf, however the head is covered. There were paintings wherein
the women had their heads covered completely but never did I notice any specification
or style of head cover. Looking at the pictures told me that the objective was to cover
the head, not necessarily the hair. Along these lines, the women and men alike wore
turbans, which is interesting because nowadays wearing the turban is not looked at as an
Islamic male dress leave aside for women. A simple Internet search can show that
everyone else besides Muslims nowadays wears the turbans. In the past as depicted in
the paintings, all women covered their heads, and all men wore turbans; not just the
scholars and kings.
Is Rigidity the True Essence or is it an Innovation
It is clear that the way clothing was portrayed in the past is much different than
it is now. The most basic understanding of clothing is that it is or should be an
adornment or
, which is the reference in the
regarding clothing. In
understanding what adornment truly is one can understand how much the world has
changed over the past century promoting a rigid religion that is not colorful. The
question of using pictures versus directly analysis of the prophetic tradition plays a very
big role in this determination and it is clear that the paintings do tell the story of a
different mentality and approach towards clothing and religion to a certain extent. As
much as it may be argued that religion cannot be understood through paintings, it is a
superficial perspective and argument because depiction of the past and the
understanding of history is and can only be done by someone who has lived that time.
Words can be understood and interpreted in many different ways more so after the
occurrence of the situation. However the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words
holds true to the idea that the paintings depict the reality of the situation at
time as
represented by the artist of that particular time and analyzing history becomes much
more easier. It is true that orientalist paintings will depict certain biases, however the
search is for the original frescos or paintings from the certain generation. Analyzing
such painting would open up to the viewer to the realities of that certain time unlike a
set of words whose preservation has been disputed.
A second point worth mentioning here is the concept of innovation brought into
religion by its followers. This change from the ‘old Islam’ is based on the rigid
mentality of Muslim’s understanding the narrations of the Prophet based on their
individual prejudices, thus creating an innovation within the religion in regards to
clothing. The idea here is that the rigidity in clothing now are a result of innovation
within the religion and the reason I refer to it as an innovation is because many Muslims
would stigmatize men or women wearing clothes of the past. I am referring to turbans,
colorful clothes, the covering of the head versus hair and other aspects. The Muslim
jurists of this day and age would debate the idea of covering the head whether it is a
prophetic action
or not. However such debates are minimal to unseen in the
pre-colonized Islamic world. Nowadays, some would consider it an innovation (
bid ‘ah
for men to cover the head, yet I wouldn’t assume such a discussion would occur during
the ottomans because everyone had their heads covered regardless. Thus what is the
? For men to cover the head or not to cover? Rigidity in clothing for the women
and monotony is also a point of discussion whether the rigidity is an innovation or not.
Would such a discussion occur in the pre-colonized Muslim world? Now the situation
has changed where many men will not cover their heads and the women will cover from
head to toe yet their dressing is still very revealing. Wearing jewelry accessories on top
of the
(Fig 29 and 33) is also very common to compensate for the fact that jewelry
on their ears and necks are not visible under the
. Volumizing the
in layers
(Fig. 30, 31, 32)is also a common trend within young Muslim women. Perhaps this is to
individualize their personal styles, as any women would personalize the way she dresses.
Specific makeup for specific types of color
(Fig. 34) show that the objectification
of women promoted by colonization is actually deeper than the way it is actually
thought. In this way the Islamic dress is not really Islamic rather it is a ‘modern
colonized understanding of Islam’ that promotes objectifying the women, becoming a
slave to the culture and society, and there to be consumed by the male gaze. The
western objectification of Muslim women in
is directly linked to colonialism
because of the issues surrounding body image, where a woman’s body is considered an
object. This is a very western concept and not an Islamic one. It can be argued by some
that colonialism doesn’t exist anymore, but I would argue that it is very much still alive
in many forms especially in the form of neocolonialism. Through economic imperialism
the West imposes a certain image of women, which is very impressionable which all
women across the world are bombarded by and Muslim women are vey much affected by
this. Examples are advertisements, music videos, and giant chain retailers who portray a
very sexualized image of women all over the world. A common example is wearing
and tight western clothes, makeup and jewelry amongst the next generation of
Muslim girls. In many ways these women are a hybrid of two cultures. It is a form of
constant negotiation of ones identity and a paradox between modest Muslim women and
western women.
