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Summary of 6.16 "Sexual Morality"

First, we started by emphasizing that Islam considers the pursuit of the satisfaction of the sexual urge outside the boundaries of legitimate and recognized marriage a major sin.  Examples of this would be adultery, fornication, homosexuality or any other sexual perversion.

 

Secondly, we emphasis that the program that Islam lays out to achieve this purity is not done simply by preaching or by over emphasizing penal law but by integrating the activities of society and individuals to encourage people to follow the pure path.  We looked at some of the social measures that Islam suggests to helps improve the situation.  We said that first of all Islam calls for fighting against pornography in whatever form it may take, to resolve the problem of prostitution by getting at the roots of the problem (varies socio-economic problems that may have given rise to this) and thirdly to promote the standards of decency within society at large.

 

Then we looked at the individual’s responsibility in this pursuit.  We indicated that Quran warns against lusty looks at members of the other sex other than one’s own wife or husband.  We also said that this doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t look at all nor does it mean that there should be complete separation between males and females.  Lusty looks are to be avoided and the kind of mixing where the basic standard of behavior and Islamic dress are not observed.  The problem is not having men and women in the same place because men and women both occupied the mosque of the Prophet (PBUH) and he did not object to it so long as the rules were respected.

 

6.17     Modesty and Dress Code

Host:  Why does Islam have stipulations regarding the Islamic dress in its moral code?

Jamal Badawi:

The way a Muslim looks at it on the basis of the Quran is that dress performs more than one function.  Those who make this argument seem to over emphasize two aspects of the function of dress while leaving out the third.  One aspect is that dress protects from different weather conditions.  The second aspect is regarded as one aspect of beatification or decoration.

 

What seems to be forgotten is that according to Islam dress has a moral function.  The justification of this is found in the Quran in (7:26) “O ye Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment (clothing) upon you to cover your shame (private parts), as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness,- that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition!”  First of all it emphasizes that piety the inner purity of the heart is very important.  On the other hand it shows that dress has a moral function because it is related to piety.  Covering the body is mentioned as well as covering the moral sins and trying to overcome impurities.

 

The other aspect is that the verse starts by addressing mankind in general as it is not addressing Muslims or the believers when it says “O ye Children of Adam!” This means that the question of the lack of dress or nudity is an evil that should be eradicated, an evil that does not only hurt Muslims but ultimately hurts the moral wellbeing of humanity at large.  This is not a matter of replacing the formal aspect of outwardly compliance of the dress codes with piety, but rather an effort to have both.  If piety is truly in the heart it will show on the outside.

 

Host:  Many people have the mistaken impression that the regulation regarding the dress code applies more to the females than to males how would you clarify this situation?

Jamal Badawi:

There are also Muslims who lack the understanding as to the true nature of Islam and the insightful comprehension of Islam.  Indeed the protection of moral standards in an ideal Muslim society in preservation of this purity is a responsibility that doesn’t fall only on the shoulder of one sex.  If we recall in the previous program we sighted verses from the Quran related to lusty looks in (24:30) “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty.”  Then in the beginning of the following verse (24:31) it says “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty.”  This is just one of many incidents in the Quran where it addresses both males and females at the same time on the same plane.  It is absolutely right when you say that some people mistakenly think that females have many restrictions and the male can do as he wishes.  We also find that when the Quran praises chastity and high moral ideals it addresses both males and females.

One of the most impressive citations in the Quran on this issue appears in (33:35) “For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.”  Males and females are being referred to in each of the virtues which is clear evidence that the responsibilities are joint.

 

There may be differences between males and females in the specific restrictions on each or the extent of coverage of the body.  These differences are not in principle but have to do with the natural differences between the two sexes.

 

First of all, there are different classifications of the various acts as viewed in Islam starting with acts that are required or mandatory, acts that are commendable, acts that are permissible, acts that are detestable and finally acts that are forbidden.  There are acts under each of these classifications that apply to both males and females and then there are also specific requirements that are specific to men and others that specific to women.

 

For example under required acts both males and females are required to cover the awrah which is defined as navel to knee for males and for females it is the whole body except for the face and hands.  From the commendable classification cleanliness, tidiness and modesty are expected of both males and females.  Wearing a turban for a male would be more desirable and a cloak would be a commendable thing for a female.  In the detestable acts we find vanity and imitation detestable for both males and females.  And finally in the category of forbidden, we find immolation of the clothing of the other sex is forbidden for both males and females.  There is a prohibition that applies to males which forbids them from wearing gold or silk.

 

Host:  Could you expand more upon the required area?  What does awrah mean?

