Friday, April 4, 2008

Question About Islamic Clothes

Please help me understand, if you can.

To make a long, complicated and boring story short, when my husband and I were already in the midst of an argument about something totally other than what I'm about to mention here, I mentioned that the reason I would prefer not to spend X amount of money on X is because there are other things I would rather spend money on.

"Like what?" he asked.

"Like clothes," I answered, thinking of the new Spring clothes at my favorite Islamic store. There's a couple pieces I'm drooling over.

"You have a closet full of clothes," was his reply. "You have so many that you gave away X bags full to that rummage sale at the mosque."

Which was true, I did.

Now, let me give you bit of background, and then you can help me sort this out.

I became muslim 4 1/2 years ago. Like so many new muslims, I had no idea what to wear, so I accepted whatever was offered to me.

Since that time, I have branched out, GRADUALLY, learning about different cuts, different styles, different fabrics, which are halal and better suit my personal taste.

Until last summer, it was always ranges of abayas (mostly black, incidentally) that I was exploring.

I am very particular about....well, let's face it, many things in life. :) Clothing is one of them. I want it to fit well. I prefer certain fabrics and cuts over others. When things aren't *just right* I am bothered.

Now, I continued to wear abayas for 4 years, and frankly WORE OUT my favorite ones precisely because they were perferable, due to many details, over other ones. The ones with constructional flaws were worn very infrequently, much to the DEEP-SEATED chagrin of my husband ("why did I buy these if you're never going to wear them"). I am so drawn to practicality and comfort that the abayas which best fit my personal paradigm of goodness got too worn out, and my husband refused to let me wear them anymore, saying I looked "like a bum," meaning, not respectable, because the material had gotten all fuzzy and they had shrunk a little due to so many washings. Also, the material had been less expensive in the first place. I found that the fancy ones just didn't suit my lifestyle. Being a muslim growing in her identity, I hadn't anticipated this when I had been pressured to buy fancy abayas, so that I would look "respectable."

One additional note - the first year I was muslim, I also wore niqab. It was due to many reasons that are hard to articulate, but I think what stands out is that I was very, very eager - alhamdulileh - to jump into this religion, to do everything, to be great. I didn't think about the long-term anything of wearing niqab; it just didn't matter or occur to be at the time. Much like how I converted/reverted to Islam in the first place: I just jumped in, because I knew it was right and good - mashaAllah.

But with niqab, since I believe it is not quite possible to prove 100% either way that it is fard or not, I had some leeway. I discovered that there were difficulties with it, and since I viewed it as an option, I gradually opted out.

My husband saw this as a weakening of imaan, which I felt very bad about. But over time, I've come to define this change differently. I think that I am just evolving, finding my place inside and outside myself as a muslim in this society. I tried something out. I found it difficult to maintain at the time. Perhaps one day I will work it back in - Allahu alim. It was more a matter of practicality, I think.

Now. Last summer, my friend from out of town came to visit. I admired her muslim attire, mashaAllah, of long skirts and long shirts bought from a particular muslim Islamic clothing store.

I checked it out, and I LOVED what I found. Different styles, different colors (but still modest). Cuts that fit better, and even covered better (I don't like how with abayas, if you have anything but the shirt-style sleeves, they are wide. They slide up your arm if you slightly raise your arm, which exposes your skin UNLESS you wear the stretchy arm gauntlets, which for me are extremely uncomfortable, because they are either too tight, or they bunch up under your clothes, and in all cases, they make me HOT, HOT HOT). This Islamic store has clothes made out of COTTON - SUBHANALLAH! What I'd missed in my abayas for years! I always wondered why abayas, which are usually dark colors, have to be made of polyester? Thick or thin polyester, it doesn't breathe and it is hot and for me, less comfortable. I tolerated it for years because I believed I didn't have any other options.

Can I tell you how I marveled when I discovered COTTON clothes? COTTON ISLAMIC clothes? I was soooo happy.

So I bought a few pieces.

Since then, I've added a few more pieces, often saving up my own money so that I don't have to ask my husband for anything expensive and feel guilty about it.

So my abayas have gotten cycled out of what I wear. My husband asks, irritated, every once in awhile, why don't I wear my abayas? And I go into this long-winded explanation - which, includes something I didn't mention before - I am still nursing. All of my abayas except 1 or 2 are not suited for nursing.

Which brings us to tonight.

I mentioned that there were a few clothes I was thinking about, and he mentioned how I have a closet full of abayas.

