Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
I know Muslim men in Japan who moved here and later married women who reverted to Islam.
I heard that their wives don’t cover properly. Like they’ve improved from showing flesh and wearing tight clothes to wearing comparatively loose and modest clothing. They generally wear loose pants and somewhat loose tops but they don’t come down to the knee. They obviously don’t wear the hijab. When they ask me what is considered tight and how loosely they should dress, I usually can’t find an exact answer.
The fatwas I find are either telling them to wear super loose abayas or are just saying generic things without specifying. It’s likely they won’t be able to adapt a full abaya even after accepting Islam.
Can a man marry knowing this possibility?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
Modest: A Part of Faith
The basis of the extent and style of clothing for both men and women is modesty. The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Modesty is a branch of faith.” [Bayhaqi]
That said, there are things that clearly go against the Islamic understanding of modest clothing and others that are clearly modest. Between these two is a gray area that is mostly dealt with on the basis of custom (‘urf): based on the Islamic legal principle “Custom is given legal significance (in the Sacred law) – al-‘urf muhakkam” [Ibn Nujaym; al-Ashbah wa al-Naza’ir]
Principles of Modest Dress
Modest dress should entail the following principles:
- Not revealing the actual body
- Not manifestly revealing the form of the body
- Not sexual attractive to the opposite gender, nor worn for that purpose – excluding one’s spouse
Understanding These Principles
The first principle is clearly understood to be blatantly against modesty. If parts of the body are exposed that are legally considered nakedness (‘awra), this is strictly prohibited. Also included in this ruling, is clothing that is so thin that the color of the skin beneath is clearly visible. This level of immodesty is strictly prohibited (Haram). [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
The above excludes clothing that is unavoidably tight in certain situations, like bigger body size or if the wind is blowing. [Ibid.]
The second principle is also against modesty and is the subject of a Prophetic narration informing that such action is sinful and leads to Hellfire. The Messenger (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “There are two groups of the inhabitants of Hellfire who I have not seen: a group who have whips like the tails of cows with which they beat people, and (the second group are) women who are clothed, yet naked, who encourage women to walk around seductively and they walk around seductively; their hair is like the swaying humps of Bactrian camels – they will not enter Paradise, nor will they experience its fragrance. And its fragrance can be experienced from such a long distance.” [Muslim]
This level of immodesty is also strictly prohibited if extremely tight and especially if the tightness is in the private part area (both front and back). If it is quite tight but not to the above extent it is prohibitively disliked; and, finally, if it is only slightly tight, it is somewhat disliked. [Ibn ‘Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar]
The third principle is mostly founded on custom. What is customarily understood as modest clothing in a specific area is acceptable dress for a Muslim woman. Custom, however, differs from one place to another. In some places, for a woman to wear other than black in public is looked down upon. Whereas, in other places, women dress in very colorful clothing, and this is accepted even amongst the righteous of that place.
Thus, it is recommended to stick within the customary bounds of modesty. However, dressing differently than the custom, though possible blameworthy, is not sinful – unless it entails other aspects of immodesty or is done with an ill intention.
Meeting People Where They Are
After explaining the rules of the Sacred Law regarding women’s dress, it is important that we understand how to approach encouraging others in their religious practice. Calling people to obey Allah Most High is an honorable task and from the most important of the Prophetic practices (sunna), however, wisdom and a deep understanding of the ultimate goal are required.
The ultimate goal of calling people to the worship and obedience of Allah Most High is that they voluntarily want to live a life pleasing to Allah Most High, and thereby secure themselves salvation and success in this life and the next. Merely, advising people of the legal rulings is not always conducive to this goal. If a person’s faith is weak, whether due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of community, or other struggles, they won’t be able to live up to the higher standards (or even the minimum requirements) of the religion.
For this reason, the scholars have listed the three steps of calling to Allah:
The Three Steps of Da‘wa
- Building relationships (Ta’lif): one must get familiar with the person. Ask them their name, and where they are from and welcome them to the community.
- Get to know them in a deeper way (Ta’rif): one must build a genuine rapport with the person. Learn about them and their background, where they came from, and what they may be going through.
- Advise them (Taklif): thirdly, after examining their level of religious knowledge, understanding, and practice, one can strive to encourage them such that they increase the quality of their religious practice, even in the slightest way. The goal here is to meet them where they are and take them to the next level – not to make them perfect overnight. [Haddad, al-D’awa al-Tamma]
Note that priority should be given to the inner realities of their religious practice, first and foremost. For example, the woman in question may not be dressing according to the Islamic legal standard, however, you did mention that they made some steps toward a more modest dress than before. The goal is to now take them to a slightly higher standard.
Work From the Heart Outwards
That said, it is more important that they understand the deeper realities and beauty of the trait of modesty and that it is beloved to Allah Most High and His Messenger; that examples of modesty, such as Sayyida Fatimah al-Zahra, the Prophet’s daughter, can be shown to her; and the rewards, both in this life and the next, for following the Prophetic example. Connecting her with kind, wise practicing Muslim women will also be a great step towards these goals.
Marrying Someone Who is Struggling in Their Religion
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) gave us four things people marry for. He said, “A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her status, her beauty, and her religion. Seek out a religious woman and you will be successful.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
Using this narration as a guideline, it is best to marry a woman who is strong in her religious practice. However, if one is reasonably sure that by marrying such a woman, he can be a means of her guidance (i.e. she shows signs of following him and taking his advice to heart) and there is no way that she will negatively affect him in his religious practice – doing so would be honorable. If, however, she has no desire to work on her religious practice or that she may negatively influence him or the women of his family – he should abstain from marrying her.
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.