Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
In light of the incidents that happened and are happening in Iran, where young and old women alike are being severely punished for violating what is said to be an Islamic dress code a person may ask: is there an Islamic dress that is obligatory to all Muslim women and men? If there is an Islamic dress, what is that dress? Another broader question may be: in an Islamic state, is enforcing this dress on Muslims permissible or not? If it is permissible to enforce it, what is the extent of this process, is it permissible to inflict harm on people under that pretext?
These questions and more may be asked by Muslims and non-Muslims after what has been happening, especially recently, in Iran. To answer the first question we say: There is no specific dress that a Muslim is obliged to wear, as dresses are related to the norms of the society, and these norms represent the identity of that society, and Islam respected these identities and clarified that the diversity of these identities is a reason for mankind to make friendships relations, as Allah says in the Qur’an:
“People, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you might know one another. The noblest of you before Allah is the most righteous of you. Allah is the Knower, the Aware.” (Surah 49, ayah 13). Bearing that in mind, Islam added an extra identity, i.e. the Islamic identity to men and women, as men are allowed to show all of their body parts except what is between their navel and knee. As for women, they are allowed to show their faces and hand palms. The rest of the woman’s body should be covered with a cloth that is neither transparent nor tight in a way that describes the details of her body. Thus, Islamic dress is in fact not a specific type of dress, but rather characteristics of any dress which people wear. Allah told the Prophet, peace be upon him, in the Qur’an: “O Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters and the believing women to draw their veils close to them, so it is likelier they will be known [as believers], and not hurt. Allah is the Forgiver, the Most Merciful.” (Surah 33. Ayah 59). And told him: “Say to the believing men they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts that is purer for them. Allah is Aware of the things they do. And say to the believing women, that they lower their gaze cast down their eyes and guard their chastity, and do not reveal their adornment except that which is outward (face and hands); and let them draw their veils over their neck, and not reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or what their right hands own, or such male attendants having no sexual desire, or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women’s private parts; nor let them stamp their feet, so that their hidden ornament is known. And, O believers turn to Allah all together, in order that you prosper.” (Surah 24, ayah 30-31). After quoting these Qur’anic ayahs, the next question should be answered, i.e. is it permissible to enforce this law on Muslim men and women?
To answer this question we need to establish one of the most important principles in Islam, which is the freedom of choice. Compulsion is prohibited in Islam, as Allah says in the Qur’an: “There is no compulsion in religion. Righteousness is now distinct from error. He who disbelieves in the idol and believes in Allah has grasped the firmest tie that will never break. Allah is Hearing, Knowing.” (Surah 2, ayah 256). In fact there are three extremely important ayahs that Allah revealed in the Qur’an which are related to the Prophet, peace be upon him, to explain the nature of the Prophet’s mission. They are clear evidence of the freedom of choice. The first ayah implies that no one has the right to oversee others or to be a guardian for them: “Had Allah willed, they would not have associated. We have not made you an overseer for them, nor are you their guardian (O Muhammed).” (Surah 6, ayah 107). The second ayah implies that no one can be a tyrant over others, i.e. enforcing religion coersively: “Indeed, We know what they say. You (Prophet Muhammad) are not a tyrant over them. Therefore, remind by the Koran whosoever fears (My) threat.” (Surah 50, ayah 45). The third ayah implies that no one is in control of others: “Therefore remind, you are only a Reminder. You are not charged to control them. As for those who turn their back and disbelieve, Allah will punish them with the greatest punishment. Indeed, to Us they shall return, then upon Us shall rest their reckoning.” (Suarh 88, ayahs 21-26).
After quoting these ayahs, I believe that the mission of the Prophet, and hence all the followers and preachers’ mission, is to remind people of Allah and the last day and guide them to the right path, and after all people have the freedom of choice to decide. The reason why compulsion is prohibited in Islam is because compulsion leads directly to hypocrisy, i.e. people will show something that the coercer wants in order to avoid harm, but they will hide their real belief. Such a false community is definitely against Islamic teachings.
Now let us go back to the main question, are Morality Police Islamic? The answer is: NO! As long as they use force and coercion to enforce Islamic teachings. They would be Islamic if they restricted their role to gentle verbal guidance and safe preaching with no obligations or compulsions, and if they let people decide for their own, as it is people’s destiny, and they have to make that choice out of free will. Therefore we see two examples, the ISIS hisbah and Iranian morality police, both falsely claiming to be Islamic, when neither are. They are two sides of the same coin!