I explained that I prefer to wear my long skirts and shirts, because of the fabric, the cuts, the practicality and functionality - I just feel it all is easier and suits me better.

This is where my question comes in. He proceeded to make me feel EXTREMELY GUILTY.

He assumed I was saying I was "never going to wear abaya again, and that I hate abaya" (which I NEVER said...why would I say that??? but he assumed that's what I meant), which he said is HARAAM. (Question: I didn't say that, but IS it haraam to say that?)

He was basically admonishing me, saying that we can NEVER say anything other than abaya, jilbab, galabaya is the best, because that's what the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) loved to wear, did wear, and it's what his wives wore.

He said fine, wear long shirts and skirts, it is halal, but you must admit that it is not as good as abaya (or galabaya, for men). Abaya and galabaya is sunnah. You should at least want or hope to do the sunnah, if your imaan is higher - but never say that something else is better.

I felt terrible. I like wearing the skirts, shirts, because of practical, functional reasons. Sure, I stand out less too than I would in black abaya - but I don't really care about that - I wore black abayas for 4 years, after all!

Question: is what my husband saying correct? Is it haraam to say that something else is as good or better to wear - for ANY reason - than abaya???

Please help. Jazakallahkhairan.


Organic-Muslimah said...
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Miss A said...

Asalaam alaikum,

I don't ever recall hearing the specific words "ababya" or "jilbab" mentioned in quran or hadith. I thought that covering without showing the definition of your body is covering. That's fulfilling the requirements. I agree with Organic that it's a cultural thing.
I don't know if your husband does this, but mine tends to use the word "haraam" when describing things that are maybe just "disliked" in islam. He's even told me things are haraam that are completely acceptable. He over-uses the word to try to emphasize his point. That's when I start looking up fatwas and such to show him. Just because they've been muslim all their lives doesn't mean they know everything.

Mumina said...

Asalaam alaikum,

Great post! I mean, it lays out a lot of your concerns clearly, and I echo some of these. Lately, I have been wondering about the two-piece style dressing (skirt & tunic/long shirt). I love wearing Abaya's and jilbabs, but I just don't have enough of them, so I do wear skirts and tunics sometimes. I am also in this battle about wearing niqab...another story.

I am sorry to not be helpful here - I am still trying to learn about these things myself, understanding how to follow the rulings on things when a difference of opinion is present. Someone was telling me that we are supposed to follow what is shariah ruling, and not go to the opinions of other sheikhs if it differs - I have no idea if there is even a shariah ruling regarding wearing Abaya vs. skirt/tunic, but I am going to look into it, and also, if what that person advised me is correct. InshaAllah.

Before I started having this dilemma myself, I also just went with as long as I am covered loosely, it's halal. Of course another issue is of colours and much to think about.

I look forward to reading additional responses to your post.

UmmLayla said...

What do they say about when in Rome?

Well, from my view we are in Rome. It boils down to the purpose of hijab. The purpose is to protect, to make sure no one sees your assets. And how you accomplish that might just have a little something to do with where you are at in the world. If you look at the dress of the people around the prophet there were many things that were similar to the people around him. Now I don't want to discount the sunnah, I think there is an argument for that... But lets be clear about it.

As long as you are meeting the nothing showing but your face and hands I think you are fulfilling the requirements, Allah knows best.

Incidentally I have the opposite experience where husbands are concerned. Where we live in WY he has DEMANDED that I lighten up (I used to wear abayas and khimars) for fear that a more "islamic" dress night bring harm to me and the children. He has threatened to divorce me over it, walahi. It's a post in and of itself but I understand what you are going through as far as your views not being in line with your DH.

Maybe if you can articulate the idea that when you compare yourself to other women here in the US you can be sure that everyone sees you as modest. And that if you were in a Muslim country you would do things differently. Also, remember that you are evolving and defining Islam for yourself after 4 years. I have been Muslim a decade and am still in the process!LOL

Just my 2 piasters, as usual.

Molly said...

My husband wants me to wear niqaab and khimar, but thats impossible here, especially with work. And well... I don't want to.

I mostly wear dresses over long-sleeve shirts and pants, or long skirts and shirts, wearing abaya to an office job is almost as absurd as wearing niqaab. He doesn't say anything about it, nothing about it being haraam to not wear abaya.

My question is, after your husband said that: does he always wear galabeya and short pants?

That would be the first thing I would say to my husband if he came to me about not wearing abaya- since all he wear are suits or soccer jerseys.

