Muslim women are often asked: "Why do you wear that scarf?" "Aren't you hot?" "Do the different colors mean anything?" "Why do some women cover their face, but not others?" "Do men have a dress code as well?"
Most Muslims understand your polite curiosity, and would be happy to explain. But if you've ever been too embarrassed to ask the questions directly, you've come to the right place.
Q: Why do you dress the way you do?
A: First and foremost, because Almighty God (Allah) commands us to do so. In the Qur'an, Allah tells the believers to "lower their gaze and be modest." Specifically, it says: "Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their chests and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers..." [continuing list of family members and others in front of whom women are exempt from covering] (Qur'an 24:30-31)
Of course, Muslims believe that God has full Wisdom and knows what is best for us, so we strive to follow His guidance in every aspect of our lives. Muslims have also discovered other advantages to dressing modestly, including: being known for who you really are;not being judged by your beauty or lack thereof; being able to conduct business in an atmosphere of respect; being readily known as a Muslim; liberation; comfort.
Q: Aren't you hot?
A: In many ways, covering the body protects it from the heat of direct sunlight. In loose, flowing clothing, the air around the body flows freely and cools more readily. The choice of fabric covering the body is more important than the square inches/centimeters exposed or covered. On severely hot days, we might be uncomfortable as is everyone else. During those times, we find comfort knowing that we are following the commands of Allah, and "the fire of hell is hotter."
Q: Do the different colors mean anything?
A: Muslims are to dress in modest clothing, without attracting attention to oneself. For this reason, many Muslims choose earth-tone colors such as green, blue, gray, as well as the usual black and white. Beyond this, there are no specific meanings behind the choice of color. Some colors are more common in certain parts of the world, based on local tradition.
Q: Why are there differences in the specific styles of dress?
A: While Islam outlines a code of modesty, it does not command a certain style, color, or fabric. The range of clothing you find among Muslims is a sign of the great diversity among the Muslim community.
Q: Do men have a dress code as well?
A: Absolutely. Both men and women are commanded in the Qur'an to "lower their gaze and be modest." It is generally understood that men are not to expose the area of their body from the navel to the knee. However, many Muslim men would feel shy to expose a bare chest or bare legs in public. As with women, men are not to wear clothing that is tight or see-through. Indeed, in many Muslim societies the traditional clothing for men includes long, flowing robes, or long tunics that fully cover the body.
Q: What do these Islamic clothing terms mean? Hijab, khimar, niqab, abaya, jilbab, burqa, shalwar khamis...
A: Different terms reflect different styles of dress. Often the same clothing has various names depending on what area of the world it is worn. River Garden Arts has a brief glossary of Islamic clothing terms.