A Catholic Nun and a Muslim Woman: Piety or Oppression?

We have all seen pictures that represent different belief systems. For this article, bring to your mind a picture of a Muslim woman (Muslimah) in a khimar, and a Catholic nun, dressed in a habit. There are many stories in the media depicting Islam in a negative light and alleging that women following this faith suffer oppression at the hands of their husbands and other Muslim males. One such method of the alleged oppression is the supposed forcing of Muslimaat, the plural of Muslimah, into wearing clothing that is not revealing and which also covers their hair, neck and ears. This modest dress is called hijab. Yet we can picture two women with diverse belief systems dressed remarkably similarly. The habit worn by many Catholic nuns is also attire which does not reveal the nun’s body and covers her hair, neck and ears. Why then is hijab worn by the Muslimah regarded in the West as a sign of oppression, but the habit worn by many Catholic nuns regarded by this same group as a sign of piety and modesty?

Both religions dictate a certain style of dress for women who strive to be closer to God. Both beckon the female believers to maintain their modesty so as not to attract unwanted attention. Both believe that modest dress is a command from God. However, the West regards the khimar as a sign of the oppression supposedly endured by millions of Muslimaat, while praising and standing behind a nun’s decision to wear the habit.

Contrary to what is propagated in the media, the khimar is not forced upon a Muslim woman by her husband or anyone else. Hijab, the modest attire worn by Muslimaat which includes the khimar, is a direct command from Allah (swt)1 as found in the Qur’an – the holy book of Islam:

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof, hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. And let them not display [more of] their charms to any but their husbands,..." (Asad, 2005, p. 600)

What is less known, and not reported by Western media at all, is the command that appears in the Qur’an in the ayah (verse) which is found directly before the above ayah and reads:

"Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity: this will be most conducive to their purity – [and,] verily, God is aware of all that they do." (Asad, 2005, p. 600)

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the word of Allah (swt), given to the believers by way of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)2. It would not be possible for any human to force a Muslimah to wear a khimar, as the directive was given by Allah (swt), as evidenced in the Qur’an. The khimar, then, cannot be a form of oppression suffered by Muslimaat as forced on them by the men in their lives.

Muslimaat wear loose fitting clothing that does not reveal their body. They wear a khimar to cover their hair, ears and neck. Some Muslim women choose to wear colors that will not attract attention – black, brown, and tan. The majority of them understand that it isn’t the color that is important, it is the coverage. Western civilization lays great value on the "liberation of women." What is sad is that they do not realize that to be liberated does not mean that they must reveal their body.

Liberation comes in many forms. As a woman, you should strive to be recognized for your mind, not your body. It is your mind that will set you free. There seems to be no thought put into whether this Western liberation of women is true liberation or an underhanded ploy to give men exactly what they want from women anyway – a display of the "forbidden" in plain sight. It is a legal form of public pornographic pictures, at least as we look at it in the light of attire. Sure, liberation goes well beyond what one wears. It also encompasses the person’s actions and thoughts.

Dr. ‘A’id al-Qarni (2005) says it eloquently in a book entitled You Can be the Happiest Woman in the World: A Treasure Chest of Reminders:

"So, preserve your beauty with faith, your tranquility with contentment, your chastity with hijab. Remember that your adornment is not gold, silver or diamonds… Clothe yourself with the garments of taqwa (piety) for you are the most beautiful woman in the world, even if your clothes are shabby. Clothe yourself with the cloak of modesty, for you are the most beautiful woman in the world even if you are barefoot." (p. 54)

This passage conveys true liberation. It depicts for us how not to become slave to fashion and points of view. Rather, we should carry ourselves in the most respectable manner possible. In order to earn the respect of men, be considered their equal, and obtain true liberation women must demand that respect and equality through their minds, not their bodies. Skimpily clad women earn men’s attention. Gaining their attention is a far cry from gaining their respect. True liberation will not come for women until men respect them as their equal counterparts. We do not find any men walking around dressed one step away from obscenity in order to demonstrate their liberation from whatever oppressors they may have…

Similar to the belief stemming from the Qur’an, some Catholics have interpreted passages in the Bible and determined that God’s word instructs them to not only act appropriately in all things, but to dress appropriately as well. Catholic nuns who choose to wear the habit dress in clothing that is loose fitting and not revealing. The habit consists of a black veil, medal or crucifix of the order, a ring, with the main parts of the habit consisting of a dress, a scapular (long pieces of material which fall front and back over this dress) and coif (the white material worn over the hair). (O’Neal, 2005) They also wear a covering on their head to further demonstrate their modesty. To set them apart even further, the habit is usually all black with some white trimming. There’s really not much difference between the modest dress of Muslim women and Catholic nuns.