Allahu Alem. :)

Umm Yehiya said...

A sister that I respect a lot, mashaAllah, pointed out something to me/reminded me of something I once knew: that following the sunnah and imitating and DESIRING to imitate the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the wives of the Prophet (sallyallahualayhiwasalam) is INDEED the best among our actions and feelings in our hearts.

So. The point I was pondering here is not whether or not it is haraam to wear anything other than abaya; istaghfirallah, I hope I made that clear. (obviously, it is halaal to wear things other than abaya, as long as it fits the 7 requirements of [whole-body]hijab).

The point was a very small technical one (but I am interested in small technical points :)) -
that is: "is it haraam to say that something - anything else - is as good or better than the sunnah?"

Finally, another point: alhamdulileh, my husband is a good, fair, honest man, mashaAllah. He was not saying that I ought to wear abaya and he was just fine in pants, ma'am. No; he said that if his imaan was stronger, he would wear galabaya everywhere - which is something apparently he hopes to do one day, inshaAllah. He only hoped - for my own sake & reward - that I would practice the sunnah - if and when I could - in order to be even MORE pleasing (inshaAllah) to Allah by following the footsteps of what the women companions used to wear.

He simply did not wish me to diminish the importance and excellent status of the sunnah, and what it is to follow it.

Jazakallahkhairan sisters for your thoughts; I enjoyed thinking about this with you. Love from your sister. :)

Organic-Muslimah said...
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Mumina said...

I've noticed quite a few sisters (not just online, but also in person) saying that to wear an Abaya or jilbab, etc, to work, would be unprofessional, or something else unacceptable. Not at all! A muslim man I once worked with wore thobes every day to our corporate job, and the kuffi hat thing (is that its right name?) He was promoted several times until he ended up, last time I heard, in a fantastic, high paying position in the company's corporate headquarters.

Also, I wore Abaya's to that same job and got two promotions during that time alone. Now, I am not saying that I or that man I described are better than another muslim for it, because of course what we wear does not define our character, but I think that having the opinion that wearing such clothing is unacceptable for work is just all in the mind of whoever thinks that way. If it is a matter of not feeling the need to wear an Abaya anywhere, that's one thing, but if sisters think that wearing it to work is just UNPROFESSIONAL and UNACCEPTABLE (but will wear it anywhere else), please do not keep that mindset, because it is a manner of dressing based on an Islamic culture. And for many, it is just their national culture, so it is to be expected that there will be different dress styles. I think that we should not get caught up in society's view of what is ok and not in terms of this dress code situation...and you would be surprised to know just how ok society is with it. I'll probably start showing up to my job in niqab soon!

Umm Yehiya, I know this is off your topic a bit! Are you mad? Please don't be!!

Umm Yehiya said...

No I'm not mad at all!! The conversation can go any which way it pleases! :) I'm interested in how things flow.

I agree with you, too, and like how you stated it: "we should not get caught up in society's view of what is ok and not in terms of this dress code situation...and you would be surprised to know just how ok society is with it."

This is so true, mashaAllah.

I worked for 1 year after I became muslim, and I wore ABAYA AND NIQAB to work - and yes, I was a corporate employee. I was the assistant to the Art Director of national group of department stores. My boss was SO KIND, and completely respectful of me. She was very open-minded, and didn't care AT ALL how I looked, or how different I was from everyone else. She even didn't mind that I didn't shake the hands of her important male clientele! MashaAllah, mashaAllah.

Like I said, she was very open-minded. Every situation is different, according to which people are involved. Some are more accepting than others - but I agree that you might be surprised in some cases about how tolerant people are - even respectful, inshaAllah. But you have to weigh the situation.

It's different of course if you boss tells you, "You should wear X, and not Y." Then find a suitable Islamic alternative that fits into their standard. If there is no suitable Islamic standard, then of course a different job should be found, in my opinion.

However, the versatility of acceptable, modest, Islamic cover is quite a large range, so there will almost always be a way to fit in, inshaAllah.

rahma said...

I've always stuck with the opinion that there are requirements that our dress should meet, and the rest is urf, aka culture/local customs. Is one's awrah covered? Check. Can't see one's curves? Check. Isn't see through? Check. From there on out, it's up to you.

The culture of KSA calls for black abayas and niqab. The cultures of malaysia and indonesia allow for more brightly colored garments and floral patterns. Wearing a black abaya in indonesia stands out. Wearing a tudong in KSA stands out.

