Women’s Dress

I got this off the Internet.  (I’ve modified it slightly for readability.):“God, the Most Merciful, gave us three basic rules for the dress code for women in Islam:

“1.The BEST garment is the garment of righteousness.

“2.Whenever you dress, cover your chest (bosoms).

“3.Lengthen your garment.

“While these three BASIC rules may not sound enough for those who do not trust God, the TRUE believers know that God is ENOUGH.  God could have given us more details to the point of having graphs, designs and color rules, but He, the Most Merciful, wants to give us exactly these very basic rules and leave the rest for us.  After these three basic rules every woman is more aware of her circumstances and can adjust her dress for her situation.  Any addition to these basic Quranic rules is an attempt to correct God or improve on His merciful design.

“What better than to quote God’s words in description of this trait of the human race:

“‘We have cited in this Quran every kind of example, but the human being is the most argumentative creature.’ (18:54)

“We have no obligation to follow but God’s rules, just as His messenger did all the time.  Innovations and fabrications that added thousands of rules to the women’s dress code are nothing but idol-worship and should be refused.

“STAY WITH GOD.  That is where the winners go.

“May God bless us with His mercy and guidance.”

 

My reason for being interested in the passage above is as follows:

I have heard people make statements about what is (supposedly) obligatory dress for Muslim women, statements in which these people claim to have very specific information about the guidelines and the permissible range of choices prescribed in the Islamic religious system.  However, people can be a bit vague about where these guidelines are located.  Maybe the fault is mine, for not pressing them hard enough to give me “chapter and verse.”

In any case, it is easy to throw around religious claims.  It is more challenging to cite passages of Qur’an and Hadith and then to explain how you interpret these passage to arrive at the desired conclusion.

I cannot verify the 100% accuracy of the quoted material above.  However, if it is indeed the case that the Qur’anic injunctions regarding women’s dress are that sparse and that open to interpretation, then I would say the following:

The position that the absolute minimum for women’s public dress is a loose-fitting black garment called abaya and a head cover with a face opening, seems much less authoritative than some would maintain.

 

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9 Comments

  1. losthunderlads

     /  July 19, 2007

    Clearly there is great wisdom and humor in the Qur’an.. “Most argumentative creature” indeed!

  2. acilius

     /  July 20, 2007

    Very interesting. It makes me think of the phrase “Islamic fundamentalism.” What could be more “fundamentalist” than to claim that “He, the Most Merciful, wants to give us exactly these very basic rules”? Or to argue that only those rules explicitly stated in a foundational text have force? Yet here the logic of fundamentalism underpins just that view which most of the people who are likeliest to use “fundamentalist” as a curseword would want to endorse.

  3. lefalcon

     /  July 20, 2007

    Great comments! The Quran does, in certain places, make a lively use of irony (…which is definitely a cousin of humor, or maybe a form of humor).

    Fundamentalism – like any truly meaningful term that empowers a person to make insightful statements and have interesting discussions – is (I guess!!) either absolutely impossible to define (as are all academic terms other than “a” and “the”); or else it may be defined only in such an excruciatingly-complex or unwieldy way, that to use it requires an attendant nervous breakdown.

    Since our collective turn down the path of madness has been long ago ordained and brought to fruition, I don’t imagine we’ll have any trouble continuing this conversation.

    “Fundamentalism” was explained to me as an attempt to return to an earlier historical phase (like the “early days” of a particular religious community). Thus its prime characteristic is the rejection of a large body of accumulated tradition (possibly extending over many centuries)…in an effort to re-claim the supposed true & original vision of the religion.

    So I felt that A’s comment was exactly on the mark: The material I quoted from the Internet was, in this sense, fundamentalist…even though it was directed *against* those who would conventionally be deemed fundamentalists.

    Some people claim that certain elements of their culture are the way they are, because it is an Islamic culture. In other words, the effort to follow Islam has caused these elements to become woven into the cultural tapestry.

    But the opposite can be argued: The elements may be “arbitrary” cultural practices (e.g. a certain style of dress) that are then accepted into an Islamic framework, reinterpreted as distinctively Islamic, and (over time) start to seem as if they are absolutely indispensable to an Islamic way of life.

  4. acilius

     /  July 25, 2007

    It may once have been the case that “fundamentalism” was a “truly meaningful term that empowers a person to make insightful statements and have interesting discussions,” and for all I know it may still be such a term within some tightly circumscribed subfield of Religious Studies. Most of the people who use the word, though, seem to use it in the way George Orwell said the word “fascism” was used in his day, as a term of abuse signifying “something undesirable.” To that extent our language would be no poorer if the word “fundamentalism” ceased to exist.

    I also want to register a demurrer to what LeFalcon presents as (exhaustive?) alternative explanations of how particular socially conditioned practices come to have religious valence. I don’t believe that they are alternatives.