It is apparent that Western media is reporting only half of the story. They deem the modest dress worn by Muslimaat as an oppression imposed upon women of the Islamic faith by their husband or other male family member. They tout the Catholic nun’s choice to wear the habit as a sign of piety and closeness to God. The media depicts Muslim women as possessions of their male counterparts, being allowed only to do what these men allow them to do and nothing more. "It is true that gender inequity, oppression of women, and misogyny do occupy modes of the Muslim social and political worlds, just as they do in the Western world." (Waheed, 2001) However, just as there is cultural oppression in Islam, Catholic nuns are victims of oppression imposed upon them by priests and other males in the religion:

"Sister Isabel: Poverty, chastity and obedience. Poverty in the sense that, well, everything you had you had to ask for. We weren’t poor, but we owned very little. On chastity, of course we couldn’t marry. And obedience, you did as you were told (emphasis mine). For instance, after I made my final vows, I was told I was going to Portland, Oregon. That was it, I went off to Portland, Oregon. You did as you were told." (Norris & Driscoll, 1999)

This statement seems pretty oppressive. Sister Isabel did not have a choice to go to Portland. She was told to go and did as she was told. She had no choice. Muslimaat have a choice. They can choose to wear the khimar or not. They can choose to go to Portland…or not. Sister Isabel’s attire and residence both were dictated by the church. She did not have a choice…

A Muslimah’s choice to wear hijab, including the khimar, is a choice of freewill. Allah (swt) commanded both men and women to "lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity." (Asad, 2005, p. 600) Making the choice to wear khimar is beneficial in many ways – including strengthening the bond between husband and wife. The khimar strengthens this bond in a few key ways:

1. A Muslimah wearing a khimar is less likely to be approached by another man – Muslim or non-Muslim. It is an outward sign of her taqwa.

2. In turn, a Muslim man knows not only that his wife is devoted to Allah (swt) as demonstrated by her freewill choice to follow Allah’s (swt) commands, he knows that his wife has an outward sign that will "ward off" male suitors without her having to first be bothered by their advances.

3. Muslimaat who dress Islamically appropriately add a new dimension to their marriages in that they reserve their body for the viewing pleasure of only their husband, for it is only he who will be present when she "lets down her hair."

4. The knowledge by the husband that it is he and only he who will ever see his wife’s charms and beauty is an ego boost immeasurable.

There are not many men walking this earth who can honestly say that their wife’s physical beauty has only been seen by him. A Muslim man, however, can say with almost certainty that he is the only man with this honor. I am not speaking of the viewing of a woman’s body in a sexually explicit manner. I am referring simply to the fact that no one will have even seen a Muslimah in shorts and a tee shirt with the exception of her husband and immediate family. This can have nothing but a positive effect on the relationship.

A stroll through a crowded mall will not leave opportunity for contention between husband and wife or husband and stranger. Many couples end up arguing because a strange man inappropriately addressed the wife. Either the husband becomes enraged and lashes out at the stranger, possibly culminating in a physical display of displeasure on the husband’s part, or he lashes out at his wife and accuses her of dressing inappropriately and thus attracting unwanted attention. He may feel that she did not adequately represent him and cut the stranger’s advances immediately. Many feel that the wife has somehow flirted to get the attention when she generally is oblivious to the other man until and if he speaks up. However, a Muslim woman dressed modestly and wearing khimar has effectively cut any advances off at the knees.

