Is there such a thing as Islamic clothing? In a general sense, Islam’s principles and teachings guide many areas of conduct. Earning an honest wage and being neighbourly for example. In that sense, yes, Islam teaches that clothes humanise us, they beautify and they protect social relationships. Islam warns against being boastful, arrogant and hard-hearted; Islam emphasises modesty of character, looking after the earth, seeking equity in economics and encourages sharing a part of one’s wealth with others less well-off. Ideally, these teachings should be reflected in our relationship with clothing.
But do Islamic teachings instruct us to wear a certain form or style of clothing? The basic answer is: no. The Qur’an does not instruct a uniform of clothing, even for learned scholars for that matter. When some people become Muslims, they feel a need to change their wardrobe. There may be different reasons for this, and it is important people are supported to help them make the right choices, but it is always worth knowing that in the day of the Prophet Muhammad, people who became Muslims did not ‘change their wardrobe.’ They remained culturally Arab after they changed their religion. Scholars are often at pains to stress that when someone becomes a Muslim, one retains their culture, be that Chinese, English, East African or French. There is a long Muslim heritage spanning centuries and continents that supports this.
It is the manner in which or how clothes are worn, the purpose of or intention behind wearing them, and the appropriate level of nakedness that Islamic teachings address, albeit sparsely. The Qur’an’s teachings point to lessons in decency, personal conduct and shunning lewdness, but it does not name parts of a body like hair or feet – its language is culturally specific to the 7th-century Arabian society. As a result, opinions around what needs to be covered religiously, how and when, are interpreted very differently.
For some who become Muslim, this can be bewildering. For others, change or a new identity feels important. This can sometimes be about connecting with Eastern or Arabian traditions, or (for men) symbolising with the Prophet Muhammad’s way of dressing.
Some women can find Muslim-identity aspects of clothing daunting, others find it liberating or a mark of their change. Many women feel there are too many eyes of expectation and judgments upon them, based on their clothing, and this can be difficult. For many who convert, what they wear is part of one’s journey in faith, and changes over time.