A Muslim woman can be seen going about her activities outside with her head well-covered and her stature draped with a length of loose outer garment. This is the Islamic way in accordance with the clear commandments in the Holy Qur’an – the Islamic sacred scripture.
(24:31) Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.
(24:32) And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and that they disclose not their natural and artificial beauty except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms, and that they disclose not their beauty save to their husbands, or to their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers, or the sons of their brothers, or the sons of their sisters, or their women, or what their right hands possess, or such of male attendants as have no sexual appetite, or young children who have no knowledge of the hidden parts of women. And they strike not their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may become known. And turn ye to Allah all together, O believers, that you may succeed.
(33:60) O Prophet! tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw close to them portions of their loose outer coverings. That is nearer that they may thus be distinguished and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.
(24:61) As to elderly women, who have no desire for marriage — there is no blame on them if they lay aside their outer clothing without displaying their beauty. But to abstain from that even is better for them. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.
‘Purdah’ is a word of Persian origin meaning a screen or curtain. The word is commonly used in reference to the modest attire that Muslim women wear in line with the Islamic teaching that there should be a limit to which male and female can freely mix outside of marriage. The Islamic Purdah, rather than depriving women of their rights, maintains the respect, honor, morality and spirituality of a woman and protects her from a cluster of societal tangles and moral blemishes.
In a world teeming with immorality and immodest ways that are adopted in the name of ‘freedom’, it is seen that the Islamic Purdah observed in a Muslim lady is commonly met with objection and indignation.
In this article, as an Ahmadi Muslim woman who understands and reveres this Islamic commandment and finds contentment in adopting the mode of dressing prescribed by my Faith, I wish to enlighten my readers about the wisdom, truth and purity of the Islamic Purdah.
I wish to state in clear terms that the Islamic Purdah is the route that granted me true and actual freedom. After stating this, I must explain my understanding of ‘freedom’. Freedom is the state of being unchained or independent of any external force that takes away one’s rights or prevents one from achieving his or her full potential.
In brief diversion, let me clarify that Islam has from the very beginning given women their full rights. Declarations contrary to this result from a lack of knowledge about Islam. To help out, I present a link to an address delivered by the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(a.b.a). This was the address delivered by His Holiness(a.b.a) for the Ladies Session of the Jalsa Salana (Annual Convention) in U.K. 2021. Read through for profound insight:
It is declared that having to abide by a certain mode of dressing that keeps a woman shielded from the harmful gazes of men is tantamount to trapping a woman and preventing her from dressing the way she wants. The actuality is that in Islam, each human being is free to make whatever choice they prefer for themselves, and if any Muslim woman fails to abide by the actual essence of Purdah even while the prescribed attire is worn, she is not following the Islamic injunction. The question now is who has the true freedom – a modestly-dressed Muslim woman or a ‘free’, immodestly-dressed woman. While the dress restriction in a Muslim lady is imposed by God the Almighty Himself, the Master of the Universe; an immodestly-dressed lady is trapped by the desires, wishes and standards set by a morally-corrupt society.
A Muslim lady gets ready in the morning donning her loose outer garment and piece of cloth neatly tucking in her hair, with the full knowledge and contentment that this is being done for God, and intending to set out of the home to complete her daily tasks for the sake of God. Knowing with full certainty that her only Protector and Provider is God Almighty, as she sets out to complete her goals of noble intention for service to humanity, it gives her deep joy to prepare herself for work by dressing in accordance with His injunctions which are meant for her own betterment, and for the betterment of society.
Therefore, while a Muslim lady finds gratitude and fortitude in the knowledge that every commandment of our Merciful Creator is for our benefit, and willingly abides by them to win His pleasure, how pitiful is the state of a woman who spends time in the morning dressing to fulfil the low wishes of society and seeking their approval and likeness, by exerting so much mental energy to conform to the unrealistic and vain standards set on her by the public? This is along with her knowledge of the prevalent harms she is attracting towards herself – but I believe that the most worrying harm is in the strife for illusory things which only provide temporary joy, and can never render complete satisfaction and contentment.
Indeed, the only source of complete contentment and fulfillment is in connection with one’s Creator. Each living entity on the Earth, created by God, has a natural attraction and need for connection with its Creator, without Whom we are nothing. It is a choice of whether to win the pleasure of the One to Whom all shall return, or the approval of those who will inevitably return to Him as well.
Thus, it is in observing Purdah that I find satisfaction and happiness and become free from the vain demands of society which, if I seek to fulfill and prioritize over my religious values, will certainly lead to my downfall both in this world, and in the Hereafter.