It is no easy feat to wear khimar in the West. The media’s representation of Muslim women as oppressed, degraded and even victims of violence make wearing it that much harder. For a Muslim woman in the West to proudly wear a khimar everyday is a testament of her faith. In all religions – Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. – knowing that your wife’s faith is strong enough to endure persecution and ridicule and she not waiver in her beliefs would bolster anyone’s commitment to that person. Most married couples who follow one of the major world religions want their faith to be an intricate part of their life. They would like to build a home and raise a family with strong moral and religious values. A Muslimah who endures the constant ridicule and pity thrust upon her by those of other faiths because of her decision to wear the khimar is verbalizing her deep rooted faith without uttering a word. A husband will only naturally latch on tighter to his wife – he knows that she is his partner in raising children with the values and beliefs that he holds himself.

If we take a look at the hidden "caveman" persona buried deep down inside of most men, we know that to some extent that taking a bride is equivalent to claiming his conquest. He has found and won the woman of his dreams. This is his "property," his "possession" although this conquest should not be looked upon negatively. In addition to having claimed his conquest, to know that no other man ever walking this earth will know his wife’s true physical beauty is another stake in his claim. It is another sign that this woman, this "cave man possession" is all his – 100 percent – and no other has had, or will ever have, her. (Before proceeding, let us remember that the references to women being possessions and conquests referenced here are used figuratively and not literally. These words are merely descriptions for the sense of "all mine" that a man feels when his wife leaves the house modestly dressed and sporting her khimar.)

Not only is wearing the khimar beneficial to marriage from the man’s point of view, but also from the woman’s vantage point. A Muslimah can leave the house confidently knowing that she will not be bothered by constant and unwanted advances by other men. She can walk through a crowded mall knowing that she is not attracting unsolicited and unwanted attention. The Muslimah can be confident in knowing that she will not have to deal with ego trips and jealousy from her husband. She has made a statement to the world that first and foremost, she is devoted to Allah (swt) and will follow His path, and that she will not display her charms to just any old body who wants to have a look. A Muslim woman modestly dressed and wearing khimar has stated that her beauty is displayed by her mind and what she has to offer the world intellectually and not by her body and what there is of her to offer physically. Only her husband has the privilege of seeing her physical beauty for it is only he who needs this information.

Simply wearing the khimar is a silent statement of all these things and more. All of these things mentioned will have a solid and positive impact on any relationship. Warding off unwanted advances even before they are made prevents someone unaware of her piety from offending or embarrassing her by some vulgarity. This in turn eliminates the need for her husband to defend her honor or misconstrue the other’s advances as some flirtation by her. It helps to instill in the husband that the woman he has chosen as his life mate has the same values and morals as he holds dear to him. With this knowledge, they both together have a great guarantee that the relationship they are forging will be built on a solid foundation. These assurances can help to protect, strengthen and sometimes even save a marriage.

When we take a look at this, we see that the West has put itself in a pickle. It denounces Islamic hijab and the khimar as a form of oppression while simultaneously upholding and giving credit to Catholic nuns who dress pretty much in the same fashion, esteeming them as pious. This is a clear indication of how politics and the media can sway a nation’s understanding and acceptance of things in which the West does not have full knowledge.

References

Al-Qarni, A. (2005). You can be the happiest woman in the world: A treasure chest of reminders. Riyadh: International Islamic Publishing House.

Asad, M. (2003). The message of the Qur’an. Bitton, Bristol England: The Book Foundation.

Norris, D. & Driscoll, J. (1999). Life as a Catholic nun. Retrieved September 21, 2008, from http://melrosemirror.media.mit.edu/servlet/pluto?state=3030347061676530303757656250616765303032696430303433323033%5D

O’Neal, L. (2005). Catholics. Retrieved September 19, 2008, from http://en.allexperts.com/q/Catholics-955/nun-habits.htm

Waheed, S. (2001). U.S. shows continue to paint distorted picture of Muslims. Retrieved September 23, 2008, from http://www.iviews.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IV0101-1131

1 (swt) is an abbreviation for the Arabic term "subhana wa ta’ala" and means God is the greatest. It is used by Muslims in printed works after every mention of the name Allah (swt) in order to give Allah (swt) the highest praise and honor due only to Him.

2 (pbuh) means "peace be upon him" and is placed in all material written by Muslims immediately following the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) name to show honor and respect due to him.


