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Unveiling the Islamic Dress Code (Part 3 of 5): Khimaar and lowering of the gaze

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    B i s m i l l a a h i r R a h m a a n i r R a h e e m Bismillaahi walhamdulillaahi wassalaatu wassalaamu Alaa rasoolillaahi Assalaamu `Alaykum wa
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2004
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      B i s m i l l a a h i r   R a h m a a n i r   R a h e e m

      Bismillaahi walhamdulillaahi wassalaatu wassalaamu ‘Alaa rasoolillaahi

      Assalaamu `Alaykum wa Rahmatullaahi wa Barakaatuhu

      Unveiling the Islamic Dress Code

      (Part 3)

      Khimaar and lowering of the gaze

      by Ayub A. Hamid

      This is the third part that clarifies the concept of Khimaar. Some readers have asked questions relative to the first two parts, Inshaa Allaah, those will be answered after the series is finished. In fact, some of the questions may automatically be answered by the subsequent installments. 

      The Second Major Reform


      Although Muslims by now had been well trained in Islamic values of modesty, decency and avoiding any sexual interactions between non-spouses, some more refinement was needed to ensure optimal purity and to eliminate any opportunity that may put people into tempting or testing situations. The second major pronouncement in this regard came in the 6th year of Hijrah in soorah Noor:


      “Tell the believing men that they should lower some of their gazes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed Allaah is well aware of what they do.


      And say to the believing women that they should lower some of their gazes and guard their private parts; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their head-coverings over their bosoms and not display their beauty and ornaments except to their husbands, their fathers[1], their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or feeble dependents having no need (of women), or children who did not have any exposure to what is hidden of women; and that they should not stamp their feet so that their hidden adornments are not known.


      And O you Believers! Turn all together towards Allaah, so that you may be successful.” (An-Noor 24:30-31)


      The context of this verse is the following:


      At the very outset, the soorah declares sexual activity between non-spouses (zinaa), a publicly indictable offence that must be prosecuted by the state even if it is by mutual consent of the parties or no party affected by the behaviour presses charges. It takes similar severe measures against accusations of bad conduct. Then, it gives instructions about the etiquette of visiting one’s friends and relatives. In that context, it gives the instructions contained in the above-quoted verses. These verses are then followed by instruction for the unmarried people to get married; thus completing the comprehensive solution for eradication of zinaa and indecency in the society[2].


      According to the context, these verses provide a code of conduct to be adopted by relatives and close family friends when they are visiting each other’s residence and the dress code to be observed by women inside the house in their presence; as compared to the instructions given in soorah Ahzaab for dealing with outsiders and strangers, and dressing for outdoors.

      Lowering the Gaze

      Both Muslim men and women have been commanded to lower their gaze. It is general command to apply whenever and wherever males and females come across each other. But it is also made specific by the context indicating that when visiting each other’s homes, lower your gaze.


      Lowering the gaze does not mean that Muslims should always keep their head down and should not look up. Actually, the words used are “they should lower some of their looks”, indicating that only certain type of looks are being talked about. It means that they should not look intently at someone of an opposite sex, stare, exchange lustful eye contact or look intentionally after an initial inadvertent look. People are not accountable for the first, inadvertent look, but the second look is sinful. The look becomes “second” as soon as the person makes it intentional instead of inadvertent, starts assessing the attractiveness of the subject or starts enjoying the look.


      Following are some of the teachings in this respect:

      "O Ali! Do not follow up with another look after the (inadvertent) first look. The first is forgiven but not the second." (Ahmad, Tirmidzee, Aboo Dawood).

      The Prophet was asked about a sudden, unintentional glance. He said, "Move your glance away."  (Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidzee, Aboo Dawood)

      "The fornication of the eyes is the sight (to gaze at a person of opposite sex), the fornication of the tongue is the talk, and the heart (inner self) lusts and desires and the private parts testify all this or deny it." (Aboo Hurayrah, Bukhaari)

      "Eyes fornicate and their fornication is the look, ears' fornication is listening, tongue's fornication is talking, hands' fornication is touching and feet's fornication is walking (for that purpose). The heart lusts and desires and the private parts either confirm it or deny it."  (Muslim)

      The Messenger SAAWS quoted Allaah SWT saying, “The look is one of the poisonous arrows of Iblees. Who removes it because of My fear, I will give him such a faith, the sweetness of which he will find in his heart.” (Tabaraani from ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ood)

      “If a Muslim encounters a glimpse of the attractions of a woman but removes his glance, Allaah makes his subsequent ‘Ibaadah such that he enjoys its sweetness.” (Aboo Umaamah in Musnad Ahmad)

      This Qur-aanic command of being careful with one’s sight also applies to looking at the private parts of other people of one’s own sex:

      “No man should cast an eye on the private parts of a man and no woman should cast an eye on the private parts of a woman.” (Reported by Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidzee and Aboo Dawood)

      “Do not look at the thigh of a living person or dead.” (Reported by ‘Ali in Aboo Dawood and Ibn Maajah)


      Guarding oneself from committing fornication of gaze is extremely important for the purity of heart and mind of people. In fact, almost all bad ideas, fantasies, affairs and relationships start with a look. Those who control their sight are rewarded by sweetness in their worship.


