Contrary to popular belief, women in Islam has been empowered and respected. We previously discussed the Islamic viewpoint on the rights of women and the position of women in the society. Knowing that the justice considers equal rights for both men and women, it revealed that Islam had given “equal” -not similar- rights to women and men. Here, we provide more evidence on the Islamic approach to demonstrate that females are greatly respected in Islam.
In the pre-Islamic era in Arab countries, females were considered as weak members of the society, and they were an economic burden especially during times of famine since they were supposed to be less useful. If a girl was born to a family, the father became disappointed (“And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief.” (16:58)) and afraid of that girl being held captive by the invaders in the future, which would bring shame to the family. So, they used to bury baby girls alive (“Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground?” (16:59)).
Of course, Islam prohibited this practice by the divine commands in the Quran as well as the deeds and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The reaction of the Quran to this act is: “evil is what they decide” (16:59) and adds: “do not kill your children out of poverty; We will provide for you and them” (6:151).
This act is so blamed and hated in Islam that in Surah Takwir it is said on the Day of Judgement, the first issue that will be dealt with before everything else will be burying the baby girls alive: “For what sin she was killed” (81:9). This demonstrates how invaluable females are in Islam.
Islam also attempts to show the position of the daughter in the family and how she brings blessings to it. In this regard, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said: “God bless the father who has daughters. Daughters are lovely and bring divine blessing, and sons are like good news. Daughters are enduring good deeds (Baqiyat al-Salihat)” .
He (PBUH&HP) wondered why people were unhappy and sorry for having a daughter and said that daughters are like fragrant flowers for him to smell . Imam Sadiq (AS) said that: “Daughters are your good deeds and sons are your blessings. You will be asked for the blessings you have been given, but you will be only rewarded for your good deeds” .
This narration emphasizes how important female children and women in Islam are and warns us to treat them well. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has advised buying gifts for the family members and said that this act would be rewarded similar to giving charities. Then, he (PBUH) adds: “Firstly give your daughters their gifts, and then your sons. Because whoever makes her daughter happy is similar to the one who has set one of the children of Ishmael free (AS)” .
The respect and importance given to daughters are also pointed out about women in Islam and especially wives such that according to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) the best of men is the one who is the best to his wife. And, he (PBUH) is the best man who other men should follow in act and behavior towards their wives .
Another manifestation of the respect for the wives is the Islamic point of view on polygamy. Islam does not approve of polygamy; rather it has restricted polygamy by setting some terms and conditions on that matter.
Islamic Advice on Respect for Mothers
Mothers are of high value in Islam because of their efforts such as how they withstand the difficulties during the pregnancy, the care and protection they provide after giving birth to the baby, the selfless sacrifices they make so that the child could grow up in the most comfortable condition and with the best education.
The rights of mothers are even known to be superior to those of fathers . According to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), one can never pay back the rights of the mother .
This amount of concern about females from childhood to motherhood and the considerations for the equal rights for women in Islamic teachings all the indicate the respect and attention paid to women in this religion.
- M. Nuri, "Mustadrak al-Wasa'il", vol. 15, p. 115, T. 17700.
- "Makarim al-Akhlaq Supplication", p. 219.
- Shaykh Al-Kulayni, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 6, p. 6.
- Shaykh Al-Amili, "Wasa'il al-Shi'a", vol. 15, p. 227.
- Shaykh al-Saduq, "Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih", vol. 3, p. 443.
- H. T. Nuri Ṭabarsi, “Mustadrak al-Wasail”, vol. 15, p. 203.
Well, one way to answer this question is to consider it by itself and regardless of any side issues. One may thus say that Muslim women –together with the rest of the world– need clothes! women in Islam, too, deserve to wear beautiful and stylish outfits! Muslim women, too, can have a job! And if all that is acceptable, there could be no fault found with designing such clothes or presenting them as a model.
As you know, though, Islam generally gives us the liberty to do all that is sensible, necessary, and harmless but always draws our attention to certain limits and red lines as well. Our answer to such questions, therefore, is usually like; “No problem provided that…”
So, let’s now have a look at those conditions for women in Islam that might concern fashion designing and modeling?