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Comments 29 comments

Rachel 7 years ago

Thankyou for shedding light on this topic, i'm very surprised that no one else has commented. Everyone seems to ignore,overlook, or not be aware of the similarities of the khimar & habit.


sumaiyah profile image

sumaiyah 7 years ago Author

Thank you for your comment Rachel. It is very interesting to see how people tear apart one group's traditions and build up another group's that are the same. We all need to start opening our own eyes and minds and see for ourselves instead of blindly following what we are told by the media. I am glad you enjoyed the article.


Eric Vinyl 7 years ago

I think the point is being missed - while some clueless Westerners just REALLY DON'T GET the idea behind hijab, nevertheless, the outrage isn't about the dress itself. You say "the khimar is not forced upon a Muslim woman by her husband or anyone else," but in Afghanistan under the Taliban or postbellum Iraq, how women are safe dressing IS enforced. This is really what the issue is - not the way individuals choose to dress, but the brutal punishment meted out to women who transgress prescribed modes of attire.


sumaiyah profile image

sumaiyah 7 years ago Author

Eric, you make a good point. However, those practices are not ISLAM -- they are CULTURAL practices. My problem is that cultural oppressions are said to be Islamic oppressions by non-Muslim people. Do people go around saying that all Catholics and all of Catholicism practices and condones child molestation, sodomy, and rape because many Catholic priests do these things to the altar boys and other children under their care and guidance? I don't see the world jumping on the bandwagon and putting Catholicism down as a religion of molestation because of the practices of some of their priests -- priests who are supposed to LEAD the masses and guide them to God, while secretly they are molesting little boys. Why then is all of Islam blamed and called a religion of hatred and violence because a few choose to impose cultural and/or personal oppressions on women? Why is Islam dragged down the drain but not Catholicism? Why are we meddling in the way in which Afghanistan chooses to rule its country? Are they meddling in how Americans rule ours? Are they dragging down Americans because they torture war criminals and try 13 year old boys as adults, sentencing them to 25 years in ADULT PRISON because he tried a wrestling move on his neighbor and accidentally killed her? Why is the spotlight always shined negatively on someone else while the West continues to sweep its dirty laundry under the rug? I'm sure they could be called out on far more things than child molestation by priests and unfair law practices carried out on minors. But no...one only hear about how terribly oppressive Islam is and how they are all terrorists, etc. Is not the U.S. terrorizing the Middle East in the name of justice and 9/11? Who died and made the U.S. the authority on how all countries should be run? Why are they the authority on how to run a country, how to run a religion, how to discipline minors, how to cage war criminals, etc? How did we end up being the judge and jury for the world? No one puts Christianity down. No one seems to remember the bloody ravaging wars waged in the name of Christianity and the brutalities that were done to women who wouldn't submit and embrace Christianity. Was that not oppressive of Christians? Or is it just Muslims who practice oppressions?

I don't condone the brutal punishments endured by some women in Middle Eastern countries because of their attire. I also don't condone the world blaming those atrocities on Islam. Lay blame where it belongs -- on MEN for their brutality of improperly dressed women, on PRIESTS for their molestation of children... Why are we blaming whole groups of people for the actions of a mere fraction of the group?

And before someone says it -- no, I have nothing against Catholics. Why then have I chosen to compare them in my article and then used them again in this comment? Because I was raised Roman Catholic and have a knowledge base of 28 years practicing that religion and being devout so I know a great deal about it. They say you should write about that which you know...


christinecook profile image

christinecook 6 years ago

Thank you for this interesting hub. I know as a westerner I myself do not see many Muslim women in my area,though there are a few. It is a shock for me to see the khimar at first. Yet I respect them for there choice in being modest. We could learn a lot from Muslim women.


Maria 6 years ago

Sumalaya makes a very good point about speaking out against the unfairness toward Islam by the media. However, I would just like to say as a 61 year old practicing Catholic, that in my whole life, I have never known any priest who sexually abused children, and I have never known anyone who has ever told me that they were sexually abused by a Priest. I think that Catholic priests have been in general unfairly treated and slandered in the same way that Muslims have. I think it's time that we stop trying to hurt each other and practice love and toleration for one another, regardless of religion.


RiaMorrison profile image

RiaMorrison 6 years ago from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

A thousand thanks to you for this Hub, which echoes many thoughts I've had not just on the comparison of religious dress codes, but also on the issue of modest dress itself. While I don't necessarily agree that modest dress in a woman can only serve to strengthen a relationship between her and her husband, her god, etc, I do believe that it's entirely unfair and even ignorant to condemn one form of modesty while praising another, or to condemn any woman who chooses to dress modestly for whatever reason she decides upon.


Soon-To-Be Sister Maris Stella 6 years ago

alright.lemme give ya the low down on how the catholic nun life goes.chastity:because we are married to jesus.poverty:because we are rich in things that are not worldly.like virtue,joy,and charity.and finally obedience:obedience to the to eternal god the victim,jesus christ.once you've fallen in love with this man,who died on a cross for each and every one of everyone's(believer's and non-believers)sins,youll understand.once you've fallen in love with this man,who saved me from suicide,youll understand why i would give my life up freely to join a cloistered discalced carmelite convent.i do this not because of the priests,bishops,popes,etc.i do this to serve the christ in everyone.i will go to the ends of the earth the tell someone how much i love their soul and try to explain how much more jesus loves their soul.

eternally his,

a future nun.

discerning,hoping,praying

you are all in my prayers. :) god bless.


Please No Foreign Words 6 years ago

You write your blog post in English, yet you introduce foreign words such as muslimah and muslimaat. Why is it not sufficient to write "muslim woman" and "muslim women"? Would the meaning be different?


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

Thank you for sharing information on this important topic. It seems silly to me that people have a problem with women who dress modestly. Peace!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States


ALL4JESUS profile image

ALL4JESUS 6 years ago from USA

I applaud you for including the Muslim words. I need the knowledge, I strive to learn. I yearn to be tolerant. I yearn for others to be tolerant of me.


anwar 5 years ago

Thanks for pointing this topic, so others can know :)


jawida 5 years ago

adam and eve were naked. to each his own. people meddling in other peoples business deserve what they get.


Siobhan 5 years ago

I live in Jordan.For the past several years I have seen a disturbing trend with the younger girls and women who believe themselves to be Muslima.They are going out,wearing hijab,but shirts and jeans so tight,it leaves nothing to the imagination.They seem to WANT to draw attention to themselves.Jordan,my adopted home country,has become extremely "Westernized".I don't know how their parents allow them to go out looking that way.The hijab has become a "fashion statement"..right along with matching shoes and handbags.I mean,the hijab,shoes and handbad all match.IF she is wearing jilbab,that match's as well.One girls top was so tight,I could clearly see her belly button! This was mostly in the largest city near to our village..now I am seeing the girls and young women of the village wearing jeans and barely covering their rear end with a blouse.Most disturbing to me to see this.


christiansister profile image

christiansister 5 years ago

I think this is a very good article.

But, I would like to say that here in America every religion is criticized. And the media represents anything that brings division and sensationalism.

I am sure it is extra hard for Muslim women who choose to dress in this manner because people in the West are either scared of them or just plain hateful and both of these reasons is sad.

And also in the West it is such a practice to tear apart and make fun of each other in anything and everything.

But, does this mean that Muslim women don't go swimming? And if they do, what do they wear? I am not being contrary I am truly interested.

I feel that it is sad that a woman has to hide her beauty because some men cannot control their lust.

And others cannot control their jealousy.


christiansister profile image

christiansister 5 years ago

I would like to explain my comment a little more if I may. It is always scary to see our traditions fading because they are how we are taught to act by our parents and it is ingrained in us as children.

But, with each generation there is progression. And this progression always has its good and its bad. That is why there is rebellion of the young.

Because, especially now they see the progression around them, but are taught to hold fast to traditions of old. They feel as though they are being oppressed because others are not having to obey these traditions. And that they are being held back.

Before you get upset let me explain that this type of dress was not tradition of our Grandfather Abraham. Does it not say in Genesis 12:10-20 that Abraham told Sarah to not expose the truth about who she was because he was afraid of her beauty? He did not tell her to wrap up in a tent to hide herself. And didn't our awesome Abba Father (Allah to you) make things right on Abraham's account?

Teaching our daughters to hide because we are afraid we cannot teach our sons to master their flesh, or trust that our husbands have not mastered them is of grave concern to me.

I have three daughters and three sons. I attempted to teach my daughters to be responsible in their dress and my sons to realize and tame their flesh. But, ultimately the choice is theirs.

