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Last Updated: 2010/09/22
Summary of question
Why is wearing bright and sharp colored clothing in society a problematic issue for women in Iran?
Why is wearing bright and sharp colored clothing in society a problematic issue for women in Iran?
Concise answer

Essentially, clothing is for one’s covering and dignity which is a trait confined to human beings among all creatures in the world. It is the human being that wears clothing to protect himself from the cold and the heat and also reflect his personality. This behavior isn’t confined to Iran, it can be witnessed in all societies, the only thing is that there might be some differences in other countries concerning the type and amount of clothing that is usually worn. Consequently whatever that isn’t in line with this high purpose will definitely be unacceptable, regardless of whether it is a man or a woman. However as to the color of the clothing, though authentic hadiths and the Quran have not mentioned any restrictions on a special color, regarding the fact that the philosophy of wearing hijab is to avoid excessive attraction and that some colors attract too much attention, the majority of Islamic scholars declare that wearing clothing that defeats this purpose to be haram.

Detailed Answer

To answer this question we must first agree that clothing and covering oneself is accepted by all people, then we can discuss the concept of hijab in Islam and finally talk about whether Islam has specified a particular color for the hijab.

We know that human beings have very significant differences with other living entities and are, accordingly, entitled as the most significant creations of God.

One of those differences can be seen in their behavior to cover themselves wearing clothes, a trait other creatures lack!

Correspondingly Imam Sadeq (A.S.) states, in interpretation of the ayah where clothing has been remarked as a blessing y God[1]: “Clothing is a blessing from Allah granted only to mankind in order to cover themselves and as a means for the righteous to obey Allah. The best clothing is one that doesn’t make you forget Allah but rather reminds you of the lord and helps you in being obedient and thankful to him! Clothing shouldn’t be in a way that makes one feel better than another, excessively proud of himself or show-off; for all these things exploit one’s beliefs and make him hardhearted ….[2]

Throughout the past we see that every human civilization chose a certain type of clothing as oppose to being bare naked, which can be proof of an innate inclination for covering oneself. Thus we will assume that there is no vague point concerning the general concept of clothing and if there is any uncertainty, it is about the type and amount of it. This is why wearing clothing is considered to be a moral necessity in all societies.

But Islamic countries, which include our country, must abide by Islamic rulings when writing their law.

Now, we should see what Islam’s viewpoint on this matter is.

In the Quran, the same way clothing has been mentioned as a blessing, being naked has been marked as a punishment for Prophet Adam and Eve alongside their exile from heaven![3]

We must always remind ourselves that every ruling in Islam has been set for our own good and clothing is no exception from this general fact.

If Allah has prohibited wearing silk and gold for men, or if He has a special approach for the outer appearance of woman, or if He has declared wearing attractive clothing haram for both genders,[4] without doubt, it has basically been for both the material and spiritual benefits it offers, so there is no reason to oppose it!

Moreover one should realize that, by His divine wisdom, Allah has designed the woman in a way that in many cases, significant differences between her and the man are evident. For instance, we can never compare a mother’s feelings and instincts with a father and despite the frequent assertions of equal rights between men and women; the present day world has not been successful in denying this natural instinct. This difference does not imply prejudice, but in fact advocates the division of duties as a team, where each individual completes the other;[5] hence they will be both rewarded for their effort.[6] This whole introduction was to remind us not to perceive hijab as a prejudice act against women but to see it as a ruling in line with the health and well-being of society. The reason for such a perception of the concept of hijab can be understood in the sha’n nuzul (occasion of revelation) of the verse of hijab,[7]part of which we will mention here:

Several ladies would come to Masjid al Nabi to join the congregational prayer led by the Prophet, but for maghrib and isha’ prayer when it was dark, corrupt men would stop them on their way to the masjid and bother them,[8] but when objections were made to these men as a result of the women’s complaint, they would reply that they didn’t think the women would be so offended. So Allah sent a set of verses about hijab addressing women to put hijab as a gesture to announce that they didn’t want to be bothered and this way stop giving them any excuses.[9]

After focusing on the details of this verse and verses similar to this one we realize a few points that will alter our perspective on hijab:

1. Given the pattern and design witnessed in creation, most of the times men pursue women and in most cases it is the man who proposes to the lady, but it is normal for a number of men not to have the appropriate behavior and not observe modesty, thus bothering women, and since it isn't possible for the law to deal with each and every one of them, a certain method must be presented to prevent corruption from seeping into society. The verse of hijab is offering the right solution and it is clear that women should avoid any act and behavior, such as wearing clothing with attractive colors, that would give corrupt men any impression that would allow them to bother them.

