Islam in the Workplace (Part 2): Muslims’ Attire

Posted on August 7, 2007


Note from Rafik and Nadiah Beekun: Though some of the following information is available on other websites, we have reproduced it here because of its direct relevance to the issues covered by this blog. We have also added to the material available on the internet through our own research. We will explore the implications of Hijab and its connection to the workplace in future segments, Insha Allah.

Q. What are the clothing requirements for Muslim men and Muslim women?

A: Rules regarding Muslim women’s (and men’s) attire are derived from the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, and the traditions (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In the Quran, God states: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty…And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments 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…(a list of exceptions)” [Chapter 24, verses 30-31] Also, “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons…that they should be known and not molested.” [Chapter 33, verse 59]

In one tradition, the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: “…If the woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen but this — and he pointed to his face and hands.”

As indicated in Fiqh-us Sunnah, volume 1, #113, there is no such dispute among Islamic sources (the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions) over what constitutes a woman’s ‘aurah. It is stated that her entire body is ‘aurah and must be covered, except her hands and face. Says Allah in the Qur’an, “And to display of their adornment only that which is apparent (do not expose any adornment or beauty save the hands and face).” It has been authentically related from Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar and ‘Aishah that the Prophet said, “Allah does not accept the prayer of an adult woman unless she is wearing a headcovering (khimar, hijab).” This is related by “the five,” except for an-Nasa’i, and by Ibn Khuzaimah and al-Hakim. At-Tirmidhi grades it as hassan.

It is related from Umm Salamah that she asked the Prophet, “Can a woman pray in a long shirt (like a night shirt) and headcovering without a loincloth?” He said, “If the shirt is long and flowing and covers the top of her feet.” This is related by Abu Dawud. The scholars say it is sahih in mauqoof form (as a statement of Umm Salamah and not that of the Prophet.)

It is also related that ‘Aishah was asked, “In how many garments is a woman to pray?” She answered, “Ask ‘Ali ibn Abu Talib and then return to me and tell me what he said.” ‘Ali’s answer was, “In a headcover and a long flowing shirt.” This was told to ‘Aishah and she said, “He has told the truth.”

In Fiqh Us Sunnah, vol 1, #111, the following is reported: Allah Says in the Qur’an, “O Children of Adam, take your adornment (by wearing proper clothing) for every mosque” ( al-A’raf 31). The meaning of “adornment” here is the covering of the ‘aurah. The meaning of “mosque” is “prayer.” Therefore, it means “Cover your ‘aurah for every prayer.” Salamah ibn al-Aku’ said to the Prophet, “O Messenger of Allah, may I pray in a long shirt?” He said, “Yes, but button it, even with just a thorn.” (Related by al-Bukhari in his Tareekh.)

The clothes worn must cover the ‘aurah, even if they are tight enough to highlight those features. If the clothes are so thin that one’s skin color can be seen, they are not suitable for prayer.

From these and other references, the vast majority of Muslim scholars and jurists, past and present, have determined the minimum requirements for Muslim women’s dress: 1) Clothing must cover the entire body, with the exception of the face and the hands. 2) The attire should not be form fitting, sheer or so eye-catching as to attract undue attention or reveal the shape of the body.

There are similar, yet less obvious requirements for a Muslim male’s attire. 1) A Muslim man must always be covered from the navel to the knees. 2) A Muslim man should similarly not wear tight, sheer, revealing, or eye-catching clothing. In addition, a Muslim man is prohibited from wearing silk clothing (except for medical reasons) or gold jewelry. A Muslim woman may wear silk or gold.

(References: “The Muslim Woman’s Dress,” Dr. Jamal Badawi, Ta-Ha Publishers; “Hijab in Islam,” Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Al-Risala Books; “The Islamic Ruling Regarding Women’s Dress,” Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi, Abul-Qasim Publishing; “Islamic Dress,” Muslim Women of Minnesota; “Your Hijab and U.S. Law,” North American Council for Muslim Women)

Q. Is Islamic dress appropriate for modern times?

A: Islamic dress is modern and practical. Muslim women wearing Islamic dress work and tudy without any problems or constraints.

Q. Does Islamic dress imply that women are submissive or inferior to men?

A: Islamic dress is one of many rights granted to Islamic women. Modest clothing is worn in obedience to God and has nothing to do with submissiveness to men. Muslim men and women have similar rights and obligations and both submit to God.

Q. But aren’t there Muslim women who do not wear Islamic Dress, or hijab?

A: Some Muslim women choose not to wear hijab. Some may want to wear it but believe they cannot get a job wearing a head scarf. Others may not be aware of the requirement or are under the mistaken impression that wearing hijab is an indication of inferior status.

Q. Why is Islamic dress becoming an issue for personnel managers and supervisors?

A: The Muslim community in American is growing rapidly. Growth factors include conversions to Islam, immigration from Muslim countries and high birth rates for Muslim families. As the community grows, more Muslim women will enter the work force. In many cases, these women wish both to work and to maintain their religious convictions. It should be possible to fulfill both goals.

