Sunday, October 21, 2007

How far is too far? Modesty and Fashion

Recently I was at conference and a miniature debate waged between two sisters about the current state of fashion available to Muslimahs. One sister complained about how glittery everything was becoming and how difficult it is to find something simple but elegant. She said the new glitter hijab and abaya phenomenon runs counter the Islamic idea of modesty. In an exasperated tone she asked, "How modest are you if you're a walking disco ball?" Several sisters applauded her. Another sister challenged her however. She said that Muslimahs who never wore hijab before are just trying to "make it work for themselves" and if it takes a glittery hijab then so be it. She felt some Muslimahs were trying to express their individual and personal sense of style while at the same time wearing hijab. She felt it was important not to pass judgment on anyone and to acknowledge the fact that sisters have taken the step towards wearing hijab, alhamdulillah.

After reflecting on the aforementioned conversation I started asking myself, how far is too far? Have I ever crossed the "modesty line"? And where is that line? Who defines it?

So, here are two cents.(Please keep in mind that this is not a fatwa I'm issuing and no one has to follow what I've said. I'm just sharing my thoughts):

First off, as I said in the beginning of this blog, I don't subscribe to the belief that I have to wear earth tones only. I like colors and I have hijabs & modest clothing in wide variety of colors; from fuchsia to yellow to baby blue. I don't think that every Muslimah has to be a carbon copy of one another. I think I can have my own individual sense of style while at the same time maintaining the requirements of hijab. I believe that I can wear pants as long as they are baggy and that I have a shirt that comes to my thighs or above the knee.

On the glitter phenomenon:

I do have a couple of glittery hijabs and one abaya with a sequins on it. To be quite honest with you I love to be as fashionable as the next person. However, I'm 32 years old and I'm a professional. I'm not 16. I'm starting to feel like I'm a little too mature to be rocking hijabs with tons of sequins and glitter on it. I don't want to feel like a cross between a teenager and a Muslim Diana Ross while wearing hijab. I do think when a sister has on a glittery, sequined abaya along with a matching hijab, tons of makeup, stripper shoes, and a sparkling purse I can kind of have a raised eyebrow. (Even as I try so hard not to judge anyone). When it comes to fashion, just as in life, I prefer balance. I don't like to be blinged out form head toe. I don't like to over do it. I try go for the right blend of flair and simplicity.

For instance, if I wore the hijab pictured below, I'd wear it with something plain. Like an all black outfit with a jean jacket over it. I wouldn't wear it with a red skirt and gold shoes.

At the same time, there are certain kind of hijabs that I feel are just too sparkly to be considered modest.

Here is an example:

I purchased this hijab on an impulse buy and now I regret it. I don't think you can quite see how shiny it is but it has the same sequined pattern all over the hijab- in gold! If I chose to wear it, you'd see me coming from a mile away...

Where is the "modesty line"?

As much I'd like to believe that I know where it is, I'm not sure I do. I mean, I can say based on my own judgment. However, how much of it is my nafs? How much of it is igonrance? Given that I've broken from the Salafi teachings I originally had when I first became a Muslim, who do I turn to in order to ask such a question? It seems that almost every book I've read on the subect comes from that line of thinking. How will I know which is which? In one aspect of my research on this subject I found the aforementioned quote:

The garments must not have such bold designs or consist of such bright colors that they charm and attract men’s attention to the woman wearing them. Allah (swt) says in the Quran: "..And let the women not display their adornments…" (An-Nur 24:30-31) This verse describes the outer garments as well as the actual body underneath. Hence the outer garment should not be attractively decorated with the result that special attention is drawn to the woman wearing it. On this condition scholars like Dr. Abu Aminah Bilal Philips argue that this point is relative to the environment one lives in. For example in Saudi Arabia it would not be recommendable for a women to go out in brightly coloured clothes because that is not the custom of Saudi women, they wear black. On the other hand, if a woman went to Malaysia (where it is customary for the women to wear floral fabrics in various colours) and wore black she would be drawing more attention to herself. Allahu a’lam

I have a problem wth this statement: "The garments must not have such bold designs or consist of such bright colors that they charm and attract men’s attention to the woman wearing them." It makes it sound like the onus is completely on the woman. Does it become my fault if a man is attracted to me? What if I have on a black hijab and he's attracted to me? Is the problem the color of the hijab, me or the man? Hmm... But at the same time I can't deny that tight jeans, tight shorts, gobs of makeup, becoming completely blinged etc. do interefere with modesty. I can admit that I feel it is inapporiate to wear the aforementioned to jumah, a conference or to an Islamic gathering. And the question becomes, if they're inappropriate for an Islamic gathering should they be worn at all? Hmm...

