Translated by Umm Adam
Truly the greatest thing for which humans have need after food and drink is clothing, with which man conceals his nakedness, protects himself from the heat and cold, and adorns himself for social settings. Given that Islam is a faith that incorporates injunctions inclusive of all areas of life, it has not overlooked the subject of clothing and has established for it inviolable principles and rulings.
It may be that modern man considers clothing and adornment to be from those everyday, mundane issues that are subject to compliance of what is in vogue in each time and place, that it has no relationship to the rulings of ḥalāl and ḥarām and thus not an essential issue upon which life depends. However this claim has but arisen due to insufficient reflection and lack of examination on the effect of clothing on human life. In fact, clothing and dress, despite its relation to a person’s outward rather than his inward, still has a deep effect on his behavior, character and spiritual states. Amongst clothes are those which plant the seeds of arrogance and pride in the soul while others nurture in them modesty before Allah. There are those which establish good character in them and others which pave the way towards extravagance, sin, vanity, and infringement upon the rights of man. Therefore, whoever claims that clothing is but exoteric and that it has no connection to behavior or the character hidden within the hearts is truly uninformed of human nature.
For this reason, Islam did not left the matter of clothing in vain. Islam does not approach any of the affairs of life except with a methodology that conforms to sound disposition and that is in harmony with the demands of nature. Given that humans are disposed to variation in types of clothing and food, Islam did not limit him to one type, excluding others, nor specified for man a particular style or particular form of dress, nor even a particular lifestyle. Rather it established a set of fundamental principles and dictums that every Muslim must abide by in the matter of clothing and then left him free to choose what he prefers from the [different] sorts of dress. Nothing thus prevents a change in the styles of clothing as long as a person upholds these principles and fulfils their necessary conditions.
From the first of these principles is that clothing must conceal the nakedness (ʿawrah) of a person. Islam requires a man to wear that which conceals what is between his navel and his knees, and that a woman conceal her entire body with the exception of her face, hands and feet. Covering the ʿawrah is the most important objective of clothing. Allah, glorified and exalted be He, states: “O children of Adam! We have indeed sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, and (clothing) for beauty”. Thus Allah, glorified and exalted be He, explains that covering shame, i.e. concealing the ʿawrah, is of the greatest objectives of clothing. Clothing that does not fulfil this aim neglects that for which clothes were created, thus making it forbidden for use. All clothes that reveal a portion of the nakedness of a man or woman are not accepted by Islamic law, though they be beautiful or in fashion. Likewise, clothing that is fine and thin or clings to the body, which reveals to the viewer the shape of a portion of the body that must be concealed, would fall under the ruling above in impermissibility and would be disallowed.
The second principle is that the purpose of clothing is concealment and beautification, concealment for reasons aforementioned, and as for beautification, because Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, calls [clothing] adornment when He states: “Take your adornment at every place of prayer” and in His statement: “Say: who forbids the adornment that Allah has brought out for His slaves, and the good, pure things of sustenance?”. Nasāʾī transmits from Abū ʾl-Aḥwaṣ from his father that he related, “I entered upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he saw me in a shabby state. He said ‘Do you have wealth?’ I said ‘Yes, Allah most High has given me all kinds of wealth’. He exclaimed: ‘If you have wealth it should be seen upon you’”. It has also been narrated from Ibn ʿUmar (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Truly Allah loves to see the effect of His bounties upon His slave”. (Tirmidhī 124:5, and he deemed it ḥasan)
As for when the purpose of [clothing] is arrogance, pride, sin, vanity and ostentation, then [such clothing] is forbidden. It is narrated from Ibn ʿAbbās that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Eat what you like and wear what you like, provided you do not fall into two things: extravagance and conceit.” (Bukhārī, as an explanatory remark in the beginning of [the Chapter of] Dress)
The third principle is that clothing which a person uses to imitate disbelieving nations are not permissible to wear for a Muslim if his purpose of wearing such clothing was to imitate them. Ibn Nujaym writes in [the Chapter of] the Nullifiers of Prayer from al-Baḥr al-Rāʾiq (11:2): “Then know that resembling the people of the book is not disliked in everything and indeed we eat and drink just as they do. That which is impermissible is but imitation in that wherein there is blame and where one intends resemblance by it. Qāḍī Khān mentions the same in Sharḥ al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr. Based on this, if one does not intend resemblance then it is not disliked according to both of them”. Hishām similarly states in his Nawādir: “I once saw Abū Yūsuf, may Allah most High have mercy on him, wearing sandals bordered by iron nails, so I said to him: ‘Do you see any problem with this iron?’ He replied: ‘No’. I said to him: ‘Verily Sufyān and Thawr ibn Yazīd disliked them because them resemble (the sandals of) monks’. Abū Yūsuf, may Allah most High have mercy on him, said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) used to wear sandals that had hair on them (leather not stripped of the animal’s hair) and that is from the dress of monks’.” He alluded to the fact that any form of imitation that relates to the interest of (Allah’s) slaves is not harmful. This type of fixture (i.e. fitting iron nails to sandals) involves man’s benefit as there are pieces of earth and land where it is not possible to cross a long distance except with this type of (sandal) fixture. See al-Muḥīt in the Chapter on Miscellany. See also al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyyah (333:5) in the ninth chapter on disliked actions.
The fourth principle is that wearing silk is forbidden for men but not for women. Likewise, the lowering of the lower garment to [below] the ankles is not permissible for men but is permissible for women.
Extracted from Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani’s Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim.