How far is too far? Modesty and Fashion

Recently I was at conference and a miniature debate waged between two sisters about the current state of fashion available to Muslimahs. One sister complained about how glittery everything was becoming and how difficult it is to find something simple but elegant. She said the new glitter hijab and abaya phenomenon runs counter the Islamic idea of modesty. In an exasperated tone she asked, “How modest are you if you’re a walking disco ball?” Several sisters applauded her. Another sister challenged her however. She said that Muslimahs who never wore hijab before are just trying to “make it work for themselves” and if it takes a glittery hijab then so be it. She felt some Muslimahs were trying to express their individual and personal sense of style while at the same time wearing hijab. She felt it was important not to pass judgment on anyone and to acknowledge the fact that sisters have taken the step towards wearing hijab, alhamdulillah.

After reflecting on the aforementioned conversation I started asking myself, how far is too far? Have I ever crossed the “modesty line”? And where is that line? Who defines it?

So, here are two cents.(Please keep in mind that this is not a fatwa I’m issuing and no one has to follow what I’ve said. I’m just sharing my thoughts):

First off, as I said in the beginning of this blog, I don’t subscribe to the belief that I have to wear earth tones only. I like colors and I have hijabs & modest clothing in wide variety of colors; from fuchsia to yellow to baby blue. I don’t think that every Muslimah has to be a carbon copy of one another. I think I can have my own individual sense of style while at the same time maintaining the requirements of hijab. I believe that I can wear pants as long as they are baggy and that I have a shirt that comes to my thighs or above the knee.

On the glitter phenomenon:

I do have a couple of glittery hijabs and one abaya with a sequins on it. To be quite honest with you I love to be as fashionable as the next person. However, I’m 32 years old and I’m a professional. I’m not 16. I’m starting to feel like I’m a little too mature to be rocking hijabs with tons of sequins and glitter on it. I don’t want to feel like a cross between a teenager and a Muslim Diana Ross while wearing hijab. I do think when a sister has on a glittery, sequined abaya along with a matching hijab, tons of makeup, stripper shoes, and a sparkling purse I can kind of have a raised eyebrow. (Even as I try so hard not to judge anyone). When it comes to fashion, just as in life, I prefer balance. I don’t like to be blinged out form head toe. I don’t like to over do it. I try go for the right blend of flair and simplicity.

For instance, if I wore the hijab pictured below, I’d wear it with something plain. Like an all black outfit with a jean jacket over it. I wouldn’t wear it with a red skirt and gold shoes.

At the same time, there are certain kind of hijabs that I feel are just too sparkly to be considered modest.

Here is an example:

I purchased this hijab on an impulse buy and now I regret it. I don’t think you can quite see how shiny it is but it has the same sequined pattern all over the hijab- in gold! If I chose to wear it, you’d see me coming from a mile away…

Where is the “modesty line”?

As much I’d like to believe that I know where it is, I’m not sure I do. I mean, I can say based on my own judgment. However, how much of it is my nafs? How much of it is igonrance? Given that I’ve broken from the Salafi teachings I originally had when I first became a Muslim, who do I turn to in order to ask such a question? It seems that almost every book I’ve read on the subect comes from that line of thinking. How will I know which is which? In one aspect of my research on this subject I found the aforementioned quote:

The garments must not have such bold designs or consist of such bright colors that they charm and attract men’s attention to the woman wearing them. Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “..And let the women not display their adornments…” (An-Nur 24:30-31) This verse describes the outer garments as well as the actual body underneath. Hence the outer garment should not be attractively decorated with the result that special attention is drawn to the woman wearing it. On this condition scholars like Dr. Abu Aminah Bilal Philips argue that this point is relative to the environment one lives in. For example in Saudi Arabia it would not be recommendable for a women to go out in brightly coloured clothes because that is not the custom of Saudi women, they wear black. On the other hand, if a woman went to Malaysia (where it is customary for the women to wear floral fabrics in various colours) and wore black she would be drawing more attention to herself. Allahu a’lam

I have a problem wth this statement: “The garments must not have such bold designs or consist of such bright colors that they charm and attract men’s attention to the woman wearing them.” It makes it sound like the onus is completely on the woman. Does it become my fault if a man is attracted to me? What if I have on a black hijab and he’s attracted to me? Is the problem the color of the hijab, me or the man? Hmm… But at the same time I can’t deny that tight jeans, tight shorts, gobs of makeup, becoming completely blinged etc. do interefere with modesty. I can admit that I feel it is inapporiate to wear the aforementioned to jumah, a conference or to an Islamic gathering. And the question becomes, if they’re inappropriate for an Islamic gathering should they be worn at all? Hmm…

Any conclusions?

I suppose the bottom line is that sisters need to just think about modesty and their intentions. I think it’s important to keep having this conversation with yourself and to be honest. (And of course to do your research). Just because they make it and call it “Islamic clothing” or “modest clothing” doesn’t mean that it always is. At the same time we shouldn’t be judgmental of other sisters who haven’t reached the level of understanding and iman that we have, right? I’m not perfect and I’m still working through my feelings on this subject (if you can’t tell already). I may very well decide to part with some of the clothing and hijabs I have because I think they cross the line. I don’t know sisters. I’m thinking, studying and reflecting…What do you think?

Check out this article on the subject.