Why Do Muslim Women Dress The Way They Do?

By Reading Islam Staff

Imam Khalid Griggs
Khalid Griggs


Usually American Muslims have a tendency to stand out and draw attention.

This is especially true for women, because of their conservative dress when they tend to cover most of their body except for their faces and their hands, which is kind of different from the regular dress for the American women where they dress in a more liberal way.

So can you tell us why do Muslim women have to dress in this way, and why is it important for them to keep doing so in the current times? 

Imam Khalid Griggs:

I think it's very important to understand that the parameters of dress for Muslim women and Muslim men are parameters that were established by the creator of the universe, by Allah, and those parameters do not change. They have been established for a reason. It's for the modesty of the Muslim sister, and it's to safeguard the morality of the society itself.

In this particular culture, we can look back in its history and find that in America it is a recent vintage that you find so many women exposing their bodies when they go out in public. When I look back at pictures and photographs of one of my sisters, as a matter of fact my older sister, when she was in public school, and going to church and things like that, she was very conservatively dressed. Nothing was being exposed of her body except for her face and her hands. And typically, this has been the mode of dress of most American women until recent vintage.

I say recent vintage within less than the last fifty years, where there was a women's liberation movement and a "free to do whatever you want to do" movement in this country. But fortunately, when those kinds of cultural and social practices reached the extremes that negative indicators began to dominate the society (like the incidents of domestic violence, and rape and other things like that), every society has the capacity to this kind of like a rubber band, when it reaches the outer limits of its elasticity to bounce back and to come back.

as a result of the extremes of this period, there was a period in American history in which the dress of women became much more conservative

We have examples of this in the American society, where you find that in the 1920s, prior to the Great Depression, it was referred to by American history as the roaring twenties because the dress of many of the women at the time. It was a period of freedom of expression, but it wasn’t freedom of expression within divine guidelines, and as a result of the extremes of this period of just expressing themselves without divine guidelines, there was a kind of blowback and the consequences of the blowback were horrendous for the family structure in this nation. And as a result of the extremes of this period, there was a period in American history in which the dress of women became much more conservative, and the norm became a lot more conservative than it had been at the previous time.

So I do believe that the dress of Muslim women today may be something that draws attention, that is outstanding. But because of the extremes and the extreme practices in this environment, that the dress of Muslim women will be imitated, as it has already been imitated by more women who want to preserve their modesty as the dress of Islamic attires. The Muslim women dress the way that they do because of a divine command to present themselves to the public in a manner that doesn’t draw attention to them.

So I believe that we can look at many of the fashions that are dominating the runways at these fashion shows now where people go to decide what will be the style of the dress for a particular season, and see that head pieces are now being worn in fashion runways all around the world. They find that not only is it modest and different, but it is also stylish. So Muslim women cannot change whatever fashion trend is predominating here in this country or anywhere else because it would be a violation of what has been established as a dress code for the women. 


There’s a common misconception that Muslim women are oppressed and they are forced to dress in such way by their husbands or fathers for example. So can you tell us if they do this because of their own will or whether they are forced to do so by their relatives?

Imam Khalid Griggs:

That’s a very good question. It would be very hypocritical for me to say that in many instances Muslim women in this country and around the world do not dress in the manner that they do publically because of the influence of their husbands, fathers or grandfathers. And I think that this is a norm. Every father, particularly at a certain age, insists that their daughters dress in a certain manner. But beyond this adolescent and pre-adolescent stage of dress, Muslim women are choosing to dress in the manner that they do.

There’s a verse in the Quran (The book of the Muslims), that makes It very clear that women should dress publically in the manner that they do so they will be known as righteous women. And the experience of Muslim women in this country and around the world gives validity to this argument that is found in the Quran that there is a certain level of respect that’s afforded for the Muslim women.

they also benefit from their submission to the divine will, to submit to what they are commanded to do is something that benefits them in this world and in the next

Such respect is not just unique in that way to Muslim women. For example, when Catholic nuns dress in their conservative habits and walk through the streets of the United States, you will be hard-pressed to find someone that would say inappropriate sexual comments to them or to disrespect them because there’s some aura that surrounds this typical conservative dress. The same applies to Muslim women. So there is a direct benefit on how others relate to them and respect them as practitioners of a way of life that demands that they display this public modesty.

So it’s not a force issue on the part of most Muslim women to dress in the manner they do. As a matter of fact, it is a very liberating experience. And I’m saying this as a Muslim man with a wife and four daughters, and I know that when my daughters and just other Muslim sisters when they dress conservatively like that, that on a very practical level, they are afforded respect that they are not afforded if during one of those times they don’t dress in this kind of way.

So it is an act of submission, just as all Muslim men and women are to submit to the divine guidelines. Muslim women when they do that, they get the immediate benefit of having the respect, but they also benefit from their submission to the divine will, to submit to what they are commanded to do is something that benefits them in this world and in the next.


Could dress code sometimes act as a barrier against Muslim women's integration in the American society?

Imam Khalid Griggs:

Well, I guess it could to those who are resistant to modest dress on the part of women. Those men who have ill intentions towards women will definitely find it offensive or barrier to them because they can’t see them and they want to see them. So it erects a barrier between those who have intentions towards these women other than respecting them for who they are and respecting them as human beings.

The issue of whether or not the women should modify or completely change their dress based on whether or not it erects a barrier is something that we as Muslims cannot afford to buy into that. The conservative dress should not be a barrier. But if it is a barrier, we can’t change our dress to bring that barrier down.

Watch the answers of Imam Khalid Griggs

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Source: Video produced by Why Islam - http://www.whyislam.org
Related Links:
Why Muslim Women Choose to Wear Hijab
Hijab: What's It All About?
Modesty of Appearance… in Hijab?
Hijab… a Must, Not a Choice
Hijab Between East and West

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