We all have choices to make and we cannot change the world to protect our children. We must teach our children to learn to make these decisions from inside themselves. And to seek our Abba Father's counsel to make their souls good.

And we must trust that when we do teach these things our Abba Father will bring good things alive in our children.

And the Father does not force us to act in a certain way. He tells us how we are to live and wants us to choose right because He Loves us.

But, he wants us to choose to master these things. He never forces (that is mans way, not Gods way).

After saying all this, I have great respect for women who choose to deal with the hassle and ridicule of the world because they feel that the Father has required this of them. It shows strength and character. But, to force them to do this because we are afraid we cannot teach our sons the same(listen to the Father and choose to be Holy in thought and deed) then I think we have done more harm to them than good.

And this applies to more than just dress. It applies to all the decisions we make in life. And sometimes they will choose right and sometimes they will choose wrong. But it is in the choosing that the soul grows strong, not in being forced to be right by the laws and traditions of man.

I say this with much respect, love, and concern.

Because, I am a Christian who does believe that we DO call on the same God. I call him Abba Father, you call him Allah.

I truly believe that Ishmael is my Uncle and He was taught by the Father. Even more so than Issac, because he was sacrificed by our Grandfather Abraham to the Desert. And God the Father became his Father.

And I trust that when the time of reckoning comes we will all be astounded at the truth of it all and that we are truly all Gods children. And that all this ugliness and fighting will come back to condemn us all.

But, that is exactly why I am a Christian. Not the type of Christian many people define as "Christian". Because I have been shown in my soul many great things(new wine).

That Jesus was a man who lived the perfect life to pardon all sin. I believe that he is my Lord and Savior because of that perfect life.

But, he is not the Abba Father. And I believe that Jesus' Kingship will be awarded in the "New Earth" with his city being "New Jerusalem" and people of all Faiths will be counted as worthy through his blood. And that He will rule in Love, Compassion, and Truth.

And tears of many will be shed when we see all the nasty things we do to each other in the name of religion (Christians especially)

But, I am just a woman who seeks the Father in my own way and think that being a Christian is to live according to the words of Jesus and not the traditions of Christians.

I pray and read and seek on my own in my personal life and I trust that the Father hears me and communes with me in my spirit.

I am totally heartbroken over all the ugly things we do as humans to each other especially in the name of our religion.

Sorry about the rambling. In Peace and Love Always:)


Marie 5 years ago

You may understand muslim women and their reasons for their garb but you have no clue about catholic women and catholic nuns. A catholic nuns obedience is immolation of her Spouse Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not on a par with the more limited obedience a Catholic woman owes her husband. You simply do not understand. There is a carnality in Mohomaddism that reduces discussion on such topics to sexual issues - hiding her charms etc. I think it is the difference between a baptised person and one that is not. This status of baptism is more than likely the reason you do not understand Christianity. However all Muslims are called to conversion and I promise you that you will not find that real modesty is critised in the Catholic Church.


Umna Safdar profile image

Umna Safdar 5 years ago

Excellent piece of work...keep writing :)


Malikha Pogson-Abdullahwali 5 years ago

Marie: Is it possible for you to just state your position, belief, or status regarding your personal experience in your striving for knowledge. Can you further refrain from degrading the mental ability of others to understand what your religion teaches about modesty. Ironically, you are commenting about what modesty means to a Muslim without really understanding Islam. Now I am sure that the audience of this site are capable of exchanging ideas without introducing a tone of arrogance about one's choice of religion. I do not wish to understand Christianity the same way that you do not have to understand Islam. Just share your information and move on. Let us as intelligent women keep the door of tolerance opened. You do not have to downplay anyone's intelligence in order to get your point across. As Muslims we are taught to respect other religions. There is no need to understand your baptismal process. My duty is to merely respect you as another thinking, breathing, human being. Surely we do not understand the scientific workings of the solar system but we downright respect it don't we? Peace out!


Rehana Stormme profile image

Rehana Stormme 5 years ago

Thank you Sumaiyah for taking out the time to write comprehensively on this topic. It just baffles me how a nun, covered up, is considered to be 'holy' while a Muslim woman, covered up in the same spirit, is considered to be 'oppressed'. They consider only nuns to be holy while in Islam, every woman is considered holy and therefore God requires every woman to dress modestly.