    So: “Some people claim that certain elements of their culture are the way they are, because it is an Islamic culture. In other words, the effort to follow Islam has caused these elements to become woven into the cultural tapestry.

    “But the opposite can be argued: The elements may be “arbitrary” cultural practices (e.g. a certain style of dress) that are then accepted into an Islamic framework, reinterpreted as distinctively Islamic, and (over time) start to seem as if they are absolutely indispensable to an Islamic way of life.”

    The heart of my reservations here is in the very words LeFalcon claims to be uncontroversial, “the” and “an.” Change “the effort to follow Islam” to “an effort to follow Islam,” change “absolutely indispensable to an Islamic way of life” to “absolutely indispensable to the Islamic way of life” and I think you will see a very different set of possiblities. A given set of “cultural practices,” fairly characterized as “arbitrary” when considered in isolation from their social and historical context, may well have a significance within that context which would make it impossible to abandon them without embracing some other set of values. So, it is conceivable that if the more conservative Muslim societies were to do away with restrictive codes of female dress, the only available alternative would be a market-oriented individualism on the western model. That individualism in turn might prove incompatible with core values of Islam. So that even if the dress codes originated in a non-Islamic context, their retention might be essential to the defense of Islam.

    Of course I don’t have an opinion on how Muslim women should dress, or what laws should prevail in countries of which I am not a citizen. My only point is that the dichotomy LeFalcon seems to be proposing between Islamic practices and cultural accretion seems unlikely to stand up to a very searching analysis.

  5. lefalcon

     /  July 25, 2007

    I’m not proposing anything. You make it sound like I’m proposing some grandiose theory or something. I’m not. I’m looking at documented facts and saying that they’re interesting.

    Fact: People say that a practice is a part of their religion {Xnty, Islam, etc., etc.}.

    (Do you consider that this is already dangerous thin ice??)

    Fact: People did that practice in that society *before* it was a predominantly {Xtian, Muslim, etc., etc.} society.

    The practice came first. There was a historical period, where “it” had nothing to with {Xnty, Islam, etc., etc.}. Nobody was {Xtian, Muslim, etc., etc.}. Or these were just small minorities.

    Later on, “it” was re-interpreted. People started to understand “it” differently. “It” took on religious overtones, where none had been, before.

    I thought my earlier message was pretty clear, but maybe it wasn’t. Anyhow, I’ve just explained my point very clearly.

    Again, this is not a big fancy theoretical flourish; I’m simply observing that this documented phenomenon occurs in human societies.

    A new religious movement can’t enter a vacuum: It has to interface with the existing cultural system.

    Finally, I’m not arguing that, e.g., these guidelines for women’s dress, are *not* authentically Islamic. (This may be where our mis-communication lies.) They are.

    You have communities of people who maintain, “This is part of Islam.” The only way to disagree, is to make a counterclaim about proper Islamic practice. Which I’m not doing.

    Sometimes, members of a religious community have a hard time recognizing that one of their practices possesses a history as a cultural element with no particular religious significance.

  6. acilius

     /  July 25, 2007

    “Sometimes, members of a religious community have a hard time recognizing that one of their practices possesses a history as a cultural element with no particular religious significance.”

    Sure, but that recognition need not carry with it a devalorization of even those elements of practice most fully formed at the time of their introduction into the religious system. That’s all I’m saying. So much debate about religion hinges on a kind of genetic fallacy, an idea that the circumstances under which a text or hierarchy or other practice originated somehow exhaust the meaning and value of that practice, that I would argue we should always be on guard, not only against that fallacy, but against the assumption that religious thought must forever and everywhere be dominated by such fallacies.

  7. lefalcon

     /  July 27, 2007

    Sure: I think we’d both agree:

    Just because the menora may come from
    an ancient, non-Israelite/Jewish festival of lights…

    or the symbol of the cross never would’ve come into existence, without the Roman practice of execution by crucifixion…

    or pilgrimage to Mecca predates Islam…

    (I’m just trying to give some concrete examples…)

    …None of this, naturally, means that the menora, the symbol of the cross, or hajj are somehow “false” as understood by modern Jews, Xtians, and Muslims.

    It’s not that they have some “true” or
    authentic meaning, which has subsequently
    been lost.

    Rather, these things-as I imagine you’d agree-are just understood differently: Their meanings have changed over time.

    So my point is: People who believe that their religious tradition fell out of the sky, fully formed…without any type of negotiation with the crucible of the surrounding human society…need a wakeup call.

  8. acilius

     /  July 28, 2007

    Sure. And my point is, once they’ve woken up, they might be just as fiercely conservative as they were before, even if it is for different reasons.

  9. lefalcon

     /  July 28, 2007

    I don’t disagree.

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