Viewing The Karnataka Hijab Issue Through Fatwas On ‘Muslim Clothing’ And Need To Dress Differently Than ‘Kafirs’

Viewing The Karnataka Hijab Issue Through Fatwas On ‘Muslim Clothing’ And Need To Dress Differently Than ‘Kafirs’

by Swati Goel Sharma - Apr 28, 2022 11:39 AM +05:30 IST
Viewing The Karnataka Hijab Issue Through Fatwas On ‘Muslim Clothing’ And Need To Dress Differently Than ‘Kafirs’The hijab debate.
  • The hijab issue, which is being hotly debated not only in court but also in public, has so far disregarded a key element of the Muslim religious code — the need to look different from the “kafirs”.

The Karnataka hijab row which began in December last year when three students at an all-girls government school in Udupi insisted they be allowed to wear an additional headscarf (they called it hijab) over the uniform, is far from settled despite a court order.

In March, the Karnataka High Court (HC) held the hijab as not an essential religious practice in Islam and upheld the institute's right to enforce uniform.

This week, three Muslim girls from the state-run school in Udupi where the controversy kicked off, did not appear on the first day of their examination. A day earlier, two girls from the school but belonging to a different stream, left the institute without taking their exam after they were asked to remove the hijab.

All five girls were petitioners in the hijab case in Karnataka HC.

Their key argument was that certain verses from the Quran and Hadith books direct Muslim women to cover their head and neck, and thus a headscarf is an essential religious practice in Islam.

This argument, however, stood on weak ground. The petitioners could not establish that hijab is a mere headscarf and that a headscarf is an essential duty for all Muslims.

The case has reached the Supreme Court, though hearings are yet to begin. While there is a likelihood of a similar verdict by the SC, it is unlikely that the insistence on hijab in educational institutes would fizzle out.

This can be deduced from the pattern of the pro-hijab movement so far, as Muslim organisations in Karnataka continue to hold agitations against the court order and women students continue to boycott classes and examinations for not being allowed to sport hijab inside the premises.

Fatwas On Muslim Clothing

The issue has been hotly debated not only in court but also in public. However, the debate so far has ignored an important aspect of the Muslim religious code — the need to look different from non-Muslims, referred derogatorily in the rulings as “kafirs”.

Prominent Islamic scholars have produced reams and reams of written material on how a Muslim should clothe oneself to stand out among non-Muslims, prevent oneself from committing ‘kufr’, and not wear clothes “which obscure the difference between kafirs and Muslims”.

None of the petitioners have taken these arguments to court, at least so far, but they give insight into the insistence on hijab in general and the ongoing controversy in particular.

What Fatwas On ‘Muslim Clothing' Say


Stated below are some fatwas from Fatawa-i-Rizvia, authored by Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi (1856-1921), as quoted from Arun Shourie’s seminal book The World of Fatwas or the Shariah in Action, published in 1995.

Fatawa-i-Rizvia is considered to be the most prominent book of the Barelvi school of thought.


  • “…even to say that what one is wearing is the same as the dress or item of dress which is associated with kafirs — even to say so, when manifestly that is not the case in fact, is kufr

  • “… the woman who said of the rope which she had tied around her waist, ‘It is zunnar’ (the sacred thread worn by Hindus), has become a kafir

  • “…clothes of an anglicized form are detestable, they are ‘haratn, sakht haram, ashad haram

  • “A Muslim is prohibited from even stitching clothes which are associated with another qaum — like trousers, the English cap, jacket etc”.

Quoting from the work, Shourie writes that the fatwa on wearing angarkha (common among Hindus at that time) for Muslims is that they must wear it differently than Hindus. Muslims must affix the buttons of the angarkha on the left side and buttonholes on the right side, as opposed to “ulta purdah” observed by Hindus where they keep the buttons on the right side and buttonholes on the left.

Wearing the ‘ultra purdah’ is haram for Muslims, the fatwa says.

Similarly, as dhoti is a mark of Hindus, wearing it is prohibited for Muslims. If a man still chooses to wear it, and “with the intention of being like kafirs”, he would be automatically out of Islam and his wife would be automatically out of nikah.

Kifayatullah Dehlawi (popularly known as Mufti Kifayatullah)

Now, we take a look at some fatwas from the works of Mufti Kifayatullah (1975-1952), a prominent Islamic scholar and founding member of Jamia Millia Islamia.

Excerpts, as quoted from Shourie’s book on fatwas:

  • “Dress does not bear on the basics of Islam but… it is necessary for Muslims to maintain the Islamic form and appearance.”

  • “…If a form of dress or an item is generally associated with some other qaum then Muslims must shun it.”