As you know, Islam has set a certain limit on women’s covering. This certain limit addresses women’s natural charm and attractions for men, and their understandable desire to expose them.
So, the big idea for setting such specific measures may be that women do not make a pledge of a special extent of covering for themselves which they would never break. Since, it will end up in what we can see today, where women’s bare body is so widely used as a tool to win men’s attention and pleasure. That’s why Islam has issued special rulings for women (and of course men’s) covering.
The second thing, which is even more repeated and stressed on in Islam, is modesty . But what is modesty all about? Cambridge dictionary defines it [with regards to clothes and behavior] as “a quality, in women, of dressing or behaving in a way that is intended to avoid attracting sexual interest” [i].
Of course, modesty is not exclusively for women in Islam. Men, too, are bid not to dress up or behave in a way that may attract sexual interest. What’s more, the same term is also metaphorically used to imply protecting all parts of the body from trespasses, such as modesty of the eyes, modesty of the tongue, or modesty of the heart. So, in a broad sense, modesty is the quality of protecting oneself against wrong desires. And that’s exactly what we need in fashion modeling.
Now, modesty is somehow different from covering obligations. It means a person (or a woman, as concerns this article) might be well covered following the Islamic principles of covering, but her type of clothes or her manners may still leave room for provoking sexual interest.
Moreover, the realization of modesty can be culturally variable. What is considered as an acceptable level of modesty in a cultural background may not be so in another. But in every culture, I guess, women know pretty well what kind of outfit or behavior could attract sexual attention. And that will do!
Finally, I should say that Islam is not opposed to men and women looking neat, good-looking, fashionable, or even attractive. If a woman is especially kind looking, for example, she looks particularly attractive to everybody.
Does it mean that she shouldn’t look like that? No way! What Islam tries to avoid is looking SEXUALLY attractive –in the same way that Islam asks men time after time to take care of their sight and never look at any woman –other than one’s spouse- sexually. Because Islam wants all sexual pleasure and satisfaction to be concentrated within wedlock and intended for its strength and persistence, rather than its disruption!
So, yes, fashion designing and modeling are acceptable for women in Islam [ii]. And yes, Muslim fashion designers or models are not the same as others who usually intend to be seductive in their manners and their type and extent of covering. Muslim designers and models are required to cover their body (except for the face, hands, and feet) and to look modest. In Muslim countries, therefore, fashion shows are held in segregated places when the kinds of clothes being presented do not go along with Islamic rulings on covering and modesty in public.
[ii] You can read more about whether Muslim women can have a job here.
- Al-kafi, vol. 3, p. 714 , Knaz al-‘Ummal, vol. 3, p. 126
In recent years, the scarf or Hijab in Islam that Muslim women wear on their heads to cover the hair has engaged many governments and has been among the headlines around the world. Since then, Hijab and covering the hair has been banned in certain government buildings, schools, and public services in some countries.
So the question is: what is that strong incentive that makes Muslim women even more resolute to maintain their belief in Hijab, despite all these controversies and conflicts?
According to most of the Islamic jurists, Muslim women are required to wear the clothing that covers their hair and entire body except the face and the hands, from the wrist to the fingers, in the presence of non-Mahrams or small boys whose consciousness of sex has developed or the evidence of sexual urge is noticed on them . So, in the circumstances where non-Mahrams are not likely to be present, there is no need for Muslim women to wear Hijab in Islam.
In Surah Nur, women are ordered to “not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears” (24:31). In a narration from Imam Sadiq (AS) and some other Islamic narrations , the hair is known to be an adornment for a woman, then, it is obligatory (Wajib) to cover it. The very first reason to veil the hair is, therefore, the commitment to the ruling on Hijab in Islam.
However, it should be noted that there has always been a natural tendency in human beings, especially in women, which made them not expose their body. This originates from an inner sense of modesty and decency which is stronger in women. Hence, the Islamic dress code is in complete accordance with the human nature.
It is evident that the beauties of a woman’s appearance, hair and body have always been appealing to men, and even women; that is why they usually appear on the advertisements to attract more customers for companies. On the other hand, women tend naturally to show their beauties and to get admiration. Men might be therefore easily appealed by the appearance of non-Mahram women, and this can eventually lead to a forbidden (Haram) gaze [i].
