Fashion in Islam: Muslimin Edition | Expressions with ELEVEN
Every Jumu’ah, I am ever so often asked, “Eh bro, you got presentation ah today?”
“No, I’m going to the house of God,” my weekly response varies as much as my weekly get up. Perhaps if I wore a jubah or a kurta, it would be a case of ‘say you’re going to the mosque, without saying you’re going to the mosque’. Don’t you think so? What if instead I wore a Baju Melayu top - that’s a common sight in the mosque-going community too, isn’t it? You know what else is a common sight in masjids? Dri fit shirts and sweatpants. You can’t deny that.
I noticed the above-mentioned common clothing, and I thought about why there are there such associations between certain clothing and Islam, specifically in the region. Well, these reasons might seem like no-brainers, but I found them fascinating and I am excited to share:
The Prophet SAW said, “Modesty (Al-Haya’) is part of Iman (Faith).” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Hadith 61)
The jubah or thobe embodies this principle of modesty, covering the adorner from collar to the ankle, or at least below the knee as what is prescribed for men’s awrah (to cover from the naval to the knee). And that’s probably the reason why they were designed as such. Same can be said about Baju Melayu, modest in that it is characteristically (traditionally) loose fitting - of course there now exists modern versions such as the notorious ‘Jubah Sado’, muscle fitting thobes that hug the biceps, a true irony. But I doubt that’s the main reason why the variants of Baju Melayu are so popularly worn in religious settings. I have reason to believe that is largely attributed to the homogeneity of the Malay Muslim community. According to census data by Singstat in 2020, over four-fifths of Muslims in Singapore are Malay, and nearly 99% of Malays in Singapore are Muslim. Islam has been deeply embedded in the Malay culture, since it was introduced to locals in the archipelago as early as the 13th century. The prevalence of the Malay Muslim identity would serve to explain the commonness of Malay traditional clothing in religious contexts. And you would see people wearing the full set (ie. bottom and top) or just the top with jeans, for example. Tell me if you see someone wear the bottoms with another top like a flannel shirt, it just doesn’t happen.
So as we have discussed, the jubah and Baju Melayu fall under the dress code for religious locations and events. Traditionally. The array of socially acceptable wearables to the mosque now includes dri fit shirts and sweatpants. This comfy combination does not particularly have any ties to religion, but it is nonetheless commonly worn by young men coming to the mosque from home. It does the job, covers the awrah, and keeps you comfortable in sunny Singapore.
Knowing what people usually wear and why they wear it, you might start to wonder how should you dress in religious settings. (Or not, it might be a non-issue to you.) My take is: dress as you normally would and dress presentably. If I would wear a buttoned shirt, nice dress pants or chinos when presenting myself in front of my tutorial, then I would find myself in the same attire when presenting myself to Allah SWT at His house, or when attending a Khatm ul Qur’an (complete recitation of the Qur'an from the beginning to the end) event at my neighbour’s.
Islam is a way of life, not prescriptive but principled, and I personally would seek to follow these principles in attaining as much of Allah’s pleasure as I can, in performing ibadah. So here are some of the principles I inculcate into my weekly (Jumu’ah) wardrobe:
1. Ensure cleanliness and neatness
Allah SWT said: ”Say, who has forbidden the adornment with clothes given by Allah, which He has produced for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, (which He has provided) for sustenance?” (The Qur’an, 7:32)
2. Wear (what you would consider to be) nice clothes
It is narrated that Imam al-Hasan used to wear his best clothing for salah. When he was asked by others, he replied, “Allah is Beautiful, and loves beauty. Therefore I decorate myself for Him.” Then, he would recite this verse:
“O Children of Adam! Put on your adornment on every occasion of prayer." (The Qur’an, 7:31)
3. Wear white
It was narrated from Samurah that the Prophet said: "Wear white clothes for they are purer and better, and shroud your dead in them." (Sunan an-Nasa'i, Book 21, Hadith Number 80)
4. Dress with humility
Narrated Ibn 'Umar: The Messenger of Allah SAW as saying: If anyone trails his garment arrogantly, Allah will not look at him on the Day of Resurrection. Then Abu Bakr said: One of the sides of my lower garment trails, but still I remain careful about it. He said: You are not one of those who do so conceitedly. (Sunan Abi Dawud, Book 34, Hadith Number 66)
This doesn’t imply that all your pants have to be above the ankle. The message is basically, don’t show off. Sidenotes:
Practicality tells me wearing non-covered footwear would be ideal, when we’re looking at the convenience of having to take it off anyway to enter the mosque and to take wudhu’.
2. The songkok
Similar to the Baju Melayu, this is where religion intersects culture. As time passes, the songkok somehow gets taller. Sure, it’s in fashion, a tall songkok looks nice (allegedly). But if I’m wearing it to a masjid on Eid, chances are this black box on my head is bumping onto someone’s bum or feet while getting up from sujud. In this case, I’d stick to a headdress that’s flatter like a simple skull cap for use in prayer. I’ll put on the songkok for visiting. There is no point, for me personally, to make value judgements on the different attires one could wear. As long as it is clean and covers the awrah, it would be acceptable to wear; the presentability of an outfit is subjective and the importance of that is personal. That being said, in the spirit of ihsan, let us strive for excellence in every aspect of our deen, let us dress not mainly to impress, but to embody the success we want to achieve, inshaAllah.