Any conclusions?

I suppose the bottom line is that sisters need to just think about modesty and their intentions. I think it's important to keep having this conversation with yourself and to be honest. (And of course to do your research). Just because they make it and call it "Islamic clothing" or "modest clothing" doesn't mean that it always is. At the same time we shouldn't be judgmental of other sisters who haven't reached the level of understanding and iman that we have, right? I'm not perfect and I'm still working through my feelings on this subject (if you can't tell already). I may very well decide to part with some of the clothing and hijabs I have because I think they cross the line. I don't know sisters. I'm thinking, studying and reflecting...What do you think?

Check out this article on the subject.


muslimahlocs said...

as salaamu alaikum sister. i overstand exactly what you are writing about. recently i have found myself lowering my own gaze in the presence of sisters because i did not want to find myself in the position of making any judgements about their attire and then have Allah judge me for doing so because i have so far to go with my own deen, nafs, etc.

i recetly received my latest copy of "xyz" muslim magazine (which was not azizah by the way) and do not intend to renew my subscription because the fashions were like most clothing that i could find in a non-muslim magazine, hijab notwithstanding.

have you seen this look: a tube or halter top worn with a fitted long sleeve shirt underneath and a hijab over it? that's a line that i do not intend to cross. may Allah protect and guide us all.

UmmAli said...

Asalam Alaikum Dear sister
This is a very touchy subject. But one factor that you mentioned several times it is not our place to judge.

As for me here are my thoughts. The purpose of covering is first to please Allah. Second not to draw sexually attention to our selfs. Its ok if we stand out as Muslim, that is dawah. Standing out drawing unislamic attention is were the boundary needs to be drawn. Any type of clothing that draws sexual attention your way should not be worn.

Shinny and bright things can draw anyones eye, and maybe by doing so you draw a mans eye and he won't be lower his gaze as he should. Then both of the women and the man are held accountable.

As for pants I do not think they are ok outside the home. I see many many sisters in pants with long shirts and I can still see their shape, and if I can a man who is not going to lower his gaze can see, and is looking.

Now if a women does all she can and a man still looks, its all on him.

The hijab though should start in the heart and then works it way outward. A women in complete coving can be the worst Muslim and a women in no hijab can have a faithful heart. The intention is half the deed.

Hijab is a commandment from Allah and we as Muslims need to take it serious.

But we are not the judge Allah is. Some times it takes alot for a women to put on hijab. We should encourage them and not put them down.

But I have seen some women do it for fashion. Its not done to please Allah, but to catch the eye of the right man who wants a coving women. Or to find the prettiest hijabs, its a hijabi fashion show. This is what saddens me.

But alhumdillah they are wearing in.

Once again these are just my thoughts on this topic. I am no scholar and I do what I feel is wright by Allah. I don't judge others for their choice in coving.

Anything I have said right is from Allah. Anything I have said wrong is from myself and shaytan.

Marty Ellen said...

I am not a Muslim, but I do greatly respect your emphasis on modesty and I was greatly intrigued by the post and the responses. While in Thailand a few years ago, I made some Muslim friends who invited me to stay with them for an evening in their village home by the ocean. I had a wonderful time during my visit, they were very kind and showed great hospitality.

I noticed that few of the women, if any, wore a hijab, even when outside of the home. Only once when one of the daughters and I went to the convenience store did she put on her hijab. Are all Muslim women required to wear the hijab or are there some cases when it is okay for them not to? I had a Muslim friend in high school who never wore her hijab. Is a woman who wears the hijab faithfully looked upon as a more devout Muslim?

suhaa said...

asalaam alaikum warahmat Allah wabarakatu:
totally agree with umm'ali, and the quote of dr. bilal phillips to a certain extent. if a girl/woman is wearing hijab she has to justify her intention to Allah. she has to remember that fashion is not a priority out of the house, only in. living here in madinah, i see colors of all types by masjid an-nabawi because most seem to be from all over the world. but a 5 minute ride away and you'll only see black, niqab and gloves too. u wouldnt know this at my daughters school where all women are allowed to enter the building, mashaallah you see their beauty but at the same time they are still modest inshaAllah-no tight pants, halters and no tanks ane barely will you see short-sleeved shirts.

when i first wearing hijab 10 years ago it was very different, and as time passed so did my attire become more modest alhamdulilah. so i dont think one should be looked down upon for wearing something so glittery because to that muslimah-it might be the most modest thing she's worn prior to wearing hijab. but at the same time, i think we can't fear being offended and we need to encourage others to better their deen as we better our owns. not in a condescending way, but in a motivating way.