Committing a first forbidden (Haram) gaze and then consecutive ones affect both who looks (man) and who is looked at (woman). The one, who looks, remains thoughtful for a while by what he has seen and this may even last for days and weeks and lead even to some lustful thoughts. Also, one who has received a forbidden (Haram) gaze won’t be at ease and might feel her privacy invaded. So, both sides will be under some sort of stress and anxiety.
Since the two sides are both affected by a forbidden (Haram) gaze, women and men are equally required to take part to avoid such looks. To this kind of gaze and its consequent mental pressures, Islam orders women to cover their hair, and more generally their body. This is, in fact, the strategy to remove the external causes of sinful looks which concern women.
For the men’s part, they should participate by controlling their eyes. Forbidden (Haram) gaze is such that brings about one after the other. So, men are commanded not to follow the first unintended look by the second one; in other words, they should put an inner barrier to such looks.
Islam has encouraged women to appear in the society modestly and with dignity. This is, however, something inherent in every woman. The more simply a woman is dressed and is dignified, the more she will be respected by men and will be protected from the harmful gaze. The after effects of a forbidden (Haram) gaze are not limited to the unpleasant feeling that it brings about.
Women who do not wear Hijab, including the ones who do not cover their hair, are more susceptible to such annoying looks at any time and anywhere, and this consequently makes them feel more “unsecured” in the society. Even in some cases, this might end in some sorts of sexual abuse which is a crime in every society.
Moreover, the Hijab of a body is the basis for other types of Hijab that are commanded in Islam and which have the same aim in the society. It means to invite the humans to modesty and dignity in order to guarantee a normal and equilibrated society. These kinds of Hijab offer a reference on how one should look at non-Mahrams, the way of talking with them and the behavior in their presence [ii]:
Hijab of the eyes, recognized as controlling the glance, which mainly concerns men (as discussed above);
Hijab of talking when dealing with non-Mahrams, which concerns both women and men. It is about using a serious tone of voice, caring about the words exchanged, considering the human identity of the other person other than his/ her gender, and just focusing on the subject and the purpose of the discussion. Otherwise, the goal of the conversation, either scientific, formal, social or working, won’t be achieved;
Hijab of the behavior that implies being decent and modest towards the opposite gender, in a way that the person with the lust in the heart cannot dare to violate one’s privacy (especially women’s privacy).
Another social effect of Hijab manifests itself in the family, as the basic unit of the society. In Islamic teachings, great importance has been given to the family as an influential institution of the society. Forming a family (through marriage) is known to be so dear to God as no other establishment . Muslims are advised to satisfy some natural needs such as emotional and sexual ones, as well as beauty seeking desire only and only within the framework of the family.
This allows a regulated enjoyment of the beauties a woman has, accompanied with the commitment, which respects the principles of women’s rights. Besides, disobeying the Islamic ruling on Hijab in the society and exposing men to the feminine beauties in the streets, which would be tempting for them, is undesirable from the Islamic point of view. This makes the foundation of the family vulnerable and equally affects the relationship between the spouses.
Unlike previous religions, Hijab does not present a monastic attitude in Islam. Hijab in Islam follows certain social and individual purposes and helps one to live a better life. The Quran invites Muslim women to wear Hijab in order to be recognized as Muslims in the society and prevent being abused (33:59).
This becomes however suspended in case of distress and constriction . The majority of Muslim women choose to wear Hijab to obey God and to be recognized by their intellect and minds rather than their physical appearance. They often believe that Hijab liberates them from the need to conform to unrealistic stereotypes and images dictated by the media .
They do not consider Hijab in Islam as a symbol of oppression but as a sign of Islamic consciousness. That is why they view it as a right and not a burden.
[i] See “The Islamic Etiquette of Looking” for more info.
[ii] See the article “Hijab: the Real Meaning” for more details.
- A. Aroussi Howayzi, "Tafsir Noor al-Thaqalayn", vol. 3/589, T. 105.
- H. Al-Ameli, “Wassail Al-Shia”, vol. 20, p.59.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 103, p. 222.
- R. Mugehi, “Family religious precepts”, p.38
- Hijab in Islam