On the Etiquettes of Dress

Basically, the teachings of the holy Prophet with regard to clothes are derived from the following verse of Surah A’raf. “O 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 best.” (VII: 26). Two particular advantages of dress are mentioned in the above verse. One, it conceals the ‘shame,’ i.e., the parts of the body that should not be seen by others; and, two, it is an adornment, i.e., gives a proper and seemly appearance to man and he does not have to move about naked like the animals. At the end, it is told that the dress which, in truth, is good, in the judgement of the Lord, is the one that conforms to the principles of piety and restraint from evil and does not go beyond the limits set by Divine commandments. All the clothes fulfilling this basic condition are befitting and suitable and their use with gratitude is a means to the attainment of Divine good pleasure.

As we consider the saying of the holy Prophet and his regular practice, we feel that the underlying principle of his advice and instruction regarding dress is that it should serve the purpose of hiding nakedness and make a person look good and respectable. It must neither be so short or indecent as to fail in the primary object of covering nakedness nor so dirty, odd and inelegant that instead of being an adornment, one appeared clumsy, uncouth and repulsive in it. At the same time, clothes should not be unnecessarily expensive or intended to impress others with one’s wealth or importance which was inconsistent with the spirit of humility, and unworthy of a true bondsman of the Lord. Men, thus, are not permitted to wear silk. Like ornaments of gold and silver, silken clothes, too, are meant, exc1usively, for women. Again, men shou1d not cu1tivate a resemb1ance with women by putting on their appare1, nor women do an injustice to their feminity by dressing themse1ves like men. The Prophet further advised that those on whom there is the favour of the Lord shou1d 1ive and c1othe themselves in a way that may be reflective of it. It too is a form of thanksgiving. But they must not be vain and wasteful, and avoid extravagance and ostentation that can be hurtful to the less fortunate brethren. They should regard their clothes a blessing of God and wear them with a feeling of gratitude. The use of every dress will, then, become an act of worship.

(1) It is related by Abu Matar Tab’ee that “Ali Murtuza purchased a dress for three Dirhams, and when he wore it, he said: ‘Praise be to God who bestowed this raiment upon me, and by which I adorn myself among the people, and conceal my nakedness.’ Ali Murtuza, then, remarked that ‘I have heard the Apostle of God praise the Lord and give thanks to Him in this way and in these words (when he put on a dress).’” Musnad-i-Ahmad


An almost similar report has been quoted in Jam’a-i-Tirmizi, on the authority of Omar b. al-Khattab, and it is from these and many other narratives that we learn that clothes are a special blessing of the Lord for which we ought to be grateful to Him, and, also, that their main purpose is the hiding of nakedness, and adornment.

(2) It is related by Jabir that “the Apostle of God forbade that a man ate with the 1eft hand or walked with the shoe only in one foot; and he, also, forbade that a man wrapped himself up in a mantle which enfolded him on all sides or sat on his haunches with the knees erect and covered with a sheet in a way that left the Satr bare.” [Satr is literally, ‘nakedness’. In men, it signifies the parts of the body from the navel to the calves, and, in women, the whole of the body excluding face, hands and feet.] – Muslim


Various styles in dress were in vogue among the Arabs in olden days. One of them, for instance, was that a sheet was wrapped around the body in such a manner that the whole body was shut in, from all sides, so much so that even the hands could not be taken out. It was called Ishtimal-i-Samma’a, and has been forbidden in this Tradition because it was a shapeless and ungainly method of clothing oneself and made a man a prisoner of his dress. Another way was that a man sat on his rump, with the knees upright, and covered his waist and calves with a sheet. It was called Ihtiba’a, and was forbidden as it did not cover the Satr properly and the lower part of the body remained exposed. Similarly, to wear the shoe in one foot and leave the other bare has been forbidden owing to its patent absurdity and awkwardness. It would, of course, be different if there was a valid reason for it, such as, a wound or injury in the other foot.

(3) Ayesha narrates that “once my sister, (Asma), went to the Apostle of God wearing a thin dress upon which the Apostle of God turned his face away from her, and, said: ‘O Asma! When a woman attains puberty, it is not proper for any part of her body to be visible except the face and hands.’” – Abu Dawood


It shows that ladies are not allowed to wear a dress through which the body can be seen. The face and the hands can, indeed, be left uncovered. It needs be remembered that, in this Tradition, the commandment of Satr for women has been set forth. The commandment regarding Purdah is different which lays down that women should not go out unnecessarily, and when they may have to do so, they should wear a veil or cloak. The commands of Satr and Purdah are two separate commands and the spheres of their operation, too, are different though some persons are prone to confuse them with one another. The incident related in it had, perhaps, taken place before the commandment concerning Purdah was revealed because, after it, Hazrat Asma could not have appeared before the holy Prophet in that manner.

Imam Maalik has quoted, in Muwatta, another incident related, also, by Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqa. It is stated that once Hazrat Ayesha’s niece, Hafsa, the daughter of Abdul Rahman bin Abu Bakr, came to her wearing a very thin Orhni (a sheet used by a girl to cover her head and breast) upon which she took it off, and tore it, and gave her another Orhni of a thicker fibre to use. This act of Hazrat Ayesha, evidently, was the result of the education she had received at the hands of the holy Prophet.

(4) Narrates Dihyah bin Khalifa that “(once) as some Qubti sheets came to the Apostle of God (as a gift), he gave one to me, saying: ‘Divide it into two parts, Use one part for making a Kurta (Shirt) for yourself, and give the other to your wife to use as an Orhni,” Then, as I was about to leave, the Apostle of God added: ‘Tell your wife to apply another piece of cloth under it (to serve as a lining) so that her hair and body are not visible (to others).’” – Abu Dawood


In those days, white sheets made from a fine fiber used to be brought from Egypt. These were called Qubaati (Plural of Qubti). A few of these sheets were, once, sent by someone to the holy Prophet as a present. He gave one of them to Hazrat Dihyah Kalbi, telling him to divide it into two parts, and use one part to make a shirt for himself and give the other to his wife to wear as an Orhni. But since it was very thin, the sacred Prophet advised Dihyah Kalbi to tell her to cover its inside surface with another cloth to make sure that her body or hair were not seen by others. It shows that dresses made of a thin fabric were permitted to women provided that these were worn with a lining and did not remain transparent.

(5) It is related by Abdullah bin Abbas that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever will wear a dress for display or fame in the world, God will make him wear the dress of ignominy in the Hereafter.” – Abu Dawood. Musnad-i-Ahmad and Ibn-i-Maja


The phrase, Sooba-Shohrat, used in the original, denotes an apparel that may be worn to make an impression on others by exhibiting one’s wealth or superiority. It, naturally, applies, also, to people who wear headgears or robes that are peculiar to theologians or spiritual mentors and try to show themselves off. as men of piety and learning. It all, in the final analysis, depends on the intention, and if a person attires himself with the object of making a display of his wealth or importance, it will be sinful and the above Tradition will be applicable to him, while if the same garment is used by him without such an aim or purpose, it will not only not be unlawful, but, also, a means of earning the countenance of the Lord, in certain situations. Besides, as we do not know what lies in the hearts, it will be wrong for us to criticise anyone on the assumption that his clothes are intended for ostentatious display. What is more important, however, is that we kept an eye on our own intention and on the clothing we use, and, this, indeed, is the main object of the warning contained in the above narrative.

(6) It is related by Abdullah bin Omar that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever will keep his dress unduly long owing to pride or vainglory, God will not even look towards him on the Day of Last Judgement.” – Bukhari and Muslim

(7) Abu Saeed Khudri relates that he heard the Apostle of God say: “the (best) way for a faithful Believer to wear the Tahbund is that it extends up to the middle of the calves, and it, also, is not sinful if it extends up to the ankles, but in case it is lower (than that) then he is in Hell i.e., he is going to end up there in Futurity.” The narrator tells that the Apostle of God said it thrice, and, then, remarked: “God will not even look at him, (on the Day of Resurrection), who will walk dragging his Tahbund along the ground on account of conceit.” – Abu Dawood


In the two aforesaid traditions, a dreadful admonition has been administered to those who show undue pride through their clothes. On the Day of Final Requital, when everyone will be pathetically aspiring for a benevolent glance from the All-Merciful, and in dire need of it, the Lord will not even care to look at such men. Abu Saeed Khudri’s report, further, tells that the right thing for a truthful Believer is that his Tahbund does not reach below the middle of the calves, and it is, also, permissible if it goes down up to the ankles. It must, anyhow, not be lower which is a grave sin and the chastisement of Hell awaits the erring bondsman who behaves like that. The warning, nevertheless, will hold good only when it is done out of haughtiness and vainglory as the next Tradition candidly shows.

(8) It is related by Abdullah bin Omar that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever will lower his garment much because of vanity, God will not look at him on the Day of Reckoning”. The narrator adds that, on hearing it Abu Bakr said: “O Apostle of God! My Tahbund hangs down if I am not careful [about it].” “You are not of those who do so out of self-conceit,” observed the Prophet. – Bukhari


It, distinctly, shows that there is no sin if the Tahbund or Paijama [i.e, trousers or long drawers] of anyone reaches below the ankles without his knowing it. The authorities have held that it is forbidden to keep one’s Tahbund or Paijama lower than the ankles due to pride, while if it is done simply out of fashion or habit, it is undesirable, and if it is unintentional then no blame attaches to the wearer and he will not be called to account for it on the Last Day.

(9) It is related by Abu Moosa Ash`ari that the Apostle of God said: “Gold and clothes of silk are allowed to the women of the community of my followers, and forbidden to men.” – Tirmizi


As we learn from other Traditions, it is the clothes that are made from silk, or in which this fibre is predominant that are forbidden to men, otherwise they are allowed to wear dresses made from all other fabrics inc1uding the garment which, without being silken, is embroidered with silk or has a si1ken border.

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