As such, I'm all for "western muslim sunnah clothing." I'll still rock the abaya on occasion, but in my every day life, I'll wear skirts, shirts and scarves that look normal, if a bit more modest, then what everyone else is wearing around me.

If we're going to say the abaya is superior to other forms of dress, or another form of dress is superior to the abaya, on what grounds are we judging? That one form of dress or the other covers better? Or that one culture is better than another? I'm afraid that it's usually one culture (ie the arab one) is superior to all others that is pushed.

Some scholarly input as well:

Umm Yehiya said...

Great points, Rahma! Thanks for coming over. I'm so curious who you are (and I have no idea)....since I think we live in the same city.

Anyway. I asked dh the same thing - on what basis are we judging? And his reponse made me think, because it did make sense.

He said, purely and simply, that what makes abayas better is that THAT is precisely what the women companions wore. That there is more ajr in imitating what the Prophet (sallyallahu alayhi wasalam) and his companions did.

Yes, other halal choices certainly exist. But I believe the scholarly viewpoint is that there is more ajr, more baraka in imitating those people.

It's not a question of culture, for those with their heads on straight. It's a question of following what they did.

Now, anyone care to comment on that? I'm really interested in what you all have to say, and are saying.

I also greatly appreciate your thoughts in helping me to grasp exactly what I think is right, and encompassing of all of the facets of what is good in this issue.

Umm Yehiya said...


I just went back and read Rahma's posted article. Very interesting. Thank you sister! I really liked it. It makes me think, yet again!

Especially this quote:

"In fact Ibn Taymiyyah said that it becomes sometimes obligatory upon the Muslims to dress like the inhabitants of a particular country they reside in for the purposes of affinity and Da’wa."

Jazakallahkhair for the link. :)

This bit o' wisdom really makes me feel a lot more peaceful!

Mumina said...

Asalaam alaikum Umm Yehiya,

Ok, so to comment on what you spoke about in your second to last comment about the ajr in following the examples laid out in the sunnah of the prophet (SAW) as opposed to adapting to cultural acceptances.

I am in the same place right now. I mentioned before that I too sometimes go with skirts and tunics. But I too believe that we should try to model ourselves to the way of the sunnah with hopes of gaining the pleasure of Allah (inshaAllah). I am currently researching this, not only with Abaya/jilbab, but also with niqab. I have a desire to wear it now, inshaAllah. I have borrowed a book called "Four Essays on the Obligation of Veiling." It is written by four "esteemed scholars" according to the book. The frustrating thing about the sources they give from qur'an and ahadith is that when I go and search to see if the translations match in other sources, the english translations differ. So, it is difficult to distinguish one's opinion from the truth from Allah (SWT) and from his Messenger (SAW) and the companions sometimes.

But I do feel that we cannot go wrong if we just follow the examples set out for us. And yes, there is more blessing there because Allah told us to follow that example. If I come across anything online that would be a good read about this, I will forward it to you. I am getting some help with this, so I do not want to just send you any website - anything I send inshaAllah will be after serious scrutiny!

Umm Yehiya, thank you for sharing that story about when you worde niqab to work. And also about not shaking hands with the male clients - the latter is something I also face, but I never get the chance to shy away, they're hands are already out there waiting for a shake. I feel awful, but I shake. I just feel it would be rude to say "no, I can't shake your hand." Or should I just say it and explain that it is my religious custom and not care what they think??

rahma said...

We could get together sometime - Molly and I went to jummah a month back, and then we found out we live like 2 miles from each other. The more the merrier :D

There are some things that the Prophet (saws) recommended that we do - for men, don't let their garments drag on the ground out of pride, brushing one's teeth or don't eat with the left hand (as a lefty, this one is uber hard for me).

Then there are those things that the Prophet (saws) did but never explicitly recommended. The most explicity example I can think of is hair. The Prophet (saws) had long hair. Well, not uber long, but definately below the ears. Yet, it's not one of the emphasized sunnahs, because he never recommended it.

I am wondering if it is the same for abayas - the Prophet's (saws) wives wore something like them, but were other women recommended to wear them? Did those who converted as Islam spread and interacted with other cultures wear them?

Granted, I am less than a humble student of knowledge, and these are my humble opinions. inshaAllah when the husband gets home, I'll ask him. He's slightly more of a less than humble student of knowledge than I am, lol.

