Quranic Reflection No. 352 Āyat 7:26 – The function of clothing

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْآتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا ۖ وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ۚ
Yā banī Ādama qad anzalnā ‘alaykum libāsan yuwāri saw’ātikum warīshā
wa-libāsut-taqwā dhālika khayr
O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of piety – that is best.
(Sūratul A‘rāf, No.7, Āyat 26)

This verse talks about guidance for human life on earth. It follows the narration of the story of Nabī Adam (a) being sent to earth from heaven. The rules that follow encapsulate what is necessary for human progress while on earth. The first of these verses talk about clothing.

Note that the word ‘anzalna’ does not mean a physical sending down of clothes. This word is used to refer to blessings from the Almighty Lord being sent to the human being. It shows the greatness of His position and the lowliness of the human being. A similar example of the word ‘anzalna’ can be seen in Sūratul Hadīd: And We sent down iron, wherein is great military might and benefits for the people (Q 57:25).

When Allah says We have bestowed upon you clothing, it means that He has given the raw material for clothing and human beings make clothing out of it. The action of the human being (making clothes) is attributed to Allah as He has provided the material and ability for it.

Putting on clothes is a form of modesty, to cover certain areas of the human body so it is not exposed to everyone. Clothing also adds beauty to the physical appearance. It is interesting to note that the word ‘rīshā’ in original Arabic is used for the wings of the birds. Because the wings are a form of covering on the bird that are often colorful and attractive, the word was used for clothing also.

The verse then talks about a spiritual form of clothing that both conceals the defects of the human being and makes him spiritually beautiful. It protects the human being and becomes a barrier to the negative influences around. The clothing of taqwā is the best of all clothing – it envelopes the human being in spiritual light and facilitates his progress to higher realms. Imam Zaynul Ābidīn (a) also refers to this type of clothing in his Du’ā of Makārimul Akhlāq: O Allah . . . adorn me with the adornment of the righteous and clothe me in the ornaments of the God-fearing . . . (Du’ā 20, Sahīfa Sajjādiyya).

Clothing has always been a feature of human societies but has changed a lot over time. Initially clothing was mainly for covering and protection. Over time, unfortunately, it has become a symbol of wealth and prestige, of flaunting beauty and arousing attraction. This has apparently become the objective of the fashion industry.

The textile industry has made a wide variety of clothes available at very affordable prices. Hence the surge in consumer shopping and discarding of clothing items at a continuous and speedy pace. According to MarketLine ‘the global apparel industry has been growing at a 4.78% yearly rate since 2011. Now valued at nearly 1.4 trillion dollars in sales for 2017, the industry shows no signs of slowing as the market is projected to experience 5.91% yearly growth over the next three years’ (from https://36chapters.com/the-evolution-of-clothing-consumption-17fa92d9bde9).This is hurting the environmental and there is cause for alarm. (See http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2017-2018/clothing-waste-fashions-dirty-secret for a very interesting documentary on the waste of extra clothing and its effect worldwide).

Recite this verse to remind you of the sanctity of clothing and its use for the human being. Remember that more than all the outer adornment you may put on, it is inner beauty which really matters and which will last well after the body disintegrates. Libāsut-taqwā should be the goal of those whose horizons go beyond the confines of this world.

Sources: Imam Zaynul Ābidīn (a), Sahīfa Sajjādiyya; ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh