Over the years Islam has been portrayed poorly in the Western media and that has given Americans a lot of misconceptions about Islam. Some of the biggest misconceptions that people have are related to Islamic clothing restrictions and what Muslims are asked to wear by their religion and what those items of clothing mean. Misunderstanding Islamic culture leads to tension and unnecessary problems between Muslims and non-Muslims, in school, in the workplace and in public. There are three major myths about Islamic dress that are at the root of the problem.
“Muslim women are forced to walk around in fabric cages”
If you were to look up the term “Muslim woman” in Google, the first dozen images or so that you will find are of women covered from head to toe in fabric. These are the traditional burqas that are seen in certain parts of the world and are worn by Muslim women who practice one particular branch of the faith. In terms of the number of Muslim women who wear burqas on a regular basis, the number is very small and it distorts the view of Islam to assume that all women dress that way. Even the women who do wear burqas often do so out of choice and find that wearing a burqa can be a freeing experience for them. They practice an extreme form of modesty that keeps the focus on their mind and their personality and not their body.
“Muslim clothing is just black or brown”
Again, Western conceptions of Muslim clothing tend to assume that Muslims only wear dark colored clothing, usually in hues of black or brown. This leads to the belief that Muslim clothing is bland and devoid of personality, which robs the person wearing the clothing of the ability to express themselves. The truth is that Muslim clothing is among some of the brightest and most expressive clothing in the world. Hijabs and jilbabs are made with every color and fabric that the mind can imagine, and women can find whatever shade they want to express a particular mood or personality trait. Islam was born in the Middle East, and the Middle East has long been the home of colorful, flowing fabrics and not just the drab colors that most Westerners associate with Islam.
“These clothing restrictions are forced on women to make them submissive”
The final misconception is that clothing restrictions are forced on women as a way of taking away their power and forcing the women to conform to what Muslim men want. This attitude is very dangerous because it puts Muslim men in a position where they are oppressors and it robs Muslim women of agency over their own lives. In reality, Islam has clothing restrictions for both men and women, and many women find that they enjoy the benefits of dressing according to the rules of Islam. Instead of showing skin or wearing clothing that draws attention to the body, and diminishes the value of the woman inside the clothing, traditional Islamic clothing requirements place a great deal of emphasis on the woman inside. Men are discouraged from ogling the woman’s body, and they are taught to pay attention to the woman as a person and not a sex object. Among many Muslim communities women receive a good deal of respect and admiration because their sexuality is muted.
Misconceptions about Islamic clothing and the rules of dress make for huge misunderstandings about Islamic culture as a whole. If Westerners are to understand and live side-by-side with Muslims there must be a better understanding of the differences in cultural values between the two sides.
I am Sarah Zamani and though I was born in to a Methodist home, I married a Muslim man almost three years ago. Over that time I have learned so much about Islamic culture, especially Islamic clothing, and I wrote this article to talk about some of the things that I have learned. Now that I go to mosque with my husband I buy my clothing from Artizara (www.artizara.com) because of their selection and great prices. I highly recommend Artizara for any Muslim woman.