Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
If wearing nice clothes isn’t arrogance, then why do every scholar say we must dress as unattractively as possible? I’ve heard from a hadith that wearing nice clothes is not arrogant because Allah loves beauty. Now does this apply to both genders? What’s meant by nice clothes? Some say it’s modest fashion.
Is modest fashion allowed? During the time of the prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), women used to dress in dark clothes meant to be unattractive and not to draw any attention. Does that mean it’s better to dress like that 24/7? Please answer this for both genders.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate
Arrogance: A Matter of the Heart
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “No one will enter Paradise who has a mustard seed of arrogance.” A person then said, “Indeed, one loves that his clothes are beautiful and his shoes beautiful.” He (may Allah bless him and give him peace) replied, “Indeed, Allah Most High is beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance is the refusal of the truth and looking down on people.” [Muslim]
In this verse, we see that (a) dressing nicely is not arrogance in itself and (b) that dressing nicely is part of the religion.
The latter is also echoed in the following verse of the Quran:
Allah Most High says, “O Children of Adam! Dress well (zinat) whenever you are at worship. Eat and drink, but do not waste. Surely He does not like the wasteful.” [Quran, 7:31]
The word here for ‘dress well’ is zinat in Arabic, which means adornment. Another indication is that dressing well is not only allowed but commanded and encouraged in the religion.
Understanding Asceticism in Islam
Of the praiseworthy traits of the heart that each Muslim should strive to achieve is the trait of Zuhd, or detachment from worldliness (a.k.a. referred to as asceticism). Zuhd is to remove the love of material things and luxuries from the heart. [Ghazali; Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din]
Historically, many of the ascetics would dress in very meager clothing, and this may be where you heard that people (or scholars) should dress as such. Despite this fact, many other scholars and righteous people who were free from materialism and love for luxury still dressed quite dignified amongst the Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) himself.
Helping People Respect the Religion
Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) advised his students and fellow scholars to dress in a dignified manner so as to be symbols of religious authority and to help the people inculcate due respect in their hearts for the Sacred Law and its inheritors, the scholars. [Khadimi, al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya]
He said, “Make your turbans large and widen your sleeves.” This was because of his fear that the people would not respect the Sacred law and the scholars, which will harm their religion; it was not because he had any love for material pleasures. [Ibid.]
There were many ascetics known for voluntarily wearing very meager clothing. Amongst them are the likes of Uwais al-Qarni (Allah be pleased with him), a great saint from the time of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace). However, he did not meet the Prophet due to caring for his mother. On the other hand, many ascetics dress quite well for righteous intentions, as shown above.
Additionally, you have others, like Sayyiduna Hasan bin’ Ali, the grandson of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), who wore clothing, the outside of which was fine cloth and the inside was coarse. He would exclaim that the outside was charity to the eyes of onlookers and the inside was for Allah Most High.
That said, regardless of the state one finds more appropriate for them, it is in no way obligatory to dress meagerly, and neither is it advisable. Only those who do so out of completely sincere states of detachment or as a means of accustoming the self to abandoning luxury should do so.
Dressing well for the sake of people and dressing down for the sake of people is both insincere. If one wishes to dress well, one should show gratitude for the blessings that Allah Most High has given them and remind themselves that the comforts of this life are fleeting.
If one wishes to dress down, one should intend to inculcate a longing for the Hereafter and the spiritual comforts of a relationship with Allah that is not diluted by materialism. And neither should look down on the other.
Allah Most High says, “And the clothing of righteousness (taqwa) is best.” [Quran, 7:26]
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.