Firstly the matter of dress. A Muslim woman may wear whatever she pleases in the presence of her husband and family or among women friends. But when she goes out or when men other than her husband or close family are present she is expected to wear a dress which will cover all parts of her body, and which should not reveal the figure. What a contrast with Western fashions which every year concentrate quite intentionally on exposing yet another erogenous zone to the public gaze! In the past few years we have seen the rise and fall of the minidress, the micro-skirt, the wet look, hot pants, the see-thru', the topless and other garments designed to display or emphasize the intimate parts of a woman's body. One may observe a similar tendency of late in men's dress which has become almost skin-tight, although here the men's fashion designers appear to have come to a temporary standstill until men are liberated enough to accept topless or see-thru' trousers, which is fortunately not yet the case.
The intention of Western dress is to reveal the figure, while the intention of Muslim dress is to conceal it, at least in public.The relevant verse of the Qur'an says:Is is therefore required for a Muslim woman when she goes out to wear a dress that covers her from head to foot and does not reveal the figure. According to some scholars only the hands and face should be left uncovered, while according to some others the face should also be covered. There are therefore two opinions on this matter.
"O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw upon them their over-garments.
That is more appropriate so that they may be recognised and not molested" (33:59).
The onus of modest behaviour however falls not only on women. The injunctions of the Qur'an are directed to men and women alike. Allah says:"Tell believers to avert their glances and to guard their private parts; that is purer for them. Allah is Informed about anything they do. Tell believing women to avert their glances and guard their private parts and not to display their charms except what (normally) appears of them. They should draw their coverings over their bosoms and not show their charms except to their husbands . . . ." (24:30-31).
One of the other practices aimed at strengthening the home and minimising promiscuity is that of the seclusion of women. The verses of the Quran on which those who practise it base their custom say:
Role Differentiation"O wives of the Prophet you are not like any other women. If you would keep your duty, be not soft in speech, lest he whose heart contains malice may thereby be encouraged. Employ suitable speech. Stay in your houses and do not dress to display your finery in the way they dressed during the time of primitive ignorance; and keep up prayer, and give welfare due and obey Allah and His Messenger; for Allah desires only to remove from you abomination (Of vanity since you are) the household (of the Prophet) and to purify you by a perfect purification" (The Qur'an 33:32-33).Literally these verses are addressed only to the wives of the Prophet and some authorities maintain that it applies only to them. Other theologians and legists however interpret it by implication to apply to all Muslim women, and this opinion is widely accepted in a number of Muslim countries where women generally stay at home, coming out only for some over-riding reason.
Some of the people who agree with this may nevertheless take into account the other verses of the Qur'~ n exhorting women to cover themselves when they go out, and urging both men and women to lower their gaze and behave modestly in the presence of the opposite sex--implying that women could go out on their legitimate business. They may also consider the necessity of some Muslim women going out to study and practice certain occupations, such as medicine, nursing and teaching at all levels, which for Muslim women and girls ought to be done by fellow women.
One may therefore note that the two opinions exist, and that in practice one may see various degrees of seclusion or otherwise in different parts of the Muslim world.
In most parts of the world social functions among Muslims are either family affairs or celebrations by men and women in separate groups. To a Westerner accustomed to mixed parties with dancing and drinking this may sound an unexciting social life. However, the family circle in the Muslim world is generally a wide one, and the feeling of brotherhood is so strong and the hospitality of Muslims so warm and welcoming that alcohol and the presence of the opposite sex are found to be unnecessary ingredients of the enjoyment.
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