The Islamic dress code is never the symbol of slavery. On the contrary, a little reflection will convince one that it is, in fact, the symbol of modesty. It is true that Islam commands woman to cover all her body parts save for her face and forehands. Why has this command been made? What has this command done: has it relegated women behind the prism of obscurantism or has it allowed for them a freedom in a valley of security? The Qur'anic verses which make the Islamic dress code compulsory provide clear answers to these questions. They go as follows: 'O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.' (33:59)
'And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons or, their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye believers! Turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain bliss.' (24:31)
'And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former times of ignorance; and establish regular prayer, and give regular charity; and obey God and His Apostle. And God only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the family, and to make you pure and spotless.' (33:33)
The real objective of asking the woman to adopt a decent mode of dressing becomes quite clear from these verses.
One: That they may be recognized.
Two: That they be not molested.
Those who live or work in different fields in society do adopt certain patterns of dressing in order that they are identified likewise. As far as women are concerned, it is possible, to a certain extent, to assess their way of life and character from the very pattern of dress that they adopt.
Prostitutes dress in such fashion as to enable those in need of them to identify them. The Devadasis who were attached to temples had, for purposes of identification, their own way of dressing. It may also be seen that the Hetaerae of Greece, the Chin kuwan Jen of China and the Gaishes of Japan - all had their own ways of dressing. They could all be identified by this code of apparel. Those in need of them could also be invited thereby.
The ideal woman as envisioned by Islam is modest and pious; chaste and virtuous - she is never approached by sex starved wolves; is not advanced upon by any with pleas for sexual gratification. This must all be discernible from her dressing itself. That prostitutes were to sit by windows with their breasts uncovered was a prescription in the legal code of fifteenth century Venice. It was indeed, a prescription for judging the quality of the available goods for those sex starved persons who came to satisfy their craving! How strange, indeed, it is that modern day women should have as their attire those that resemble the ones used by the prostitutes of yesteryear to attract the possible users of their bodies. The Qur'an, however, recommends that believing women and those who sell their bodies must be clearly distinguishable from each other and that, too, by the clothes that they wear.
Women have, in all ages, constituted a group, which has been never allowed any peace. Indeed, the great literary and cultural figures of every age have been men who tended to fight over the flesh and chastity of women. If yesterday the honour of women was torn apart through nude dances and poetry that depicted and glorified nudity, today it is being practiced right within the corridors of the family setting through the 'idiot boxes' and the Internet. The whole life of modern man has become sexually oriented. Things have come to such a pass that from the choice of the coffee that one drinks early in the morning to the pillow that one uses to sleep late in the night there is no escape from casting a glance, howsoever, cursory, on the feminine curves exploited inorder to sell the product.
It has also been for the very same reason that molestation of women has steadily been on the increase. Indeed, fathers who sexually harass their own daughters and mothers who involve in sexual relations with the sons to whom they have themselves given birth are, fast becoming characters who hardly raise a ripple in the normal functioning of our intellect. Teachers who sexually harass their female students! Male students who go around with their female teachers! The prominent officials who are forced to resign their jobs owing to the humiliation of sex scandals connecting them to their female secretaries! Women of royalty who publicly proclaim that they have sexual relationships with many men! So goes the list of news articles that we get to read in the daily newspapers. Indeed, it is a situation wherein women are unable to travel in peace! Wherein they are unable to work in security! In fact, our society seems to be rushing headlong into a situation where women are even unable to be at peace in their very own homes! What is the reason for this state of affairs? Observe the answers given by mature experts in the field.
In the column entitled Weekly Thoughts in the magazine Kumari, Sree N.V Krishna Warrier wrote: 'It is generally believed that men tend to rape in a mood of temporary intoxication caused primarily by the provocative dressing and gestures adopted by women. Indeed, sometimetime back a Supreme Court Judge in India had declared that every woman who wore clothing that attracts the man deserves to be raped.' (Kumari Weekly, 11.3.83)
It is then clear that by adopting modesty in her dressing the woman protects her body. The Lord Creator did, indeed, speak the truth when He commanded: 'O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God is Oft-forgiving, Most merciful.'(33:59). The Qur'an advices women to dress decently as a first step towards ending acts of adultery, rape and sexual harassment.
The earlier prophets, too, had taught the believing women that they were to cover all parts of their body except for the face and forehands. The history of the Old Testament also indicates that the practice of veiling the faces in the presence of male strangers was very much in vogue amongst the Israeli society right from the earliest times.(Genesis 24: 62-65). The importance and prevalence of this tradition can be gauged from the fact that it was generally believed that to unveil a woman was tantamount to raping her (Songs of Solomon 5:7).
It may also be seen that the tradition of the viel existed even after the time of Jesus Christ. This has been indicated in the writings of Paul. He had written thus: 'But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn orshaved, let her be covered.For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since He is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.'(Corinthians 11:5-7)
The Qur'an has instructed woman to adopt a decent dress code as part of its programme to implement the verse which states: 'and approach not nigh unto adultery.' Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had himself taught that the lustful glance, word or action all contain within themselves adulterous tendencies. Indeed, Islam has commanded that the doors to all acts of 'minor adultery' which lead to adultery itself and to the disruption of the moral fabric of society must be closed. Thus, Islam has prohibited sexually provocative clothing as well as dances.