  • “If the form or item has come into such general use among a people or in an area that it is no longer associated with any particular non-Muslim group, then a Muslim too may use it.”

  • “About the suit and ‘English style hair’, he [Kifayatullah] says that thus far in India they are detestable and condemnable as they resemble what kafirs wear and do”

  • “…where only non-Muslim women wear a sari, for Muslim women to wear it is detestable, but where it is customary for Muslim women to wear a sari it is all right for a Muslim woman to wear it.”

Abul A'la Al-Maududi

Next, we see the writings by Abul A'la Al-Maududi (1903-1979), considered one of the most important Islamic ideologues in the Indian sub-continent.

Excerpts, as quoted from Maududi’s famous work Libas ka masla (translated in English as The Question of Dress):

  • “Islam does not force man to wear a particular kind of dress and choose a particular mode of life. However, purely from the ethico-social viewpoint, it enunciates a few principles and wants every nation to amend her dress and living in accordance with them. The first principle relates to satr or essential concealment… all female persons, no matter what region of the earth they are inhabiting, should cover the whole of their bodies except the face, hands, and feet.”

  • “Islam wants the human dress to be free from all those symbols of idolatory and polytheism which have been adopted by any religious sect. These would include the Cross, the Hindu cross thread, pictures, and other un-Islamic emblems. Besides introducing these ethical and cultural reforms, Islam thinks it necessary that the Muslim’s dress should have some distinguishing mark so that they do not get mixed up with non-Muslims, are able to recognize fellow Muslims easily, and succeed in cementing the bonds of their social life.”

Maududi cites several examples from the life of Islam’s founder to explain the ’need’ for dressing differently than non-Muslims.

In his time, the Prophet introduced the custom of wearing turbans over caps among Muslims to differentiate them from common Arabs who wore either caps or turbans, writes Maududi.

He quotes the Prophet from Hadiths as saying, “That which sets us off from polytheists is caps with turbans.”

The practice was done with when the whole of Arabia converted to Islam, writes Maududi, and adds, “Later on, when the whole of Arabia embraced Islam, it no longer remained necessary to retain this mark of distinction because now the Arabian dress itself had become Islamic and none of its wearers was a disbeliever or polytheist any more.”

Maududi writes that for societies where the population is mixed (such as India), any dress which identifies its wearer as a Muslim is an “Islamic dress”.

He writes, “And where the whole population consists of non-Muslims, every convert to Islam should add to his dress some recognized Islamic sign so as to distinguish himself from non-Muslims.”

Maududi cautions against “imitation of the disbelievers”, that is, wearing the clothes worn by non-Muslims, saying the practice is “injurious to the collective existence of Muslims”.

He writes, “It alienates Muslims from one another and obstructs the cooperation which Islam desires to exist among them. Besides, it is an indication that a person who is a Muslim has a quite strong leanings towards non-Muslims.”

In Popular Culture

One can gauge from these writings the reason behind the aggression displayed by Muslim groups over the question of hijab. Besides other factors such as the diktats on hijab in Quran and Hadith, the need to dress differently from non-Muslims could well be the motivation behind the agitation.

Consider the lyrics of a song that has acquired significant popularity in Muslim educational institutes and women madrassas in India in recent times, on which girl students are made to dance in full-body veils, sometimes barring even the hands and feet.

The lyrics say,

Main Muslim qaum ki beti hun, main parda karti hun

(I am a woman of Muslim faith, I draw a veil)

Allah rasul ke huqmon ki, main parwaah karti hun

(I care about the orders of Allah and Prophet)

Kuffar ki aadat hai be dharmo aba rehna

(It is the habit of disbelievers to stay without faith)

shaitani bagawat hai besharmo haya rehna

(It is a rebellious evil to stay without decency)

Kuffar ke harbe jhaanso ki main chinta karti hun…”

(I am worried about the traps of disbelievers)

The song is believed to have released in Pakistan in 2020. One can find several videos of performances on this song in Muslim institutes across India, including in Karnataka.

Darul Uloom Deoband

That the community treats the question of ‘Muslim clothing’ quite seriously even today is further evident from recent fatwas on the website of Darul Uloom Deoband, a major Islamic seminary in India located in Uttar Pradesh’s Deoband town.

Here are some such fatwas:

Question: “My sister is studying in school she wears pant shirt in school. Is it allowed to wear in school but not in home?”

Answer: “As it is fardh for a woman to cover all his [her] body in the same way it is also mandatory for her to wear such a clothe which does not expose the size and contours of body. It is mandatory to avoid wearing clothes which are see-through or tight and expose the structure and outline of the body (sic).

