The philosophy behind what is commonly called hijab – Islamic modest dress – is rooted in the concept of guarding one’s senses from anything that may lessen one’s innocence. Imam ‘Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet of Islam (may peace be upon him and his family), said,
“The eye is the spy of the hearts and the messenger of the intellect; therefore lower your gaze from whatever is not appropriate to your faith…” Lantern of the Path
In the modern world, our senses are bombarded from all directions with a plethora of sights, sounds, and smells. Islam teaches us to control what our senses are exposed to since our experiences affect us externally as well as spiritually. A smell of perfume may call to mind a distant memory of one’s grandmother; the sound of fireworks may startle and bring forth an image of war; the sight of a beautiful woman in a revealing dress may bring feelings of unwanted and inappropriate arousal.
When our senses witness immorality, crime, or debauchery, even though we are not guilty of committing the offense, we lose a degree of innocence. We all hold childhood memories of a moment when we went through such a loss of innocence. What was once something shocking or held in special status falls into the realm of the ordinary.
In Islam, it is not only for parents to carefully guard what their children are exposed to, but it is for the adults to also guard themselves. Failure to do so can eventually lead to spiritual sickness.
Thus, the larger philosophy behind hijab is one of maintaining dignity and purity and applies to all facets of life and not exclusively to dress. We must prevent ourselves from looking at the opposite sex in a lustful way, and we must dress so that we are regarded with respect.
Adapted from: “Laws and Practices: Why Do Muslims Have a Dress Code”