years ago i was probably around 19 i was in egypt and at a masjid there, i had perfume on, and another sister came and enlightened me in a pleasant way by complementing me on something, asking Allah to accept my prayer or somethign along the lines and then very kindly reminded or educated me on that we shouldnt adorn ourselves with perfume while heading out. i wasnt offended. and so it is her kind word enjoing what is good that discouraged me from doing so. and rasullilah(as) taught us that a kind good word, a naseeha is a sadaqah infront of Allah, a charity. rather than fearing to offend someone, if you go about it the right way you will help this person and Allah will reward the both of you. Allah knows best.

as far as modesty, here to not wear niqab in madinah further away from the haram especially is a fitna, but back in the US it is not a fitna for instance so the need is greater here in Madinah.

without wearing hijab for the purpose of modesty is defying wearing it all together-but because only Allah knows what is in the hearts we should expect the good out of our sisters that they are wearing it for right reasons and would welome advice rather than get deffensive about it. Allah knows best!

Jamerican Muslimah said...

As salaam alaikum all,

muslimahlocs, I bet I know which magazine you're talking about. I'm starting to feel the same way. I've also seen the tube and halter look. I'm just not feeling it.

I have to disagree with you about the pants and long shirt. It depends on the woman's body type. There's only so much you can cover. Even when I wear an abaya my booty is showing.

marty ellen,

Hijab is required of all Muslim women however, some of them choose not to wear it for a variety of reasons. To be honest with you, I do think women who wear hijab are viewed as more devout. (Of course that doesn't mean we are).

Marty Ellen said...

Thank you for answering my question. What are some of the reasons a woman chooses not wear her hijab?

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way about the last issue of "the magazine". In fact, the majority of the pictures featured Muslims who were not hijabis. Anyhoo, we'll see how the rest of the issues turn out.

Anonymous said...

Salaam Alaykum,

I like your blogg, good job :-). I have a job which takes me to Family Courts all over the five boroughs of New York. One day I had to testify in one of the courts when a female court officer stopped me with a salaam and then said: "Did you read the papers yesterday?" I said no, then "Why?" She then told me about the first article you have posted with the voluptuous sister on the front ;-). I will never forget this because first of all I don't get a lot of people salaaming me on the streets so openly (never mind the court) and second because she told me how beautiful I am and that I would look great in a potato sack let alone some of the styles the sister in the newspaper modeled. I must say I was happy for the rest of the day :-)).

Salaam and keep up the good work. I don't have a lot of sisters close to me so I live throug bloggs such as this :-(

umm nmrah said...

hmm....about being to flashy and glittery, i think there has to be a balance. i like the red scarf u posted. i too would wear it with some thing black and a jean jacket. one sparkle item is enough! but yea, an example i wanted to share is that i could wear a black abaya with a black scarf and then spice it up with a red purse or some cute printed shoes. like i said, balance is what it's all about:)


Anonymous said...

btw- i think the sisters in pic #2 look so cute! their fashion isnt over the top, but still nice.


MyHijab said...

I recently wrote about this on my blog:

Hafsa said...

Assalamualaikum Sister,

I think as well that the things that attract men and women are often quite different.

It's quite common to see women attracted to glitter, sequins and shine - but I can say my husband, brother and father have zero interest in such things. And the fact that a woman is wearing them doesn't make their mouths water.

I think that these things in fashion serve the function that makeup often does - that is, all of the glam is really by women for the gaze or notice of other women.

The things the menfolk in my life do key into are a woman's shape (regardless of what she is wearing to enhance or camouflage it), her height, smile and hair. Other brothers I know also notice the quality of her skin.

So, I would take men out of the equation. What I have been wondering though in perusing this site and the Her Modesty magazine site, however, is whether this new fashionista trend is causing us to fall into the same traps as the rest of the society's women.

It used to be that being an American muslimah meant largely opting out of the consumerism, shopping culture, celebrity emulation and focus on aethetics that the rest of N. America was buying into.

Now, it's like if you want to meet sisters you go to the mall.

Yes, I want to look nice. But the standard is now so high, so glittery and so expensive. $50 is a lot for a shirt - it's a good portion of the week's groceries for us, a small appliance, etc.

It's all starting to remind me of visiting Pakistan and realizing that most of the upper class sisters surrounding me spent almost all of their time and thoughts on their appearance - shopping, planning the perfect outfit for the next wedding, etc.

So, anyway the issue for me is how consumerism, superficiality and ostentation play into this and whether these fit with Islamic values and and help us as women and people and not the male gaze.

Hafsa said...

And in response to the sisters who wrote about the magazine. I think I know the one you mean. I liked the last Ramadan issue I bought the best of all of the one's I've seen so far - but I'm undecided about whether I will continue to buy it. I cannot stand the fashions displayed - for all the reasons you mentioned. It's like they don't even try and I think it is worse still because of the age groups for which the magazine is targeted. Ugggh.

hafsa said...

Also, regarding wearing pants. I don't see the scandal in doing so. Both male and female humans have legs , so the fact that this is evident (though not necessarily the emphasis) when one wears pants doesn't seem particularly shocking to me. The area of difference between men and women tends to be in the hips and buttocks. I think one can be modest in pants by wearing a shirt/top/tunic/jacket/duster that at least covers the hips, buttocks and pelvic area and pants that are loose.

foreverloyal said...

I have a few thoughts on it myself. My basic position is, if you can find support for the position that women should cover their sahpe and not wear tight clothing.
I think if anyone wants to impose additional guidelines then they need to bring PROOF. PROVE to me that I am not allowed to wear bright pink. PROVE to me that I can't carry a sequined bag. After all, the bag will catch attention and draw the eye to the one wearing it, right?
I may advise a friend on the reasons why she may not want to wear a shiny black patent-leather-looking jacket. But I need to be careful about saying that she is religiously prohibited from doing so.

Miraj said...

Assalamoalaykum J M,

You have a great blog that I coincidently by Allah's fate stumbled upon, Alhumdolillah ;)

As for the Christian Science Monitor article you posted and what you mentioned in your own blog I personally feel ones iman and hijab do go hand in hand.

Dear Mary Ellen:

From my personal experienceWearing hijab before 9/11 didn't bother me at all - I thought I felt "safe" in my community. After its occurence I felt so permeable to attacks by the non-muslim community. I felt I was putting my young infants at risk in public walking around with it on. I heard horror stories from other parts of the U.S.. I felt that was my reason or conviction to not wear it.

My fellow muslimahs held onto their veils for a stronger conviction in their a result cutting me off for not wearing it as if I lacked faith. It was a sad time for me.

I discovered the deeper meaning of Hijab after NOT wearing it. (Not that some of you sisters shouldn't ...please read on...)There is hijab inflected in our daily speech, our actions, our walk,our gaze,our attitude. I truly feel hijab is not just defined by what one puts over their heads to define hijab and to be over consumed by fashion and consumerism.

Like the designer Barakaat mentions in the article "Girls want to attract the eyes of young men because they want to be different..." ???...I don't get that.

For whatever reason women decide let them wear it, individualistically if they wish, to honor their faith.

If we do it to flatter others and can't control our nafs then why continue.

It took me 7 years to convince myself upon being part in a newer, safer, stronger, established community of well learned people to decide for myself to wear the "hijab" again: the support from the community to accept me for me without imposing it and for my fellow neighbors to be tolerant and respectful.

Yes, I love clothing and accessories, but I love them not at the cost of vanity. Moderation is one of the best qualities, so is good health - Subhanallah.

There is beauty in being humble and the iman to go with it. That is the sincere attraction for others to Islam.

Overall, Allah knows us best in judgement, actions, and intentions :)

Ya Allah,please excuse me for rambling.

Duas, Love, & Peace

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaykum

Nice, thoughtful post.

I am somewhere in between I guess. As a Latina, I LOVE color. I am sometimes into the all black look too (abaya, hijab, etc), but love colored shoes, purses, etc just as much. Is there a fine line? Sure. Only problem is sometimes I don't know I've crossed it until I get a raised eyebrow from a non-Muslim male, shouting about "Mamas, you look good." *sigh*

Part of it, I think, is that when I came to Islam, there were soo few options and sooo ugly, too. Now, there's color and different fabrics, some Western retailers are rocking the 3/4 lenght coats and I LOVE those with hijab.

My only rule currently is: If I would never have worn those spangles, sequins, shoes to the office/mall/whatever as a non Muslimah why should I wear it now?

Ha ha..'course the problem is, I've always worn scandalous shoes and need to get over that.

But at least now, I leave the bugle beaded, sequined hijabs and abayas for sister gatherings...mostly.

Let's all just try and figure it out together and not point fingers, huh?

Beautiful blog sis

salaam alaykum
Still trying to figure it out.....

Anonymous said...

Hi sisters!, I am just wondering, there is a web-site called and they sell silk hijabs, they look amazing but very expensive. did anyone buy any hijabs from hijabplanet's? does it worth?