“The Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, "Women who are naked even though they are wearing clothes, go astray and make others go astray, and they will not enter the Garden and they will not find its scent“.

“Also there is resemblance with westernized and fashionable persons and it promotes immodesty. It is narrated in an Hadith, “He who imitates any people (in their actions) is considered to be one of them"

“Thus you should stop your sister wearing such dress which is not acceptable as per the Shariah.” (sic)

Question: “1. Can you Explain me about for man and women Islamic dress? 2. Can you explain about these Paijama kurta and shallwar kameez are Islamic dress if yes how? 3. What about wear pants & shirts etc. if non islamic than how? (sic)”

Answer: “1. A dress which is proved from hadith is definitely Islamic dress. However, one which is not mentioned in hadith but is approved by pious and religious people, and is not the sign of infidel and debauched one shall be counted Islamic dress.

“2. Wearing Kurta and Pyjama is proved from the holy Prophet hence there is no doubt being it Islamic dress. 3. Wearing pant and shirt in India is now not the sign of infidel and debauched persons; hence wearing it is not haram however pious and religious people do not take it good, therefore it is better and good not to wear it.”

Question: “Can we wear tie for the functions?”

Answer: “Tie was basically introduced by non-Muslims; therefore a Muslim should avoid using it until there is some compelling necessity.”

Question: “Is it permissible for a woman to wear a tika or mathaputi (forehead jewellery)? Do these have any religious connotations for hindus?”

Answer: Tika (forehead jewellery) is a Hindu custom. Muslim women should refrain from using it.”

Question: “What types of clothing are impermissible to wear?”

Answer: “It is prohibited for women to wear dress of men and for men to wear the dress of women. Also, it is forbidden to adopt resemblance of each others' dresses in colour and cutting. It is haram for men to wear pants, lungi or pyjama below the ankles.

“It is not allowed to wear dresses characteristic to other communities...”

Question: “How shd the dress of a muslimah be? how was the clothing of the pure wives & daughters of our beloved nabi (pbuh)? was is like salwaar kameez? (sic)”

Answer: “…it is mentioned that one should not follow the national or religious signs of other people and their styles should not be adopted.”

Is Hijab A Headscarf?

As is obvious from this limited set of fatwas, the ulema puts a great emphasis on dressing differently than non-Muslims.

Though not relevant to the discussion at hand, it is pertinent to mention Darul Uloom’s position on what constitutes hijab. Is it a headscarf covering neck and hair as suggested by the petitioners or a full-body veil? The seminary says hijab is burqa, an all-body veil with face uncovered.

Here are some relevant fatwas from the seminary:

Question: “Currently i am staying in germany along with my family. My wife wears complete burqa with niqaab (even she covers the face), if she wears complete burqa and come out, most of the people stare at us. example : the german kids show there finger towards us and ask there mothers. and some poeple start staring at us like abusing us. Here the turkeys wear only the hijab (not covering the face), so they dont have any problem. I just wanted to know, can my wife wear only hijaab instead of niqab (that is complete burqa with out covering the face). Please let me know is it permissible in shariah (sic).”

Answer: “It is very good that your wife wears niqab (with face covered), she must wear it and must not wear hijab (with face uncovered). Those who stare and gaze at you have satanic habit. What your wife is observing is the Islamic veil.”

Question: “Is it necessary to wear gloves to cover wrists for a girl along with hijab (burkha) while going to college or outside from house. I heard that it is not necessary but burkha with naqaab will be enough (sic)?”

Answer: Burqah (hijab) is sufficient, only this much is necessary. Wearing gloves is better, not necessary.”

Question: “I believe that niqab is farz. I want to wear it but since I will be the only one doing it in my close surrounding, I do not feel ready to observe niqab during family gatherings. People have been telling me that either you wear niqab all the time or you do not wear it at all. So I would like to know whether it permissible to wear niqab only while going out in the streets or other public places (where there are non muslims strangers) and uncover my face in front of non-mehram relatives (cousins and brothers in law)? I mean is it ok to do it sometimes rather than not doing it at all? (sic)”

Answer: “The Shariah ruling does not depend on someone’s willingness and denial…Therefore, you should try to observe complete hijab and repent to Allah earnestly for shortcomings occurring in this regard. Keep yourself restrained to define the status of any Shariah matter; since it may lead one to the pit of disbelief and it sometimes results in devastation in this world and the hereafter.”

Non-Adherence To The Uniform

In the light of these rulings, and the ulema’s tight control on the community and great influence on their psyche, it’s quite evident that the demand to not adhere to the school uniform may have been inspired by the ‘need’ to look different than non-Muslims.

One can only wonder if the demands on clothing stop at a headscarf.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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