Lena 4 years ago

In the name of GOD, Most Gracious, most Merciful

Dress Code for Women based on Quran

Anyone who thinks about it recognizes the falsehood of the old saying “Clothes make the man.” Yet for many the piety of a Muslim woman is defined by how she dresses.

The Quran tells us that the best garment is righteousness:

O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness. These are some of God's signs, that they may take heed. (7:26)

Interestingly the Quran does not require a woman to cover her hair, but rather to dress modestly and to cover her chest

"Tell the believing men that they shall subdue their eyes (and not stare at the women), and to maintain their chastity. This is purer for them. God is fully Cognizant of everything they do.

And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes, and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their chests, and shall not relax this code in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake and reveal certain details of their bodies. All of you shall repent to God, O you believers, that you may succeed." (24:30-31)

Dressing modestly, therefore, is a trait of the believing men and women. The minimum requirements for a woman's dress is to lengthen her garment (33:59) and to cover her chest. Tyrannical Arab traditions have given a false impression that a woman must be covered from head to toe; such is not a Quranic or Islamic dress.

These verses make it clear that the intention is for Muslims of both genders to be modest in their dress and behavior. If a woman chooses to cover her hair it is fine. However, in Western society she may draw less attention to herself if she does not cover her hair, but just dresses and behaves modestly. Perhaps the issue has been confused by the fact that the Arabic word for the covering on the chest is the same word that has come to mean the hair-cover. In actuality it simply is the word for a cover, any cover, and does not imply a cover for the hair.

This stress on dressing modestly rather than in any specific “Muslim uniform” is reiterated in the following verse:

"O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized (as righteous women) and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful." (33:59)

Again we see the intent is to be modest, to be recognized as being righteous. But does dressing modestly mean looking plain and unattractive? Not if we take the descriptions of how the dwellers of Paradise will be dressed as examples!

"They have deserved gardens of Eden wherein rivers flow. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and will wear clothes of green silk and velvet, and will rest on comfortable furnishings. What a wonderful reward; what a wonderful abode!" (18:31)

"God will admit those who believe and lead a righteous life into gardens with flowing streams. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and pearls, and their garments therein will be silk." (22:23)

"On them will be clothes of green velvet, satin, and silver ornaments. Their Lord will provide them with pure drinks." (76:21)

Surely if the believers dress beautifully in Paradise, it cannot be unrighteous to do so here. And indeed God tells to dress nicely when we go to the mosques:

"O children of Adam, you shall be clean and dress nicely when you go to the masjid. And eat and drink moderately; Surely, He does not love the gluttons." (7:31)

Thus, God makes it clear that we can and indeed should at times dress well. We do not need to be plain to still maintain modesty.

In all of this discussion, the most important thing to remember is that: “the best garment is the garment of righteousness.” If you keep your focus on pleasing God, the garment of righteousness will never fade, or wrinkle, or become moth-eaten. It will never go out of style, nor become too small. Clearly it is the most important garment in your wardrobe!


Anonymous 4 years ago

"We do not find any men walking around dressed one step away from obscenity in order to demonstrate their liberation from whatever oppressors they may have…"

EXACTLY. So you're saying a woman dressed the same way (fully clothed in loose fitting clothing) is a step away from obscenity because her ears, wrists, or hair is uncovered?

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof, hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. And let them not display [more of] their charms to any but their husbands,..." (Asad, 2005, p. 600)

Notice the command in this passage was not to cover your head but your bosom or breast. It assumes that you would already be wearing a head-covering as most people living in Middle-Eastern climates would be regardless of their moral beliefs or lack thereof.

Way to misinterpret Qur’an.


uzma shaheen profile image

uzma shaheen 4 years ago from Lahore,Pakistan

Media has double standards and showing us only those things which they want us to see.great piece of work.voting up and sharing.


SDK 4 years ago

I agree that many in the West completely misunderstand the way in which traditional modesty is meaningful to women. However, I do not think you can or should ignore the way in which modesty is used in the modern age to oppress women.

In today's world, in places where modesty is enforced, by custom or by family or by law, women also have fewer political, educational, and sexual rights. They have fewer choices, less freedom, and they experience more violence and control.