A Muslim woman observing Purdah is safe from the risk of becoming lured into traps that would ruin her physical, moral and spiritual state and which would retract her away from her Creator. A Muslim woman does not become susceptible to falling into these traps which lay in wait with doors wide open. The Purdah safeguards me in these ways and grants me true freedom from societal, moral and spiritual harm as I go out to fulfil my goals, reminding and keeping me conscious of my values and my purpose. This is the path to success.
Further expounding on the wisdom in the prescribed attire of modesty in women, inherent human nature can only concede that it is improper for women to shamelessly reveal themselves. This is proven by natural instincts which any decent mind experiences, as well as the fact that humanity has declined in morality over the centuries. Just going back to the 19th century, we find clearly how unacceptable it was in the customs of the society for a woman to put her body on show for the eyes of all. Statistically, we know the difference in the ratio of religion-affiliated persons compared to today. This is why back in just the 19th century, if even a lady’s legs were exposed, it was met with protest and outcry and pointed out as an indecent act. This was not to keep a woman confined or to prevent her from going about society to achieve honorable success for herself. Rather, it was in the nature of right-thinking individuals to know that it is morally and naturally inappropriate for women to expose themselves freely in front of men. In the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the female gymnastics team of Germany chose to wear full-body suits, boldly expressing their discomfort in having to put on revealing attires. How sad that women have to put themselves in such natural discomfort only to satisfy the base desires of the public.
As technology advanced, as people began to drift farther away from religion, worldly glitters and materialistic desires engulfed the minds and lives of a massive number. In this ‘modern’ world, a woman dressed modestly with a long dress is pointed out as old-fashioned. A teenage girl in her class who doesn’t wear tight clothes or short, revealing blouses is labelled plain and looked down on. It is of no surprise that today, a Muslim woman’s modest attire is not met with the response it should be met with; that the eyes of those unfortunately steeped in worldly obsessions are blind to the moral and spiritual sparkles glistening in the lengths of cloth keeping a lady covered, decent and safe from the dangers of society, and her heart pure and clean.
It is worth considering whether the troubles in society prevalent today, including adultery and fornication, are as a result of Purdah, or as a result of no Purdah.
How unfortunate are those that fail to behold the wisdom and security of the modest dress and veil that keep safe the honor, respect and dignity of a woman and hold intact her potential to shine and succeed both in this world and in the next world. Indeed, not only is a Muslim woman protected from stepping into a tangle of sin, but through her Purdah she protects her fellow beings in society from stumbling as well.
True freedom is in the heart knowing that one is doing the right thing for one’s soul, for one’s fellow beings, and hence for the pleasure of God, the Almighty. True freedom is this – that as mere human beings, our every action and intention is for the sake of attaining the pleasure of the One Almighty God Who created us and gave us all that we have, so that we are among those with whom He is pleased. Ultimately, this life will come to an end, and we need to live this life such that in the next life, which is the everlasting life, we would be in prosperity.
Therefore, no true freedom can be found in taking the option of going against the will of our Creator and sacrificing or shedding off our modesty in order to gain some temporary pleasures and to achieve goals full of vanity. A lady without Purdah, who nevertheless is dressed in a decent manner, still is susceptible and exposed to the dangerous avenues compared to a Muslim lady. Undoubtedly, Purdah is a blessing from Allah that has safeguarded men and women.
Indeed, would the Loving and Gracious God, Who has provided all the fruits, vegetables and elements to sustain His creation, and all the roses, birds and stars to calm our eyes and hearts, ever prescribe anything detrimental to us? Without a doubt, each one of His commandments is for our own immense benefit, and we must never forget that God Almighty is Independent of us while we are ever-dependent upon Him.
Hence, the Islamic Purdah instructed by Allah the Almighty is filled with wisdom, light, and benefit to the Muslim woman and the world around her. Indeed, Purdah in us Muslim women is what beautifies our lives. It is what enables us to succeed, and allows and inspires us to do anything we desire for the betterment of humanity, without holding us back in the slightest.
They think I’m trapped but my heart soars free
Their notions so pressed but my dreams sail above
My Purdah reminds me of who I am,
My purpose in this life, and to Whom I belong
Keeping me linked to my values,
Shields me from evil, with beauty in and out
Beauty in its true sense, is what Purdah has granted me
How grateful I am to You O Allah
And how I wish this,
That rather than gazing on time-wasting folly,
If only the world would see what it should see!