Quite frankly, I think it would be a pity if we all dressed in abayas. I love eid prayer when lots of ethnic/national groups are recommended, and everyone is decked out in their country's finest (provided that they're all properly covering that it, can't stand the tight, short sleeved salwar kameez that seem so common on that day, bleck). In fact, this past eid, I decided to vary from my usual eid abaya, and instead rocked a shukr skirt and a sweater from target.

Mona said...


I'm going through something similar. I've been wearing khimar (long thigh length over the head type scarf for about 10 years...It was my choice, but it was always annoying and in the way. Recently I started wearing a big long shayla type covers to my bum in back and well below my chest. Its just more comfortable and there's more variety in the scarves. My husband found it a big change at first but as long as I am covered and my abaya is loose, it meets the Islamic requirements. There are a couple of abayas I had that I could wear with khimar but can't wear unless I lose some weight because they are a bit tight. I actually prefer abayas to tops and skirts. They're comfortable and easy. I just wish someone would invent the perfect abaya...I think I'll blog about that!

Safiyyah said...

As Salaamu Alaikum Dear Sister:

I have always worn abaya and jilbab since I've become a Muslim. For me, I just like them, and I like that they are all one piece and you just throw it on and that's it :) Prior to Islam, I always loved dresses anyhow.

I think that abayas and jilbabs can look professional. I put a nice suit jacket over mine. It works well with a plain jilbab. I worked in a prison for 10 years in jilbab and hijab. I was also in management and clinical direct care as a counselor. Dressed all the same.

As for the haraam: any time anyone tells me that something is haraam, I always ask for the daleel (proof). Personally, I agree with most of the sisters who have commented here.

Please do let us know how it works out.

Love and Salaams

Hijabi Apprentice said...

Is it haraam to say that something else is as good or better to wear - for ANY reason - than abaya???

To answer your question no it is not haraam. I wear abaya sometimes (a few times a week) but I prefer other clothing. My closet is quite international but also meeting the modesty criteria. I also modify (in a halal way) my clothing depending on the setting.

ma'a salaamah,


Jana's Journeys said...

I wore an abaya for a short time and honestly I didn't like it. The polyester material always stuck to my pants and I would get a shock everytime I closed the car door. I think people go to extremes when talking about how a Muslim woman should dress, everyone always gets so upity about it, we never get this way when talking about how a Muslim man should dress. Instead of asking our husbands about what they think a Muslim woman should be wearing we really should do our own research, by reading the quran and hadiths: "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty, and not to display their adornment except that which appears ordinarily thereof, and to draw their veils over their necks and bosoms.." (Sura An-Noor 24:31)
"Aisha reported that Asmaa, the daughter of Abu Bakr, entered into the presence of the Messenger of Allaah wearing thin transparent clothing, So the Messenger of Allaah turned away from her saying : ‘O’ Asmaa, when a women reaches the age of menstruation, it is not allowed that any of her should be seen except this’ – and he pointed to his face and two hands."[3] The Hijaab is therefore something which MUST cover the entire body of a woman, except her face and hands

Caminante said...

Assalamu `alaykum,

Sis, when we talk about the "sunnah of the prophet", we need to distinguish between the things that:

a) Were the prophet's personal preference or a product of his cultural, historical, or social background;


b) The things that he intently did as a prophet, to teach us and show us.

For e.g. one of the prophet's favorite colors happened to be green. But that was his personal choice. This doesn't mean it's haram to say that you don't really like a green and you prefer blue. However, it would be different if you said that "green is a horrible color that no one should like".

The prophet happened to be arab so he dressed like an arab. His wives also dress according to the culture of the time. HOWEVER, Islam is very culturally friendly. As Dr. Umar Abdallah writes: "In history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but—having no color of their own—reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African." (To read his wonderful essays, go to:

In the Quran and in the hadiths of the prophet saws, we see that there are general guidelines on what to cover, but not exactly how. And this is because each culture can develop it's own way of covering. We don't have to dress like arabs.

With this line of thought, saying that you don't like abayas and for yourself you prefer something else it's not haram, in the same way that you saying that you prefering pink to green it's not haram. In addition what we call "abaya" today is different from what the prophet's wives wore.

Finally, on a personal note, I believe that we Muslims here in the West have a "duty" to do dawah, to make ourselves known. And while at least for me it's usually easier to thrown an abaya over, I do wear many times skirts, or long shirts and loose pants (I also shop @ shukr a lot!). It has been my experience that it makes people feel like Islam is not so alien, and they tend to come closer to me, not see me as so different, and ask more questions about Islam,etc. At least for me, this is the way I try to tell people about Islam.

All the best,