2. On the contrary to what is usually said, Islamic clothing isn’t to make women unknown, but is actually for the exact opposite, as the Quran states,[10] it is for the purpose of introducing someone as a person who doesn’t want to be confronted and bothered, so that virtuous women can live their social lives without worry and anxiety. Other rulings such as not using makeup, staying at home unless it is necessary, avoiding talking in a thin voice and flirtatious manner,[11] etc. have the same reason as hijab. That’s why the wives and children of the Prophet (S.A.) weren’t unknown people and we read in history that the Sahabah (companions) of the Prophet (S.A.) would regularly speak with them to the extent where Jabir Ibn Abdullah visited Fatemah Az Zahra when Imam Hussein was born[12], or Salman Farsi would take the rein of the animal which the Prophet’s daughter was riding in her wedding on her way to her husband’s house[13] and other examples.

Therefore women can also be recognized as successful people and be role models in society, while observing proper Islamic covering and modesty in their speech and actions.

3. Sometimes this question comes up in the mind of women: Why should we limit ourselves and undergo a set of restrictions just so men don’t have to face evil temptations?! Lets behave and act as we wish and let men undertake the duty of not looking!

We must state that this wrong mentality it the result of an incorrect understanding of Islamic rulings; we can mention at least two reasons that prove this kind of mentality being incorrect:

First: The same way God has given women a set of rulings regarding hijab to abide by, He has likewise demanded men not to look at women and be modest.[14] A certain amount of clothing is wajib for men too, but if it is less than what women are obliged to wear, it is because they are obligated to do things such as providing the financial needs of the whole family and jihad which ladies are exempt of.

Second: The main philosophy behind hijab is the security it brings for a woman, not the prevention of the corruption of men! For, as you know, after the verse of hijab was revealed, there were still non-Muslim women residing in Medina who didn’t wear hijab and moreover, Muslim and non-Muslim maids/female slaves weren’t restricted to wear the complete hijab either, they were allowed to uncover their hair and face to the point where, at times, they were even forced to abstain from wearing hijab in order not to be mistaken with free women![15] On the other hand it is undoubted that among the non-Muslim ladies and maids/ female slaves at that time there were beautiful and appealing women that would clearly attract attention by not wearing hijab! If the ruling of hijab was to solely prevent the corruption of men, it would obviously not befit these realities.

4. Wearing hijab and Islamic clothing with content and out of free will is rewarded by Allah, however, if it is done due to fear and compulsion it will not bear the same reward, however we must understand that carrying out the Islamic hijab and being modest is considered to be an essential and undeniable obligation for Muslim women in Islam. Also, it is upon all believers to advise their fellow sisters to perform their Islamic duties, of course, in a way that doesn’t disturb public order.

On this basis, the kind advice given regarding hijab is similar to the advice we give to our children to pray or fast; it shouldn’t be perceived as a stranger interfering in another person’s personal affairs. It is interesting how Islam has confined the invitation of wearing hijab to those who believe in its rulings and heed amr bil-ma'roof (ordering for acknowledged virtues), otherwise, Bedouins and non-Muslims who don’t abide by the Islamic clothing and oppose the rule have been excluded from this invitation, therefore looking at them isn’t haram[16] for when they are not willing to respect themselves, there is no reason for others to respect them either!

Given that one cannot claim to be a Muslim without thoroughly performing its rulings, the exact amount of hijab and its boundaries can be learned from the resalahs of the maraji.