How Should Islamic Dress be Practiced
I would echo Titus Burckhardt’s perspective from his famous work, Art of
Islam7, which seems to be the closest to Islamic ethics. There is no specific clothing that
is ‘Muslim’ rather there are two aspects to clothing. Firstly they adhere to the
7 Titus Burckhardt,
Art of Islam, Language and Meaning
, World Wisdom; Commemorative
Edition, (March 16, 2009) Pg. 102-105.
and secondly they must suit the movements and positions of the prescribed prayer. Dr
Spahic Omer has described the Muslim houses and the same principle applies in this
case as well. His description of removing the superficial aspect of homes echoes Islamic
apparel as well. He says,
It is a requirement that everyone involved possesses a proper understanding
and vision, that everyone sincerely tries his or her level best to rise to the
challenge of transporting the idea of Islamic housing from the realm of theory
and concept to the realm of physical realities and solutions, and that the goals
and aspirations of Muslims, especially housing authorities and professionals,
mirror, and are subservient to, the ultimate goals and aspirations of Islam.
Regardless of what might be the net result of this approach of Muslims to
housing, their houses are entitled to be rightly called and held as “Islamic” as
they duly adhere to the few, but fundamentally pertinent, requirements of
Islamic housing. It does not matter in Islamic housing how houses look like, if
their appearances are not linked to, and are not inspired by, the force of the
unification of Islam and the fluctuating space and time factors. Moreover, in
Islam, it does not matter how houses look like, if their appearances are not due to
some creative initiatives, which have been stirred by the unification of the
spiritual and material kingdoms of existence, by the unification of the heavens
and the earth. A housing style that does not honor the tenets and values of Islam
cannot be called “Islamic”. In the same vein, a housing style that betrays the
demands of its indigenous climate, environment, traditions, technology and
economy cannot be called “Islamic” either.”8
In a similarly manner clothing would fit the same description. Clothing can only
be considered Islamic if they ‘honor the tenets and values of Islam” and the prescribed
ritual (worship) Muslims must perform more than any other worship which is the five
times prayer
and thus the
would be the initial point of determination.
Burckhardt blames the change in apparel on the European dressing that has influenced
the Muslims so that they can ruin Islam. Thus Ablution as prescribed in the Qur’a@n
becomes difficult due to the tightness of the sleeves, and such clothing directly impedes
in the movements in prayer. From this point of view it seems true that the current
8 Spahic Omer,
Creativity and Islamic Housing,
International Islamic University Malaysia,
Available at:
Muslim clothing has overlooked this religious aspect due to being under the influence of
the European colonization. Many Muslim cloth shops are vying towards a more modern
approach to clothing which in their claim is Islamic yet modern. Is this truly the result
of colonization? It seems Burckhardt leans in this direction and I have to say the same.
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74-77 AH. Based on Byzantine numismatic traditions.
Umayyad calif Sassanian prototype 695 CE,
, (Feb 16 2010),, (Accessed Feb 28,
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Nicola e Pina Giordania,
Frescoes in Qasr Amra,
Jordan, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 2005,, (Accessed March 3 2014).
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Khagani, Samarra, Iraq. Early Abbasid period, about 836-839. Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art,
David and Sue Richardson,
The Karakalpak Kiymeshek-Part 4,
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for his poetry, accusation of heresy and for his execution at the orders of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Muqtadir
after a long, drawn-out investigation.
Daniel Chirita,
Image of Mansur al-Hallaj, famous poet from iran,
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t al-
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is a religious Muslims outer outfits for women and it is used all over the world
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is basically
Islamic upper dress.”
Sheeza Batool,
Abaya is a Religious Muslims Outfits For Women,
Rare Fashion Trend, (2013),, (Accessed Mar 30
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, usually classified as a Muslim male dress.
Emirate white thobe & gown,
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Naveed Shamem, Lovely Collection
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, or Layered
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