      Although this command is for both sexes, the severest warnings are for men because the looking of men at women is far more serious than looking of women at men. Because of this difference in nature and the applicability of command, women are required to cover when stepping out, but men are not. While the men are not allowed a second look at all, women are allowed to look at men in normal affairs of life as long as the look remains pure and does not carry any intent of a sexual nature. They can also watch men’s sport activities or skill demonstrations, as the Prophet facilitated the sight for ‘Aaishah in watching a men’s show on the occasion of an Eed. Relaxed rules for a woman looking at a man are not only needed for day to day matters but may also be needed for some special circumstances. An example of special circumstances was the situation of Faatimah bint Qais who did not have a place to spend her ‘Iddah[3] and the Prophet suggested that she spend it at the house of Ibn Maktoom who was blind.

      Protecting Private Parts

      Protecting private parts not only implies protecting them from zinaa[4], but it also means protecting them from others’ view and sight. This protection goes beyond the sex organs and extends to ‘owrah or satar, as described in the beginning. The protection of the private parts in every sense of these words can never be overemphasized because it is a critical mean for the Islamic goal of purity of character and behaviour.


      With satar covered, men can appear in front of others. Similarly, if satar is covered, a woman can appear in front of her mahrams, her female friends or relatives, those feeble dependent males who do not have any sexual inclinations, and children who do not have exposure to sexual matters. She can do so even if she is wearing her adornments, make up, fragrance and jewellery, as long as satar or ‘owrah is appropriately covered except for hands, feet and head-face-neck.


      Mahrams are the relatives who cannot marry a woman: Her fathers including grandfathers and uncles, fathers of the husband, her own or her husband’s sons, her brothers, and her nephews (sons of sisters and brothers).

      Hiding the Zeenah

      The first two commands (lowering of gaze and protection of private parts) were common for all Muslims – males and females. The third command is especially for women requiring them to hide their zeenah from everyone except for the people mentioned in the previous section – her fathers including grandfathers and uncles, fathers of the husband, her own or her husband’s sons, her brothers, and her nephews (sons of sisters and brothers), her female friends or relatives, those feeble dependent males who do not have any sexual inclinations, and children who do not have exposure to sexual matters. She must hide her zeenah from everyone else.


      Zeenah includes natural physical beauty of a woman as well as all beautification aids and adornments used to increase her attractiveness such as hairstyle, make-up and jewellery. To hide it, they must wear Khimaar in such a way that it covers their chests as well as adornments. Because Khimaar does not cover the face, to avoid displaying their beautification (zeenah), she must not wear any facial makeup if there are any males at home who are not in the list of the people to whom zeenah can be shown.


      Khimaar (also called dopatta) is a cloth to be worn or wrapped that must be big enough to cover head, neck and upper body and must not be sheer so that it can truly cover up or hide Zeenah. Obviously, hanging a piece of cloth or dopatta on one’s shoulder does not fulfill this command nor does using a small scarf that just covers head and neck, leaving chest or bosom covered by shirt or blouse only. Similarly, using a cloth which is not thick enough to hide zeenah[5] will not be in compliance with this command.


      It should not be construed that women are not allowed to use makeup at all. In fact, women are encouraged to use makeup and beautification within “reasonable”[6] limits to beautify themselves for enjoying themselves with their spouses in married life. That is why the verse does not order them to avoid zeenah, but commands them to hide it from others than those mentioned.


      In addition to covering themselves with khimaar, they should walk and move around gracefully without stamping their feet lest they attract attention of people because of the sounds produced by such walking and by jingle or clink of jewellery.


      In addition to khimaar, it must be remembered that, the rest of the clothes must also be thick and loose to hide the body and its figure properly:


       “There will be women in the Fire who remain naked despite wearing clothes, are inclined towards men and attract men to themselves. They will not go to the Jannah and will not even smell its scent, though its scent will be experienced from great distances.” Reported from Aboo Hurayrah by Tabaraani and Muattaa


      If these precautions are carefully taken, women are absolved of the responsibility for any zeenah that cannot be covered such as:

      • Jewellery like bangles and rings;
      • Khimaar and clothes themselves; or,
      • Zeenah that is accidentally exposed.

      ‘Aaishah reported that when these verses were revealed, every believing woman found some thick cloth and started using it as their khimaar. The next morning every woman who came for Fajr Salaah to the masjid was covered with a khimaar[7].

      [1] Include grandfathers and uncles. The Prophet said, “A person’s uncle is in place of father.” Muslim

      [2] For details on Islamic marriage please refer to the author’s book “Muslim Youth, Sex and marriage”.

      [3] ‘Iddah is the period a woman has to wait before she can re-marry after a divorce or death of her husband.

      [4] Any sexual activity with a non-spouse.

      [5] Dihyah Kalby reported that the Prophet gave him some fine cotton cloth and said, “Make yourself a shirt and give the rest to your wife to

           make her khimaar, but tell her to join another cloth underneath so that it does not show the body.” Reported by Aboo Dawood


      ‘Aaishah saw a bride who was wearing khimaar made of thin and transparent kind of cloth. She told her, “Anyone who wears clothes like this, disbelieves soorah An-Noor.”

      [6] What are “reasonable” limits of beautification in Islam is a separate topic.  As a general rule, no physical changes to the body are allowed

            for beautification.

      [7] Tafheemul Qur-aan, vol. 3, page 386, with reference from Ibn Katheer.



      Next: Clarifications and concluding comments.

      Copyright ©2003, Ayub A. Hamid

      Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups,
      to post on Internet sites and to publish in full in not-for-profit publications.
      Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved

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