Do not forget that a Muslim man is not just the only the one who sees his wife's beauty -- he owns her body. It is not possible in Islamic law for a husband to rape his wife -- because her body is part of his acquisition in the marriage contract.

A Muslim woman married to an abusive or mentally unstable man has few options. If her children are older, she will lose them. If she leaves him, she has no source of economic support. He can prevent her from working. He can prevent her education. A Muslim woman cannot travel without her husband's permission. So she cannot easily leave an abusive man. This restriction is also part of modesty. This alone is enough to keep many women with abusive men.

And when Muslim women -- religious women -- protest this oppression, what are they called? Immodest. Modesty is more than hijab. It is often an excuse for oppression.

This is why Western women have rejected modesty. It is not that we enjoy catcalls. It is not that we think sexual attraction is our only power. It is that in a world where women have full legal, economic, educational, and sexual equality -- women do not choose to cover themselves. Because we do not need to prove our virtue to anyone other than ourselves -- what we wear actually is less important than who we are. We dress the same way in the street as we do in our homes because we have the same power in the street as we do at home. In both places, we are human beings and citizens. Our worth is not tied to our submission to men or to our sexual morality.

If hijab is so good for both men and women, you would see less wife beating, fewer arguments about jealousy, less wife killing, fewer dowry murders, less violence against girls and women, more happiness, more education, more harmony between husbands and wives in traditional cultures. Do we find these things? We do not.

Women in traditional cultures are more likely to say that they wish they had been born men. There is more oppression of women among traditional cultures that practice modesty, because modesty is not just covering. Modesty means that women should be obedient to men. Modesty means that men can control women's actions -- their ability to work, to leave the home, to get an education, to control their lives. A girl's virginity is guarded at all costs in a traditional culture because *it is her only value*. The girl, herself, has little value.

It is not a coincidence that the countries we see today where women are the most oppressed, where violence against women is pervasive, where most wives are beaten and raped, where girls are married young and without choice, where girls do not go to school, where men are more jealous, more obsessed with women's virginity and chastity -- are also cultures that practice modesty.

Modesty is a beautiful in theory. In practice, it is often a vicious excuse for oppression. If you wish to promote it, you must also answer for the way it is used against women in the real world, not just the way it could be understood in theory.


Taalib Pugh1 profile image

Taalib Pugh1 4 years ago from Wilkes Barre Pa

Jazakullahu khairn my sister. Please keep up the good work. This was a very good subject to touch on if you get see may comment please try to view my first here in Hubpages it's called "Tawheed First".


Summer Serinity 4 years ago

Just another example of male dominated, male interpreted religions tell women how to prove their worth. Like they don't have intrinsic worth. No one needs to dress like a tramp, but wearing the head covering is also unnecessarily calling attention to yourself, .... At least in this country... So would that be the opposite of what you propose a valuable woman would do? Come on, it's sick... It represents oppression of women.... AND in America the government does not punish a woman who chooses not to cover.... But these other countries you mentioned do.... This is not a cultural difference... That is the very definition of oppression. Grow up, .... Stop believing the stories you are fed. I am a cradle catholic, however I used birth control, I was not shunned, stoned, or punished. I could name several other ways in which the catholic church and I differ... And you know what, my judge will be God, not my catholic community, or my culture or my government.... That is why to draw a correlation between modern Catholics and Muslims is like compairing peaches and razor blades. The problem is that compairing what happens here with what goes on in other countries is like compairing life in 2012 as we know it, and life in the 6th century which is where all those radical Muslim countries are. Please stop explaining and excusing their behavior. Don't you feel that you have a responsibility to protect your sisters. Your energy would be better served trying to fight the oppression your head scarf represents, rather than trying to convince the rest of us that's it's harmless. Cause just like I don't believe that god wants me to produce a baby every year for 12 to 20 years. I don't believe he wants you to convince me of anything... Maybe you are to work on our perception by fighting where it comes from..... Where women are chattel, possessions, abused, stoned, and killed at the whim of their husbands, fathers or government.


adam 4 years ago

mother marry wore exactly the way muslimat wear. :)


Jason 3 years ago

Summer Serinity, do as you like let muslim women choose what they like learn to live with it.

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