15. By referring to an important aspect of Adam and Eve's story, the attention
of the people of Arabia of those days was drawn to the evil influence of Satan
upon their lives. Under Satan's influence they had begun to see dress merely
as a shield of protection against the inclemencies of the weather and as a means
of adornment. The basic purpose of dress to cover the private parts of the body
- had receded into the background. People had no inhibition about the immodest
exposure of the private parts of their body in public. To publicly take a bath
absolutely naked, to attend to the call of nature on thoroughfares, were the
order of the day. To crown it all, in the course of Pilgrimage they used to
circumambulate around the Ka'bah in stark nakedness. Women even surpassed men
in immodesty. In their view, the performance of religious rites in complete
nudity was an act of religious merit.
Immodesty, however, was not an exclusive characteristic of the people of Arabia. Many nations indulged in it in the past, and many nations continue to indulge in it even now. Hence the message embodied in these verses is not directed just to the people of Arabia. It is rather directed to all men. Mankind, which is the progeny of Adam, is warned against this particular aspect of Satanic influence on their lives. When men show indifference to God's Guidance and turn away from the Message of the Prophets, they virtually place themselves at the mercy of Satan. For it is Satan who makes them abandon way's that are consistent with true human nature and who leads them to immodesty in the same way he did with Adam and Eve. Were man to reflect on this, it would become quite evident that when he is deprived of the guidance of the Prophets, he cannot even appreciate, let alone fulfil, the primary requirements of his true nature.
16. These verses bring into focus several important points.
First, that the need to cover oneself is not an artificial urge in man; rather it is an important dictate of human nature. Unlike animals, God did not provide man with the protective covering that He provided to animals. God rather endowed man with the natural instincts of modesty and bashfulness. Moreover, the private parts of the body are not only, related to sex, but also constitute 'sawat' that is, something the exposure of which is felt to be shameful. Also, God did not provide man with a natural covering in response to man's modesty and bashfulness, but has inspired in him see (verse 26)the urge to cover himself. This is in order that man might use his reason to understand the requirements of his nature, use the resources made available by God, and provide himself a dress.
Second, man instinctively knows that the moral purpose behind the use of dress takes precedence over the physical purpose. Hence the idea that man should resort to dress in order to cover his private parts precedes the mention of dress as a means of providing protection and adornment to the human body. In this connection man is altogether different from animals, With regard to the latter, the natural covering that has been granted serves to protect them from the inclemencies of weather and also to beautify their bodies. However, that natural covering is altogether unrelated to the purpose of concealing their sexual organs. The exposure of those organs is not a matter of shame for them and hence their nature is altogether devoid of the urge to cover them. However, as men fell prey to Satanic influences, they developed a false and unhealthy notion about the function of dress. They were led to believe that the function of dress for human beings is no different from that for animals, viz., to protect them from the inclemencies of weather and to make them look attractive. As for concealing the private parts of the body, the importance of that function has been belittled. For men have been misled into believing that their private parts are, in fact, like other organs of their body. As in the case of animals, there is little need for human beings to conceal their sex organs.
Third, the Qur'an emphasizes that it is not enough for the dress to cover the private parts and to provide protection and adornment to the human body. Man's dress ought to be the dress of piety. This means that a man's dress ought to conceal his private parts. It should also render a man reasonably presentable - the dress being neither too shabby and cheap nor overly expensive and extravagant relative to his financial standing. Nor should dress smack of pride or hauteur, or reflect that pathological mental state in which men prefer characteristically feminine dresses and vice versa: or that the people belonging to one nation mimic people of other nations so as to resemble them, thereby becoming a living emblem of collective humiliation and abasement. The Qur'anic ideal can only be achieved by those who truly believe in the Prophets and sincerely try to follow God's Guidance. For as soon as man decides to reject God's Guidance, Satan assumes his patronage and by one means or another manages to lead him into error after error.
Fourth, the question of dress constitutes one of the numerous signs of God which is visible virtually throughout the world. When the facts mentioned above are carefully considered it will be quite clear as to why dress is an important sign of God.
17. This refers to the pre-islamic Arabian practice of circumambulating around the Ka'bah in stark nakedness. The people of those day's thought that nakedness during circumambulation had been enjoined by God.
18. The simple and succinct Qur'anic statement that 'Allah never enjoins
any, indecency' (verse 29)stands as the overwhelming argument against many
false beliefs that were entertained by the people of Arabia. For a fuller appreciation
of this argument the following points should be kept in mind:
First, that the people of Arabia totally stripped themselves while performing certain religious rites under the mistaken notion that it had been so enjoined. But on the other hand they were agreed that nudity was a shameful thing so that no Arab of any standing could ever approve of appearing naked in any respectable assembly or market-place.
Second, notwithstanding their reservation about nudity, they strippeel themselves totally while performing certain religious rites on the ground that religion was from God. Hence there was nothing objectionable about performing a religious act in a state of nakedness for God had so enjoined them regarding the performance of that rite. Here the Qur'an confronts them with a clear question: How can they believe that God could order them to do something which involves nakedness and which they know to be inherently shameful? What is implied is that God could not command them to commit indecency, and if their religion contained elements of indecency then this is positive proof of its not being from God.
19. The verse seeks to suggest that God has nothing to do with their foolish
rituals. So far as the religion truly prescribed by Him is concerned, its fundamental
principles are the following:
( 1 ) That man should base his life on justice and righteousness.
(2) That man's worship should have the right orientation, i.e. that it should he directed to God alone and should be free of every trace of devotion to others than God, that man should reserve his absolute enthralment and bondage for the One True God alone. All these should have only one direction - the One that is truly worthy of worship.
(3) Man should invoke God alone to keep him rightly directed, to grant him help and succour, to favour him with protection and security. This should be done provided one's life is oriented to serving God. Invoking help from God would be ludicrous if man's life is based on unbelief, polytheism, disobedience to God, or serving a variety of gods other than the One True God. Such a prayer would amount to asking God's help in strengthening one in one's rebellion against Him.
(4) That man should have full conviction that in the same way as God caused him to he born in the world, He will also restore him to life after death and will make him stand before Himself so as to render an account of his life.
20. The word zina which occurs in this verse refers to full and proper dress.
While performing Prayer people are required not only to cover the private parts
of their body, but also to wear a dress that serves the two-fold purpose of
covering and giving one a decent appearance.
The directive to pray in a proper and decent dress is aimed at refuting the misconception entertained by ignorant people down the ages that man should worship God either in a nude or semi-naked state, or at least have a shabby and unkempt appearance while worshipping. In this verse people are being told the opposite of this. At the time of worship they should not only be free from all kinds of nudity and indecency, but should also be in a decent dress.
21. God does not want to subject man to want and misery or starvation or to deprive him as such of the good things of this worldly life. On the contrary, it pleases Him that man should appear in good decent dress and enjoy the clean food provided for him by God. There is nothing sinful in that. As for sin, it consists in transgressing the bounds set by God. This transgression could be committed in both ways: by making the unlawful lawful, or by making the lawful unlawful.