Q. What issues do Muslim women face in the workplace?

A: Muslim women report that the issue of attire comes up most often in the initial interview for a job. Some interviewers will ask if the prospective employee plans to wear the scarf to work. Others may inappropriately inquire about religious practices or beliefs. Sometimes the prospective employee, feeling pressure to earn a living, will take off the scarf for the interview and then put it on when hired for the job. Modest dress should not be equated with incompetence. Other issues include unwanted touching or pulling on scarves by other employees, verbal harassment or subtle ostracism and denial of promotion. Many Muslims also object to being pressured to attend celebrations of other religious traditions or to attend employer-sponsored celebrations at which alcohol is served.

Q. What can an employer reasonably require of a woman wearing hijab?

A: An employer can ask that an employee’s attire not pose a danger to that employee or to others. For example, a Muslim woman who wears her head scarf so that loose ends are exposed should not be operating a drill press or similar machinery. That employee could be asked to arrange her hijab so that the loose ends are tucked in. An employer can ask that the hijab be neat and clean and in a color that does not clash with a company uniform.

Q. What are the legal precedents on this issue?

A: Many cases have demonstrated an employee’s legal right to reasonable accommodation in matters of faith. Examples: 1) The failure of other Muslim employees to wear headscarves is legally irrelevant. The employee need only show sincerely-held religious beliefs. (E.E.O.C. v. Reads, Inc., 1991) 2) There are no health or safety concerns at issue. (Cf. E.E.O.C. Dec. No. 82-1, 1982, also E.E.O.C. Dec. No. 81-20, 1981) 3) Companies cannot give effect to private biases. In other words, just because an employer believes customers will be prejudiced against a woman in a scarf, that does not mean the employee can be fired. (Palmer v. Sidoti, 1984, also Cf. Sprogis v. United Air Lines, Inc., 1971) 4) An employer must demonstrate “undue hardship” caused by the wearing of religious attire. (TWA v. Hardison, 1977) Hardships recognized by the courts include cost to the employer or effect on co-workers. 5) Dress codes can have disproportionate impact on certain faiths. (E.E.O.C. Dec. No. 71-2620, 1971, also E.E.O.C. Dec. No. 71-779, 1970)

Part of the material from this article from an article by CAIR entitled “Islamic Dress in the Workplace.” Source: © 1998 CAIR. All Rights Reserved.

Here are two neat videos showing  our Muslim sisters’ perspective of hijab:

Why the Hijab? Modesty, Dignity, Identity.

Video 1:

Video 2:

Islamic Dress Code for Men

Although Islam has no rigid criteria as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear, it does require certain minimum standards.

  1. What parts of the body are to be covered: The first bit of guidance given in Islam describes the parts of the body which must be covered in public.
    For women: In general, standards of modesty call for a woman to cover her body, particularly her chest. The Qur’an calls for women to “draw their coverings over their chests,” and the Prophet Muhammad instructed believing women to cover their bodies except for their face and hands. Most Muslims interpret this to require headcoverings for women. Some Muslim women cover the entire body, including the face and/or hands. For men: The minimum amount to be covered is between the navel and the knee.
  2. Looseness: Islam also guides that clothing must be loose enough so as not to outline or distinguish the shape of the body. Skin-tight, body-hugging clothes are out, for both men and women. When in public, some women wear a cloak over their personal clothing as a convenient way to “hide their curves.” In many predominantly Muslim countries, men’s traditional dress is somewhat like a loose robe, covering from the neck to the ankles.
  3. Thickness: The Prophet Muhammad once warned that in later generations, there would be people “who are dressed yet naked.” See-through clothing is not modest, for either men or women. The clothing must be thick enough so that the color of the skin it covers is not visible, nor the shape of the body underneath.
  4. Overall appearance: The overall appearance of a person should be dignified and modest. Shiny, flashy clothing may technically meet the above requirements, but defeat the purpose of overall modesty.
  5. Not imitating others: Islam encourages people to be proud of who they are. Muslims should look like Muslims, and not like mere imitations of people of other faiths around them. Women should be proud of their femininity and not dress like men. And men should be proud of their masculinity and not try to imitate women in their dress. For this reason, Muslim men are forbidden from wearing gold or silk, as these are considered feminine accessories.
  6. Decent but not flashy: The Qur’an describes that clothing is meant to cover our private areas, and be an adornment (Qur’an 7:26). Clothing worn by Muslims should be clean and decent, neither excessively fancy nor ragged. One should not dress in order to gain the admiration or sympathy of others.

Step by Step: How to put on an Islamic scarf

Beyond the Clothing: Behaviors and Manners: Islamic clothing is but one aspect of modesty. More importantly, one must be modest in behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. Dress is only one aspect of the total being, and merely reflects what is present on the inside of a person’s heart.

Ask a Muslim(ah): Hijab, my choice

Is Islamic clothing restrictive?: Dress requirements are not meant to be restrictive for either men or women, and most Muslims who wear modest dress do not find it impractical. Many people continue with their activities in all levels and walks of life.

Downloadable booklet on dress requirements for men and women by Professor Jamal Badawi:
Please click here to download “Women and Men Dress in Islam” by Dr. Jamal Badawi. This download is in the form of a booklet that you will need to staple in the middle. Once you staple the pages in the middle, you will have the complete booklet with the pages in the appropriate sequential order.

Additional articles relating to hijab on The Islamic Workplace blog:

1. Types of workplace discrimination experienced by Muslim women wearing hijab.
2. Good Samaritan 101: Policemen punished for harassment of Muslim woman.

There are several other articles on this blog on the topic of hijab. To access them, please go to the “search” box in the right column and search for “hijab”.