Are Arab Dress Codes being referred to erroneously as Islamic Dress Codes ?

There is a significant difference between the  ‘stipulated code’ and the ‘implemented code’ for a specific purpose. In many instances, a serious mistake is often made by referring to the ‘implemented code’ as being the ‘stipulated code’.

Take for instance the highway code. There was a time before the advent of the wheeled vehicle, when the need for such a code was not felt by society. However, as the types and numbers of wheeled vehicles began to soar, society would have realized the importance of introducing some kind of ‘order’ to resolve the chaos on their streets and roads with people and vehicles travelling in all directions. This would have given rise to the birth of the Highway Code which in it’s simplest form would have stated that ‘All vehicular traffic heading towards the same direction must use the same side of the road’. This is the stipulated highway code. However, when implementing this code, some countries identify the term ‘same direction’ to mean the left side of the road, while the majority have chosen it to mean the right side of the road. Yet all countries refer to their codes by the generic term ‘highway code’.

The Dress Code for Muslims is defined by the Holy Book and the Traditions and it essentially makes it mandatory for all True Believers (males and females) to ensure that they dress modestly at all times. This incidentally is not unique to Islam but is also part of the teachings of all major religions. In communicating this important message however to the largely illiterate, uneducated Arabs of the 6th Century (this was a time when pagan Arabs used to circumambulate the Ka’aba naked), the Almighty and his Messenger used concepts and terms which would have been readily understood by the Arabs  – a process of spoon-feeding one might say, given the circumstances. So for instance instead of merely instructing Muslims to dress modestly / cover themselves at all times, reference was made to the existing dress habits of the Arabs as the starting point for this purpose. The essence of the dress code for males and females as defined in the Holy Book is ‘to dress modestly at all times’. The dictionary defines the word ‘Modest’ as ‘Observing conventional proprieties in speech, behavior, or dress, especially in the avoidance of arousing sexual interest’. This is the stipulated Islamic Dress Code. As mentioned previously, the implementation of the Islamic Dress Code in a specific region would be dependent on  the social, cultural and climatic conditions of that location. Unfortunately however, it appears that in the process of interpreting the Quran by Arab Scholars, the fact that the Arab dress code is referred to in the Holy Book and in the Traditions has resulted in the belief that Islam sanctifies the Arab dress code and  more critically has resulted in the Arab dress code being promoted as the Islamic Dress Code.

Are there Religious Dress Codes ? Are there Christian Dress Codes, Buddhist Dress Codes and Hindu Dress Codes ?

Isn’t the Dress Code of a specific country determined by it’s own climatic conditions, it’s socio-cultural factors and religious influences rather than that of some country 1000’s of miles away ?

Do non-Arab Muslims have to imitate Arabs in speech, behaviour and dress if they are to be ‘good’ Muslims ? Can’t a person be a ‘good’ Muslim without observing the Arab dress codes ? Does this explain the global phenomenon of the Arab-isation of Muslims ?

And finally what about the Hijab – a term that is mentioned just 5 times in the Holy Book (Q 7:46; Q 19:16-17; Q 33:53; Q 41:5; Q 42:51) and not once in connection with the terms ‘head’ or ‘hair’ ? How has a head dress tightly worn by all (male and female) Arabs from pre-Islamic times as a protection against the hazards of frequent sand-storms and sand-infused desert atmospheres been elevated to an ‘Islamic Dress’ with a sanctified label ‘Hijab’, that Muslim females are obligated to wear in totally unsuitable climatic conditions where a simple loosely-worn veil might be more appropriate ? Universally, ‘Hijab’ is not compulsory, ‘Modest Dress’ is.

So we should not rush to judge the ‘Muslim-ness’ of a female purely by her choice of dress. We must heed the words of Allah SWT in our Holy Quran ” O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as to adorn you. But the best garment is the garment of piety/righteousness. These are some of God’s signs, so that they may be mindful”. [7:26]

The picture below is that of the Founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah with members of the women’s wing of All India Muslim Students Federation.



The style of dress of these young females is clearly appropriate for the socio-cultural and climatic conditions of South Asia, while ensuring that it adheres faithfully to the Quranic decree “…… that they should draw their veils over their bosoms …” [Quran 24:31]

Every female in the picture is an epitome of modesty  – the quality, in women, of dressing in a way that is intended to avoid attracting sexual interest – as instructed in the Holy Book.

Do females living in non-Arab countries have to adhere to the pre-Islamic dress-styles of Arab women which may have inadvertently or otherwise been interpreted as being sanctified by Islam (e.g. Hijab, Abaya or Niqab) to be good Muslims ?


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