Jesus Christ, too, had instructed that all doors through which adultery enters must be closed shut. He had advised thus: 'So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years; and he died.Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and had a son.And he called his name Noah, saying , 'This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.' After he begot Noah, Lamech lived five hundred and ninety-five years and had sons and daughters. 'You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery'.But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.' (Mathew 5:27-30)
Here, Christ has taught that in order to eradicate adultery the lustful glance and provocative movements of the body must be avoided. For that to be so what is it that becomes necessary? Woman must dress modestly; dress in such fashion that her feminine charms are not displayed. Then is it Prophet Muhammad, who came with the Qur'an which commanded such a code of dressing, or is it the clergy, which tacitly encourages the use of woman as a means for furthering business transactions, who is the real Anti Christ? Ordinary Christians of the day must come forward to reflect upon this issue.
The advice of Dr. Annie Punnan, wife of the Christian Writer, Zak Punnan, which she gives to Christian women is significant: 'The body is a trust which God has conferred upon us. We are never to misuse it, for God has commanded us to use our body to glorify God. Here, the reference is not merely to bodily actions; it also implies the dress that we use to adorn our bodies. Indeed, it has been recorded in the Old Testament that God did punish the sons of Zion for misusing, in various ways, this ability to attract men.(Refer 3:16-24)
Often, the clothes that we wear on the exterior is, in many ways, an expression of the inner state of our being. Indeed, to a certain extent, it declares, as it were, the true nature of our personality. Others receive their first impressions about us by the casual manner in which we clothe ourselves. Thus, it is quite possible that our witness for the sake of Christ will become meaningless if we are to follow the ways of the world in the matter of our clothing.
In any event, we must not attire ourselves in such manner as to induce sentiments of lust in men. If God will take men to account for their lustful intentions, it is only natural that He will also call to account those women who dressed themselves in such fashion as to arouse feelings of lust in them.'(Zak Punnan: Sex, love and marriage: A Christian approach, P.112, 113)
It is, however, strange that it is those who say that woman must do away with those clothes which arouse feelings of lust in men who quite often, criticize Islam which has made the Purdah obligatory for woman. These advisers have all fallen short of explaining as to which code of dressing is the most appropriate by way of not attracting the sexual impulses of men.
How is a woman to dress modestly? Is it the way of dressing of the Devadasis of yore who displayed the hair, the major portion of the breasts and the belly as well? Or is it the traditional dress of the Haetarae of Greece who wore their clothing up to their knees - clothing which displayed the neck and the hair? Or will it be attire of the Chin Kuwan Jen of China who showed off to men the contours of their body by the use of tight fitting clothes? Or is it the Islamic way in which loose fitting clothes that cover all parts of the body except the face and forehands are worn by woman? No unbiased person will fail to chose any but the last option.
The greatest speciality of Islam is that not only did it command women to dress decently, it went further and actually put forward the way in which it was to be done. Many of those who say that women are not to dress in ways that lead men astray however fail to give a clear picture of just such a way of dressing. Indeed, it is here that Islam emerges victorious. The fact that crimes against women are rare in societies that have adopted the Islamic code of dressing goes to show the relevance and practical nature of the Qur'anic verse that states '.....so that they may not be molested.' (33:59)
The allegation that the Islamic code of dressing has been deviced to confine women to the kitchen is without any foundation whatsoever. History has shown that there have been many women of greatness who participated and excelled in the various domains in society all the time having clothed themselves in this very same code of dressing. Indeed, for Aysha (R), the wife of the Prophet, the Islamic dress code never stood as an obstacle in learning from the Prophet and subsequently in teaching his companions both during and after his lifetime. She had even led in the Battle of the Camel dressed in the same type of clothing. When most amongst the men had fled from the Battle of Uhud it was Umm Ammara(R), clad in the Purdah, who fought on with her weapon. The Islamic code of dressing had never been an obstacle in the line of duty for Umm Athiya (R) who became famous as the one who participated in several battles alongside the Prophet by nursing the wounded and preparing food for the soldiers. So goes the list of the greatest women amongst the companions of the Prophet! These were women who had surmounted the pinnacle of greatness by making their impact in the various domains of society all the while dressed in clothing that revealed nothing of their body save for their face and forehands. There are such sisters in society even today aswell, sisters in faith who boldly step out into the different sections of society ever ready to serve while yet adopting the Islamic way of dressing for their own selves. Here, it becomes self evident that the allegation that the Islamic code of dressing seeks to bind the woman in chains is quite meaningless.
In truth, therefore, what the Qur'an seeks to do in instructing woman to dress decently is to formulate a practical solution, which raises the self-esteem of women and eliminates situations wherein they are molested or harmed.