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Islam / Popular religion /
Muslim dress codes

Female Muslim clothing
Muslim dress codes

Dress codes that are considered part of Islam, or accepted by Islam. In many cases these codes predate Islam, but embraced by Islamic scholars or by tradition, in some cases the codes are mentioned and defined in core Islamic texts (the Koran and the hadiths).
Muslim dress codes generally range from conservative to exptremely conservative. The garment aims at hiding parts of the body understood as sexually. This extends far beyond genitals and female breasts: thighs, legs, stomach, shoulders and hair may all understood as sexual body parts.
The reason why these dress codes cannot be called "Islamic" is simply because most of the regulations cannot be traced back to any original Islamic scripture, whether the Koran or the hadiths. They are called "Muslim" because many Muslims believe that they are obligatory by their religion. In short, these dress codes range from exaggerations to blunt misunderstandings. Much of this comes from poor quality of knowledge among a great number of Muslim scholars and theologians. Many use methods that contradicts not only modern scientific methods, but also original Muslim methods. By hazard, guess-work and obvious shortcuts, many prominent figures have come to promote rigid dress codes as if all they say is unquestionable regulation of Islam. The worst examples of this, relates to the niqab, which is a pre-Islamic garments which is not only non-obligatory, but from the 24:31 contradicts the obligation that a woman wearing the veil shall be recognized.
However, there are two types of dresses that clearly can be called "Islamic", as they are recommended by the earliest Islamic scriptures: the jilbab and the ihram.

Islamic regulations
By Islamic regulations it is understood regulations emerging from the Koran and/or from the hadiths. The fact is that these texts have surprisingly little mentioning of dress codes. The jilbab and the khimar are mentioned once each, but from the description there is nothing distinguishing them apart; the two terms may well be completely synonymous. The garment (or garments) is apparently a one-piece dress draped around the body, hiding sexual body parts, possibly covering the head, not hiding all the hair, and definitely not veiling the face.

Koran sura 33: Confederates
59 O prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers, to wrap their veils [jalābīb] close round them. It is better that way, they can be recognized but not annoyed. God is forgiving and merciful.

Koran sura 24: Light
31 And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts, and display not their ornaments, except those which are outside; and let them pull their kerchiefs [khumur] over their bosoms and not display their ornaments save to their husbands and fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothersí sons, or their sistersí sons, or their women, or what their right hands possess, or their male attendants who are incapable, or to children who do not note womenís nakedness; and that they beat not with their feet that their hidden ornaments may be known. But all turn repentant to God, O believers! May you prosper.

Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 8
395 2. And as regards the (verse of) the veiling of the women, I said, 'O Allah's apostle! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.' So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealed.

There are four dimensions to Muslim female dress codes: Hiding sexual parts of the body, hiding the skin, hiding the hair and hiding the face. The origins of these differ, and no reconstruction is ever done. In short, all evidence indicate that the different ancient societies both had dress codes showing sexual parts, like the breasts, to hiding all including the face. As is the case with modern societies, these regulations could be practical, like protecting the peasant woman from the sun, they often had a moral dimension and there was in many cases issues of fashion and taste. Tracing the origins is, however, difficult as one may be trapped in retraceable origins, ignoring other potential origins from the lack of evidence.
The history of the facial veil is among those that have been best reconstructed, and it has since long been established that variations of veils were in use long before the advent of Islam.
One theory traces the use of facial veil back to ancient Mesopotamia, where it indicated the upper class and its seclusion from the world and the life of working women, whether they were prostitutes, servants or workers.

By Tore Kjeilen