One hadith states: ‘Whoever dresses in clothes of attracting attention (shuhrah, lit. ‘fame’) in this life, Allah shall clothe him in garbs of humiliation on the Day of Resurrection.’1 The way we dress can and often does, therefore, have to do with the inward state of our souls.
We are told in the scholarly commentaries that attracting attention means: To dress so that fingers start pointing at you, because of being extravagantly, unusually, or shabbly dressed, relative to the rest of society. In such a case, the intention in dressing as such is usually to either brag, boast, show-off, be the centre of attention, or desire to stand out from everyone else — all of which are base motives of the lower self.2
Al-Mardawi, one of the foremost Hanbali jurists of his age, wrote in al-Insaf: ‘It is detestable to wear clothes which involves attracting attention, or that differ from the clothes of the people of one’s city — according to the correct view of the [Hanbali] school. It is said that it is prohibitted … Shaykh Taqi al-Din [Ibn Taymiyyah] said: “Shuhrah is forbidden, by which one intends to feel superior or project humility, due to the salaf’s hatred of this.”’3
The same idea about dressing as per the norms or conventions of one’s society (providing it doesn’t clash with any shari‘ah prohibition) comes to us in a number of scholarly testimonies; from them: Sufyan al-Thawri said about the venerable salaf: ‘They hated two types of attracting attention: elegant clothing which draws attention and makes people stare, and trampish clothes that he is derided for and which humiliates his religion.’4
As for Imam Ahmad: He saw a man wearing a black and white striped cloak, so he advised: ‘Leave this and wear the attire of those in your city,’ adding: ‘It isn’t forbidden, but had you been in Makkah or Madinah, I would not have faulted you.’5 Presumably this type of cloak was a customary item of clothing in the two Holy Cities at that time.
Ibn Abi Shaybah relates: Zubayd al-Yami once wore a hooded cloak (burnasa), and heard that Ibrahim al-Nakha‘i had criticised him for doing so. So he went to him and said: ‘The people used to wear it. Ibrahim replied: “For sure! But those who once wore it have passed away. If anyone were to wear it now, he would attract attention and fingers would point at him.”’6
Even in how a Muslim man abides by raising one’s lower garment above his ankles, he does so demurely and unassumingly, without drawing more attention than is necessary by raising it too high. Otherwise it will be regarded as shuhrah, a form of attention seeking or wanting to be pointed out. Ibn al-Jawzi narrates under a section discussing excessively shortening one’s clothes, with his chain to Ibn Hani; who said: ‘I came to Abu ‘Abd Allah Ahmad b. Hanbal one day whilst wearing a tunic [that came just] below the knee and above the shin. He said: “What is this?’ and censured it, saying: ‘This should not be done again.”’7
As for the Hanbali madhhab’s actual ruling on isbal – letting the lower garment of a man fall below his ankles, if not done from pride, it is disliked (makruh); with pride, it is forbidden (haram).8
Those in Muslim majority countries have their diverse sartorial norms. As for Muslims in the West, as a norm, we take on the dress conventions of our societies; as long as it doesn’t entail any clear shari‘ah forbiddance. A believing man’s dress, therefore, should not be tight fitting, but instead be loose, modest, unassuming and, of course, be dignified and respectable. For such are traits of a believer’s inward state. As for the Arabisation of Muslim dress codes, outside of Arab cultures, such distortions of Islam and the Sunnah need to be swiftly remedied. This mindset usually springs either from ignorance, or worse still, shuhrah! But to then dress in clothes that aren’t dignified, or that tightly hug the body, is unbefitting and going to another extreme.
As for ladies, their dress is for concealment (satr) and recognition (ta‘arruf). On the one hand they dress in order to conceal their personal beauty and charm; on the other, their hijab-attire is so that they may be known [Q.33:59] who they are and what they stand for. That it must be black, or Saudi-styled, is likely to be a bid‘ah if one believes that is what is religiously-sanctioned. Instead, one finds godly and intelligent ways to make the attire reflect being locally rooted and practical, while fulfilling the shari‘ah conditions and not making ‘fashion statements’.
1. Abu Dawud, no.4029; Ibn Majah, no.3606. The hadith was graded hasan in Muhammad b. Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1999), 3:497.
2. Cf. Shams al-Din al-Sarkhasi, Kitab al-Mabsut (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1989), 30:268; al- Mawsu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah (Kuwait: Wizarat al-Awqat wa’l-Shu’un al-Islamiyyah, 1986), 6:136-37.
3. ‘Ali b. Sulayman al-Mardawi, al-Insaf fi Ma‘rifat al-Rajihi min al-Khilaf ‘ala Madhhab al- Imam al-Mubajjal Ahmad b. Hanbal (Egypt: Matba‘ah al-Sunnah al-Muhammadiyyah, 1956), .1:473.
4. In Ibn Abi Dunya, al-Tawadu‘ wa’l-Khumul (Cairo: Dar al-I‘tisam, 1986), 127-8; no.64.
5. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 3:497.
6. Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 2004), 8:366; no.25655.
7. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalm, 1403H), 198. The basis for it is found in Ishaq b. Ibrahim b. Hani, Masa’il al-Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1400H), 2:146; no.1820.
8. Cf. al-Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina‘ ‘an Matn al-Iqna’ (Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1983), 1:277.