Activism & Civil Rights Prophet Muhammad Reflections

Every Garment Has a Name Sadia Kidwai

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.

“Fast fashion”

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!

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  • Masha Allah.
    What do you think if I buy few quality expensive clothes instead of many cheap(fast fashion) ones?
    If I have the money,I would like to buy clothes every year.

    • Hey said hassan, there is NO PROHIBITION about wearing expensive clothes in islam, as long as its modest,not silk(if your a man), pork leather…ect (I am sure you know what I mean). If Allah the almighty has blessed you with wealth? And you give your zakat, your sadaqa ect, what can’t you go and buy nice clothing?

      If I recall there were wealthy companions of the prophet and aswell as Imam hanifa who dressed well.

      • I found this on another Islamic website:

        “Allaah says (interpretation of meaning): {And those, who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes).}[25:67].

        Being extravagant or niggardly is defined according to customs and to the circumstances of the person who spends. The expenditures of a person could be described as being moderate for him/her, but could be extravagance and waste in relation to another person.
        Allaah says (interpretation of meaning): {Let the rich man spend according to his means, and the man whose resources are restricted, let him spend according to what Allaah has given him. Allaah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him…..}[65:7].

        Anyway, there is no harm Islamicly for a Muslim to wear expensive clothes, eat good food, have luxurious means of transportation, and a spacious house, if this is done without being extravagant.
        When Allaah blesses His slave with His bounties, He likes to see the effects of His bounties on him/her. The Prophet said: “Eat, drink and give charity without being extravagant, as Allaah likes to see the effects of His bounty on His slave.” [Al-Bukhaari]
        However, if a person has only what he needs for himself or his family, then he spends it on complementary things and becomes in need of help, or asks provision from other people to obtain the minimum necessary to support his life, then Islam does not approve of this nor is it wise to do so.”

        Allah knows best

    • @Said: Having nice and new clothes is not bad or haram in and of itself. But people living in the west have lost balance long time ago. There are alhamdulillah high quality fair trade brands, which make beautiful clothes while providing fair wages and also not harming the environment. You could choose to buy from them – this is called “buycotting” – since you are spending money on clothes anyways, but you remove your money from big chains which abuse people and nature to give it to the (ethical) competition.

      But for the experience, why not try to have a “clothes diet” for a while? I stopped buying new clothes two years ago alhamdulillah, for the exact same reasons mentioned in the article, and I have to say it is one of the best decisions I`ve made. I became aware of so many things I wasn`t aware of before. I appreciate much more what I have. I swap clothes with loved ones and friends, which makes us feel closer than before while at the same time adding variety to our own closet. I buy second hand which is still in great shape, that`s also how I discovered great gems of vintage pieces! Now, I even buy second hand shoes, electrical items, furniture….the world has too much and throws away too much. By buying new stuff basically all the time, not only do we support inhumane working conditions (like low wages, child labour and often even sexual abuse in factories) but we are also maximising our carbon footprint, since most of the stuff comes from multiple far away places. The same is true for food.

      I know it sounds a lot and complicated – but trust me, it is much easier than we think and are made to believe. It might be a struggle in the very beginning, but as muslims, struggling with our nafs is second nature 🙂 May Allah guide us in this unbalanced world, may He guide us to make wise and sustainable and “sunnah compliant” decisions…Ameen.

      wassalam Ilhaam

      • Since we’re sharing clothing management styles, I have two basic categories of clothes: the staples (like work clothes, socks and the like) and clothes for leisure (i.e. “other”, including dressy clothes down). 🙂

        For staples, I maintain enough so that what with work travel and ordinary wash cycles I’m never short. They get retired as they wear out, and every year or two I’ll ‘top up’ with new as needed to maintain the levels. I’m kind of OCD about this – no more and no less. :p

        For leisure/”other”, I wear and cycle through all my clothes – except for specialist clothing, there’s nothing in my closet that doesn’t get worn. So my general rule is to maintain just enough so I don’t get bored – when I wear a blouse or t-shirt next, and I’m pleased to ‘see it again’, so that’s when I know it’s just enough and I want no more. That way I continue to love all of them for years and years. This tends to stabilise at a certain level; this way I will always only need a certain amount of closet space and no more. On a side note, I do try to keep in reasonably the same sort of weight range because it makes it so much easier to manage clothing sustainably. 😉

        In terms of eco-friendliness and ethics, because I can, most of my erm.. inner garments are organic cotton, because I don’t like how ordinary cotton is toxic to farmers. My target is >50% organic cotton for when I do buy t-shirts. That’s basically because these are the two categories of clothes that is possible to switch to organic, where I am. And no fashion accessories unless it’s vintage or artisanal. I mean, there’s nothing wrong in having nice things, but a garment’s beauty is marred if I know it existed from ugliness – i.e. suffering of others and ruin of the land. Allah blessed me with means to buy ethically. Maybe I can do more, but if I don’t do at least what I am doing now, that’s just blatant negligence. 🙁

  • JazakAllah khair for this article. Would readers please suggest companies who make quality, eco-friendly clothing that is Islamically acceptable (long sleeves, long dresses and skirts, etc.) for sisters?

  • MashaAllah, a beautiful reminder to us all. Well written and well thought article pointing out issues of our current generations who wear clothes as a statement to feel noticed / accepted by peers and groups falling in to the trap of becoming a fashion victim. Thus creating anxieties / insecurities within individuals even to the extent of dressing in ways they may not even feel comfortable with in the first place which at times are even un-islamic adding to the clones of males/females on the streets may Allah protect us, Ameen.

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