What’s ‘Urf got to do with it?

Syrian woman in Damascus

Recently I have been thinking about whether ‘urf has anything to do with our styles of covering as Muslim women and muhajabaat or munaqabaat. Well, of course in some sense, I’ve answered my own question…’urf does have something to do with this…but really, how much of an influence is it for Muslims living in societies without a historically large Muslim presence or community-like those of us in the USA, Canada, UK, France, etc. Anywhere deemed “outside” of the traditional “Muslim world”.

So rewind, I know some of my readers are new Muslims or maybe just dont in general know what ‘urf is and are probably scratching their heads like…wha??

‘Urf is in a nutshell (and Allah knows best, I’m not a scholar) is basically relating to what is customary/the norm in an area. In some madhabs-such as Hanafi and Maliki schools of jurisprudence ‘urf was considered within the fiqth of the schools. In the Maliki fiqth, ‘urf is the 11th source of fiqth in that school, its alongside. Although its not considered a part of shariah per se, because it was incorporates into the fiqths of these schools it was generally considered when a Maliki or Hanafi scholar made a ruling.

To me, it makes sense, after all how can we judge who is more modestly dressed? A Malaysian woman in her bright florally Baju Kurung and large tudung or a Saudi woman in her black abaya and shaylah. BOTH are modest and both would fall within the Islamic guidelines of what constitutes hejab …but both are quite different and both styles follow the norms of the society/culture which developed it.

(Malaysian women in baju kurung and tudung in an airport)

Obviously this is an easy thing to do if one is residing in a society in which Islam is predominant and which there are forms of attire which are traditionally worn by Muslim women.

But…what if you don’t? What if you are a Muslim in a predominantly non-Muslim society in which hijab is not the norm?  What do you do? What impact does ‘urf play if any?

Cham Cambodian Muslim girls


Personally I think the answer to my rather philosophical question depends. Obviously I do not agree with a sister watering down her hejab to suit local standards. I know that here in the USA or in France or in the UK its the norm to be uncovered-thats the societal norm, but, it indeed does against Islamic values and rulings to strut around in immodest attire.

I think in this sense…as far as ‘urf is concerned-we should take what is most common and popular in the Muslim community worldwide-as long as it falls within what is appropriate according to Islamic guidelines and that would be acceptable-as in some form of an overgarment and a scarf of some style which covers everything it should be covering! Like for example, right now…some popular forms of overgarment attire for Muslim women are the jilbab or manteau/pardesu and the shoulder abayaah. These styles are currently worn by Muslimaat around the world regardless of ethnicity, culture or country.  So while maybe the shoulder abaya used to be a form of attire which was solely worn in the Gulf states (and a recent innovation at that!), its no longer the case. Hence, as far as ‘urf and living in a traditionally non-Muslim society, I would think that these styles are the most suitable.  There are also some forms of attire which developed fairly recently which are majority worn by Muslims in western countries…the ever so popular (in France) Agerian style overhead which they called the “jelbab” pops to mind. I kind of consider this to be an indigenous western form of hejab, even though it developed in Algeria, its extremely common in France and around western Europe.

Obviously, I do not believe that this includes the currently trendy and -very wrong- styles of hijab which some Muslim women currently wear which indeed fall far-far short of what would be considered as constituting even the barest form of hijab! Such as skinny jeans or snug fitting pants or skirts and a immodestly fitting top and a short scarf which barely covers anything beyond the neck! Thats not hijab-its a joke! 

So, what you think that ‘urf should play a role in how we as Muslim women and muhajabaat/munaqabaat dress?

4 thoughts on “What’s ‘Urf got to do with it?

  1. Assalaamu alaikum sis,

    This is something that is an endless discussion around my coummunity. I firmly believe that as you said, hijab should not be watered down to fit into the cultural norms of a predominately non-Muslim society. However the beauty of a multicultural Muslim community is that there are so many acceptable forms of hijab from the baju kurung to the overhead abaya mashallah.

    In regards to ‘urf coming into play in the dress of the muslimeen (women and men as well for that matter) one should not look to what is common in the greater society but within the confines of the Muslim community you’re a part of. We don’t look to the non-Muslims for our aqeedah or any other part of our deen so why should we then look to them when deciding how to dress?

    • yes, exactly…I hope what I wrote made sense as its such a huge topic its hard to really condense it in a way which truly makes sense…mashallah though sis…you sorta summed it up even better. hehehehe. jazakhallakhairoon.

      Fyi, thats one reason why I *loath* it when Muslims say we as muslimaat should look to the non-Muslim society for inspiration on how to dress…ugh, no! Cuz when you do…you get attire like those muslim girls above who somehow forgot to put on their skirts or pants this morning and are instead romping around in what looks like tights under their tunics. LOL. Ya Rabb protect us from such things!!

  2. This is a fascinating topic that I, as a sociology major, can’t get enough of. I think, because the US doesn’t have as long a history with Islam as places in Africa, Asia, etc., that ‘urf is not as established here, so Muslims are more free to choose what their attire looks like without being bound by cultural customs. I know that I run the gamut in terms of clothing styles; some days I wear an American-style skirt and shirt, sometimes I wear a plain shoulder jilbab, sometimes I wear an ankle-length trenchcoat over a skirt or pants, sometimes I wear a Somali khimar-and-skirt combo, sometimes I wear an Iranian manteau with a skirt, and sometimes I wear a baju kurung (finally, Alhamdulillah, I got a few authentic ones from a Malaysian friend!). With all these I usually just stick to a long al-Amira khimar because they cover what I want covered, they come in solid colors, and they’re easy and practical.

    For some Muslims that aren’t attached to any culture in particular (e.g. converts), I think their attire may be based in part by the predominant culture in their area. For example, they may choose to wear a salwar kameez or a kurta outfit if the majority of Muslims in their area are Desi; likewise they may choose a Khaleeji abaya and black shayla if the majority of Muslims are from the Khaleej. Shi’a Muslim women may gravitate towards overhead garments or clothing from Iran, Iraq, or Lebanon, while Salafi Muslim women may opt for more Gulf-style clothing with niqab, and white thobes and keffiyahs for men.

    I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking to non-Muslim sources (e.g. magazines, friends, etc.) for fashion inspiration as long as the clothes are hijab-friendly, and that one’s intention is not to imitate out of desire to be like them, but simply because they like the styles. This summer, printed maxi dresses are popular, and they can be found in nearly every mainstream clothing store. They are appropriate for hijab wearers, and the patterns are fun and summery. I don’t think that it’s a problem at all if a Muslim decides to buy one of these dresses and wear them, as long as she wears it in a good manner (i.e. with sleeves over or under it, a headscarf covering the chest, etc.).

  3. As Salaam Alaykum…..forgive me for my ubber late response to the aforementioned post- but when I came across it, I was compelled to respond. Urf is an obsession of mine- for it goes hand in hand with my endless search for an American Muslim identity….The first thing that came to mind was the “overgarment” which is basically an a-line dress that is a take on the traditional shoulder abaya style. I’m loving all the unique details (ruffles, flounces, pleat) styles I see incorporated into the “overgarment” the look has become so distinct that when you see it – urban, east cost US comes to mind. In the South (where I currently live) the “burqa/pant” suit ( hey, that’s just what they call it🙂 is everywhere, which is a take on the Pakistani shawlwar kamise sans all the embelishments ……and then of.course you have the layered look which seems to be the personification of Islamic fashion in the west-ecspecially amongst the younger generation immigrant communites🙂

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