Jamal Badawi:

Usually when the word awrah is translated to English only a partial meaning is given.  One of the common translations of awrah is private parts.  Private parts, however, is only one aspect of awrah.  The original Arabic term is a lot more comprehensive.  The bare minimum, that a person should never expose to another person (even those of the same sex) are the private parts.  The Prophet (PBUH) put it very clearly when he said that a male should not see another male’s private parts and a female should not see another female’s private parts.  The only exception to this of course is if there is a necessity for saving a life, treatment, or medical examination.  This may sound strange for people who are used to going into swimming pools and showers with people who don’t have anything covering their waist.  Muslims should leave or not get involved in this kind of situation.  In addition to this the technical meaning of awrah also includes parts of the body that one should not expose to other people.

 

The bare minimum for males is to cover the area between the navel and the knee.  There have been different opinions whether the thigh for a man must or is desirable to be covered.  The awrah for a female in Islamic law includes the entire body with the exception of the face and hands.  This definition of awrah could vary depending on the circumstances.  For example there are no restrictions between husband and wife.  Between a woman her son, brother, uncle or father for example the restrictions are less.  Thus the definition of awrah varies depending on circumstances.

 

Host:  When one looks at the fact that awrah for males is different than for females.  Some might argue that there are more restrictions on the female than on the male or that males are more attractive than females.  How would you respond to this?

Jamal Badawi:

There is no question that females find males attractive.  It is just part of the scheme of creation that there is an attraction between opposite sexes so that they can get married and raise a family and perpetuates human kind.  In fact in one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) he said that even if a man comes from the far east and a woman comes from the far west (from totally different cultures) there can still be mutual attraction between both of them.

 

On the other hand it is unreasonable to say that men and women are 100% equal even in terms of physiological and physical structure.  Comparatively speaking a woman is definitely relatively more attractive than men.  My favorite example of this is that if a male meets the minimum requirements of covering from the navel to the knee where the wait up is exposed one can not argue that it is the same if a female did not have any cover from the waist up.  It is obvious that God created women with more beauty and attraction comparatively speaking.

 

Many times when the question of fairness is raised the perspective for where these instructions came from is not clear especially in the minds of non-Muslims.  Some people think that these are codes imposed by religious leaders, jurists or by the Prophet (PBUH) himself.  What is forgotten is that the dress code in Islam is not a matter that people came up with but it is actually based on the revelation itself, the Quran, and the sayings of the Prophet.  The sayings of the Prophet are not his own ideas as the Quran indicates that he speaks what is revealed to him.  A committed Muslim woman would never follow the dress code of Islam simply because of social pressure or because someone imposed it on her (in an ideal situation).  It is rather done with a sense of commitment, manifestation of the belief in God, trust in the validity of His teachings and instructions which is for the good of all.  When a woman follows the dress code she is obeying God rather than her husband or anybody else for that matter.

 

Throughout my travels in North America I have received complaints from ladies whose husbands want them to uncover which is a strange attitude on the parts of some males.  It boils down to the question of trust in God and in acceptance of His rules rather than the rules of any human beings.  Since God is neither male nor female we can not say that He is bias by having more or less restrictions on one or the other of the sexes.  This is a matter of His eternal wisdom that requires certain things for the benefit and morality of the entire society.

 

Host:  Are these requirements applicable at all times?  Are there some occasions or circumstances where there are exceptions?

Jamal Badawi:

This is perhaps another misunderstanding that some people may have that a Muslim woman must cover or observe it in the privacy of her own home.  When a woman is alone or when there are no forbidden males she is free to wear whatever she likes.  Second, with her husband (if they are alone) she is free to wear anything.  Islam encourages a woman to beautify herself for her husband and the man to beautify himself for his wife.  There is no restriction for a woman when she is with her husband.  In addition to this there are categories where the dress code is relaxed.  For example when a woman is in the presence of her mahram, who are men who do not qualify to marry her she doesn’t have to cover fully as long as she is covered with some degree of modesty.  She doesn’t have to cover her hair, arms, legs or neck for example.

 

Host:  What are the categories of exemptions? And why are they exempted?

Jamal Badawi:

These exceptions are listed in (24:31) “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.”

 

First of all, there are no restrictions with one’s own spouse.  The second category is people that a woman could never marry even if she is unmarried which include her father, son, brother and nephew.  This set of people are exempt because after all it is a natural instinct that God has put in human kind that one doesn’t look with lust to these categories (mother, sister or daughter) unless the person is really sick.

 

There is also the exception for other women.  This doesn’t mean that a woman can uncover herself completely but that the rules are relaxed in regards to covering the hair, arms or legs.  There are differences of opinion as to whether these other women must be Muslim or if they can also be non-Muslim.  The reasonable explanation from my humble understanding is that the rule is relaxed when in the presence of any other women.  In return for observing the strict dress when one goes out there is complete relaxation in the privacy of one’s home.

 

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