Can a Muslim Woman Wear Pants?

wb4701tanOne of the assumptions about Islam that never seems to dissipate is that Islamic law is this rigid and incredibly harsh system that exacts punishments that are beyond what is tolerable in Western societies. Moreover, so the common discussion goes, when this law falls on women, it often means that they will be unfairly subjugated. Is any of this true? An article in the New York Times about Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who faced lashing for wearing pants, reminded me how much these issues infiltrate discussions on anything in the Middle East and Islam.

Hussein was convicted of indecency charges when she was found wearing pants. Under Sudanese law, the punishment for indecency is lashing. After refusing to pay the fine, Hussein was then jailed for a month and released September 8th on bail. What is significant for me in this story is the unquestioning assumption in the mainstream media that what a country rules is “Islamic law” actually reflects worldwide Muslim opinion. Islamic law is a product of certain laws outlined in the Qur’an and the interpretation of Muslim jurists throughout history. Many issues that we face now can be likened to earlier interpretations, but sometimes it is just a stretch. For example, some might be aware that in Islam the punishment for rape is 100 lashes. Now if the punishment for a heinous crime like rape is 100 lashes how would it make sense that “indecency”–especially when it is unclear what that means–would mean 40 lashes, or any lashes at all?

This issue of what constitutes Islamic law needs to be revisted over and over again and mainstream media needs to be able to discuss things about Islam without furthering the divide. We should all know by now that one interpretation of “Islamic law” can not possibly represent the understanding of over 1.3 billion Muslims.

From my own experience growing up as a Muslim woman, I feel there are challenges for Muslims not only outside their communities but also within them. There needs to be a renewal of the Prophet Muhammad’s message of kindness and justice in maintaining a society. There is a story that illustrates the spirit of his approach. When a bedouin came to the mosque in Medina and started urinating, some of the Muslims were infuriated and wanted to go and reprimand him right way. The Prophet, though, waited until the man finished and went over to him with water to wash the spot. He gently told the bedouin that this was a place of worship and his behavior was not appropriate. Because of the Prophet’s kind approach, the Bedouin became Muslim. What this story highlights is that while there are parts of Islam that are stringent, Muslims are always implored to be kind and just. Punishing a woman for wearing pants with lashes does not reflect the spirit of the faith. And furthering the negative image of Islamic law by claiming this is part of it goes fundamentally against the faith.

Do you think there is a space for religious laws? Do you think that followers of a faith can lose sight of its message? Should a faith be judged by its followers? Please share your thoughts.

6 thoughts on “Can a Muslim Woman Wear Pants?

  1. This issue of women’s dress and seemingly harmless practices is just one symptom of the revolutions and reforms Islam is going through in the world right now.

    I’ve been a fan of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels for many years(since I was in high school), which are deeply imaginative and brilliant works of socio-political and ecumenical human sagas that are very clearly inspired by the modern world’s power struggles. The core of the story is the coming of a messiah on a desert planet which happens to be the only location in the universe that produces a highly useful and sought-after resource and the mysterious, very religious native people of the planet who fight alongside their man-god for freedom from tyranny. As time goes on, the people become either blindly loyal or greedily cynical, so the messiah regrets what has happened to his followers and the religion he founded and he tries to turn people’s hearts back to the original path he sought for them.

    The story is plainly inspired from Arab/Islamic/Persian desert culture(many words closely resemble Arabic, as well as the traditions of Hajj and tribal law), and I find it extremely fascinating how relevant the ideas and events of the novels are considering what I see in the news everyday.

    I’ve read such stories of the Hadith that tell of the great kindness and gentleness of the Prophet and how the righteousness of his followers stood upon the edge of a knife, in constant danger of falling into chaos without his guidance.

    The struggle for a religion to define itself is one story, and the struggle for consistency and integrity in the face of change and cynicism is another story altogether. But it’s a human story, and an essential one that all religions must endure at some point. Right now, we seem to to be witnessing this occurrence within Islam, and given its vibrancy and healthy variation, it will flourish despite all these current problems, big or small.

  2. salam,
    I believe that it is not what you wear that will bring you to heaven, not even the ornaments you put on your body. In my judgement…it is the way you think,the words that you utter and the prayers that you say that sets you different from the unbelievers.

  3. islam encompasses everything…what you wear and what you think..what you listen to and what you engage in…Allah will be the judge in the end…we cannot force someone into the practice…it is his calling…we are responsible to remind and give daw’a…not to punish just because she wanted to wear pants…let her have the journey to learn what hijab should be is…salam

  4. I don’t understand that rule of Sudan. I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with Islam, just Sudanese sexist extremists. I’ve seen so many Muslim women with pants underneath their Abaya.

    So, Hijab protects women from men who have nasty thoughts about them, more specifically, men who would want to touch them, right? It protects them from rape.
    So what’s the point if she wears an Abaya without pants underneath? Wearing nothing underneath it only gives easy access to those rapists.

    And especially LASHING them is just … WOW. I am a Muslim girl (not a woman.. yet xD) but I cannot even imagine to what extent their stupidity could reach. If this keeps going then they could even start lashing women who TRIP over themselves and accidentally reveal their ankles. JUST WHAT IS WRONG WITH THEM?

    MY GOD. Wow, those people really need to revise themselves, check their level of IQ, rather.

  5. i am a Sudanese girl and I am proud to say that I am hijabi. I wear jeans all the time. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember the last time i wore a skirt and almost everyone I know wears whatever they want without being judged. Regarding the article, I don’t quite understand why that happened … she was probably just at the wrong place at the wrong time.