Regarding the color of clothing, although the Quran and authentic hadiths have not constrained the color of hijab, considering the philosophy of hijab, that clothing should not attract attention and the fact that come colors cause attraction in a way that it defeats the purpose of hijab, a vast amount of scholars have prohibited wearing such clothing, which can be referred to on this website if anyone is interested.[17] To look at the whole issue from a general perspective, it can be said that the fatwa of these maraji is based on the fact that when wearing ‘different’ clothing, one should keep in mind the norms of society.

The question might occur to you that why is it that in certain Islamic countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, women wear bright colored hijab but don’t attract any attention? And why can’t we wear such clothing here in Iran?!

The answer might be that those certain colors, whether it is white or any other color, have been used so much that they have turned into the norm of that society and therefore don’t make you stand out and seem conspicuous, hence, if this were the case in our country it wouldn’t be a problem either, but now that the customs of our society okay a different type of clothing we have no more than two choices:

We either have to change the customs of the Iranian society, so that wearing clothing with white and bright colors would be clothing usually and commonly worn by devout Muslim women that doesn’t attract the ‘inappropriate’ looks of men, like the other countries mentioned, or simply conform to customs of our country and benefit from them.

Considering that in addition to the fact that the first option will give unrighteous people who basically don’t believe in Islam and its laws the opportunity to take advantage, it is very likely that it won’t turn out to be successful in and will instead backfire and weaken the traditional hijab we currently have! Hence the second option, maintaining hijab in the same manner it is currently being carried out, is a better choice and will not get in the way of social development and the progress of women.

Nevertheless, if a day comes where a certain color of clothing doesn’t draw special attention anymore, it won’t be a problem from an Islamic perspective either.

We shouldn’t forget this point that even though colors play a great role in cheerfulness, we can wear different and diverse colors at home because wearing darker and more ordinary colored clothing outside doesn’t necessarily mean that we are down and depressed, or else every man and woman that dressed this way would have to be depressed, but we all know that this is not true.

As a final point we must realize that the inconvenience caused by the police and caring people is nowhere near the harm and disturbance that might be caused by corrupt people in society as a result of not wearing the proper attire. Although those who practice amr bil-ma'roof should not forget to be polite and well-mannered like their infallible leaders in order to truly be a part of the hadith from Imam Sadeq (A.S.) that says to not invite people to religion merely by your words, but by your actions.[18]

[1] A’raf:26 (یا بنی آدم قد انزلنا علیکم لباسا یواری سوآتکم و ...).

[2] Misbah al-Shariah, Mu’assah al-A’lami lil-Matbu’at, 1400 ah, pg. 30 (some believe this book to be written by Imam Sadiq (as)).

[3] A’raf:27.

[4] Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Bihar al-Anwar, Mu’assasah al-Wafa’, Beirut, 1404 ah, vol. 76, pg. 313, the hadiths about clothing of ‘shuhrah’ (famousness and standing out).

[5] Baqarah:187 (هن لباس لکم و انتم لباس لهن).

[6] Tawbah:71-72, Ahzab:35, Fat’h:5, Hadid:12, etc.

[7] Ahzab:35.

[8] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 101, pg. 33.

[9] Tabarsi, Fadl bin Hasan, Majma’ al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Quran, Naser Khosro Publication, Tehran, 1372, vol. 8, pg. 581 (under verse 59 of surah Ahzab).

10] (ذالک أدنی أن یعرفن).

[11] Ahzab:32-33.

[12] Kuleini, Muhammad bin Yaqub, Kafi, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Tehran, 1365, vol.1 , pg. 527.

[13] Hurr Ameli, Muhamamad bin Hasan, Wasa’el al-Shia, Mu’assasah Āl al-Bayt, Qom, 1409, vol. 20, pg. 92, hadith 25116.

[14] Nur:30.

[15] Wasa’el al-Shia, vol. 4, pg. 412, hadith 5564.

[16] Sheikh Saduq, Man La Yahduruhu al-Faqih, Mu’assasah al-Nashr al-Islamiyy, Qom, 1413, vol. 3, pg. 469, hadith 4636.

[17] Questions 1532 (website: 1538) and 2304 (website: 2415).

[18] Kafi, vol. 2, pg. 78.

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