Often when we consider the sunnah (tradition of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, peace be upon him) of clothing ourselves, our minds instantly turn to issues of halal (permitted) and haram (prohibited). At the tip of our tongues are reminders about the evils of silk and gold, the necessity for wearing loose and modest clothing, and the dangers of dressing with arrogance or pride.
Yet in all of this, we sometimes forget the sublime purpose of clothing, and the reasons for which our Creator created garments. In Surah Al-Araf, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says, “O children of Adam, We have given you garments to cover your nakedness and as adornment for you… ” (Qur’an 7:26). Here, Allah (swt) tell us that: a) garments are a gift, a blessing, given to us by our Creator; b) that He gave us this gift to protect us and our vulnerabilities; c) that these gifts are a means to beautifying ourselves. The ayah (verse) goes on to say that the best of garments is God-consciousness, another gift from Allah that is intended to protect and beautify His creation.
The Qur’an uses the metaphor of garments elsewhere: in Surah Al Baqarah, Allah (swt) likens the relationship of a husband and wife – a relationship so powerful that it is considered half our deen (religion) – to that of clothing, “They are garments for you, and you are garments for them,” (Qur’an 2: 187). As in Surah Al-Araf, our garments are a means for us to maintain intimacy with our Lord, protect us from the evils of this world and increase us in our love for Him.
Despite the nobility conferred onto the role of a “garment” in our faith, our consumer habits have led us to behave otherwise. In short, we treat our clothes like trash. Literally – one third of our clothing ends up in landfills. We have become victims to the “disposable fashion syndrome”, wherein we prioritize fashion and convenience over righteousness and justice. A report by the British charity War on Want entitled Fashion Victims, outlines how the demands of consumers like us to have cheap, instantly available clothing that can be discarded after one or two wears has led to inhumane conditions for garment workers in countries such as Bangladesh and China.
Even the most skilled garment workers in a factory in India earn only £65 a month (well below the national living wage). That means they are forced to live in crowded shacks, without clean water or electricity, because they cannot afford decent housing. The low wages mean that many workers are forced to work long overtime hours for little or no pay – sometimes until 3am – and risk verbal abuse, or worse, losing their jobs if they refuse to comply. The collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh earlier this year saw over 1000 killed for the cause of “fast fashion”.
“This industry is sucking our blood and growing and leaving us in this dirt and filth. Are we living in humane situations? Nobody cares….” —Garment worker who produces clothes for Debenhams and Next
Every garment has a name
At times like this, I cannot help but wonder how the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would have behaved were he in our situation – were he constantly bombarded with advertising and imagery that made us question ourselves, that clawed away at our insecurities and whispered promises of perfection and worldly belonging in our ear.
The Prophet’s relationship with his clothing was one that truly embodied the Qur’anic exultations of the (spiritually) noble status that is conferred on clothing. Abu Sa’eed Khudari narrates, “When Rasulullah put on a new garment, he would in happiness mention that garment’s name,” and then recite the following du`a’ (supplication):
“Allahumma lakal hamdu kama kasauw- tanihi, as-aluka khayrahu wa-khayra ma-suni’a lahu wa-a’udhubika min sharrihi wa-sharri ma-suni’a lahu.”
“O God, all praise and thanks to You for clothing me with this (garment). I ask You for the good of it and the good of what it was made for, and I ask Your protection from the evil of it and the evil of what it was made for.”
There are numerous ahadith (sayings of the Prophet ﷺ) referring to specific items of clothing the Prophet ﷺ had – and what is notable is that each has been named by a distinct quality, such as the Yemeni sheet or the Rumi shirt. The fact that he named each item as he wore it indicates how well each item of clothing he possessed was known to him and loved by him, without the desire for more or disease of possessiveness clouding his heart. For the Prophet ﷺ, the act of putting on clothing was an act of worship – an opportunity to remember Allah, to thank Him for His gifts, and to use the gift as a means to becoming closer to His Creator.
Garments of God-consciousness
When I consider that the Prophet ﷺ was able to name each and every one of his garments, and yet I cannot event count how many garments I own is a sign of a lost sunnah perhaps – in my life, at least. Advertising and consumer norms have convinced us that it is normal to constantly desire and buy new clothes; that it is normal to discard clothes because we are bored, that it is normal to not question the source of our clothing, or how many people have suffered to satiate our desires. These habits of excess which I have unconsciously developed have not only caused me to be of those people who are “extravagant”, and who “wrong people in respect of their goods”, but have led me away from a beautiful sunnah – a sunnah wherein clothes can be a means of getting closer to Allah, by ensuring that we do not have an excessive number of garments, by ensuring that our clothes come from tayyib (pure) sources, and by ensuring that we are grateful for every gift of clothing that we have been given by Allah.
UK-based Muslim campaigning organization, MADE in Europe, is working to raise awareness about the spiritual and social harms of “garment greed”, and ensure that we revive Islamic teachings about clothing. It is calling on each and every one of us to make our own personal pledges for change. I have pledged to no longer buy clothes from high-street shops this year, instead focusing on taking better care of my existing garments, and supporting charity shops instead. It is a personal effort to re-evaluate my relationship with clothing, to remove myself from the exploitation that is rife within the garment industry, and to appreciate every item of clothing I have as a gift from God and a means to become closer to Him.
To learn more about MADE in Europe’s work on ethical fashion, and to sign the petition calling on clothing retailers to improve conditions for garment workers, visit the MADE in Europe website and sign the petition now!