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|Standards of modesty around the world?|
|05/31/04 at 08:31:05|
|In various countries there are standards of modesty. My inquiry applies to the standards which women popularly adopt in any culture.|
For example, in the west, the standard for modesty rarely if ever implies covering the head, and usually has exposure of the arms and of the lower limbs from around the knee downward. If you've ever been to the west, then you know culturally this IS considered quite modest by comparison to what else exists.
I have lived in the land of my ancestors (Hungary). When there, I lived in the very rural parts of Hungary, parts which are called Transylvania, which is the east-north-east portion of the country, extending into Romania.
There, a woman living on the farm will very often wear some kind of head covering, and according to my mom:
- for younger women (married or not) a foundation garment to prevent the passage of light, and on top of this a light coloured flowery dress falling from halfway between the knee and ankle for younger women.
- for matrons or spinsters, a foundation garment to prevent the passage of light, and on top of this a dark coloured dress, often with small dots, covering completely down to the feet.
My question is: what is acceptable when looking at modesty standards from different nations and peoples?
Is such a standard meant to be rock solid and inflexible? Or can and must local customs and pre-established national and community standards also play a very important part?
|Re: Standards of modesty around the world?|
|06/06/04 at 19:31:31|
|as salaamu alaykum,|
this is a really interesting question about Shariah [Islamic Law]. I recommend that you listen to a lecture by Dr. Ingrid Mattson (a professor of Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary) entitled "What is Islamic Law?" You can listen to it here: http://www.windowonislam.com/archives/shariah.ram
and another lecture of hers on Shariah can be found here:
Dr. Mattson goes into some detail about the interplay of culture and law, which I think you will find enlightening :)
I think something that is really cool and beautiful about the Shariah is that it has a solid yet flexible nature. There are certain guidelines and principles that are established, but *within* those guidelines, there is room for diversity in expression, based on individual or cultural differences. For example, the Shariah establishes certain guidelines for diet [no pork or alcohol; the meat must be slaughtered in a particular humane way with the name of God; the food must be pure and clean, etc] but *any* type of food that fits those guidelines is okay, no matter what culture or region it is from.
It is the same with dress -- though there are particular guidelines about it, there is room for personal and cultural expression. And that is why we see throughout the Muslim world a diversity of clothing. Muslim men and women from China do not dress the same as those from Africa, and they don't dress the same as those from the Indian sub-continent, and they don't dress the same as those living in the United States, and so on :) I think it really goes to show that this code of Law was *meant* to be applied in many different circumstances and times, and only lends credence to the idea that it is divinely inspired.
What's important to understand though, is that though there is flexibility *within* these guidlines, the principles themselves are inflexible. (With the exception of cases of duress, etc). So there may be a cultural norm that does not fit with the definition outlined by Shariah, and this is when adaptation is *not* permitted.
For example, societies may have different understandings of honesty. In some cultures, it may be okay to lie in personal matters so as not to offend someone, or to lie during a business deal and so on, while in other cultures this is considered deception. Or say, fidelity in marriage -- in some cultures, sexual relations with someone other than your spouse is perfectly okay, and in others, marrying again after your husband has passes away is considered disloyal and immoral. Even the concept of honor varies based on culture. In some cultures, it is considered okay to kill your female child if they have tainted your reputation out of your sense of honor. (note: this is something considered utterly reprehensible and criminal in the Shariah.)
In the expanse of time and over many different geographic areas, culture has influenced the morality and ethics of people. We are constrained and limited by the understanding and norms of our culture; while we believe the principles of Shariah were established by One who is not constrained by time or space, and therefore has more wisdom than we do, and so they take precedence.
In terms of modest dress, Islam teaches that men should not wear form-fitting clothing (so you will rarely see a Muslim man wearing tight jeans or a fitted t-shirt outside the home), clothing that falls below the knees, and unless they are engaged in strenuous activity, they will usually be covering their torso and chest as well (as this was the tradition of the prophet [saw]). For women, modest dress includes loose clothing that covers all parts of the body with the exception of the face and hands; some show their feet as well, and some women opt to cover their face, hands, and feet.
I'm not sure if I answered your question, but these are the first thoughts that came to mind when I read your post.. Please share with us your thoughts. :)
ps -- here's a link to an interesting discussion we had a while back on the shariah. it has more to do with womens rights under Islamic law, but I think there's some really beneficial information in there about how Islamic law works.
|06/06/04 at 19:58:49|
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