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                            Laws of Religion                   

Laws of Islam Concerning Ritual Purity and Cleanliness


8.  Modesty when Praying

from the Holy Qur’an, major hadith collections

and Islamic jurisprudence



Modesty when Praying

From Islamic source documents: Qur’an and hadith


(Editor's note: This page discusses modesty and clothing while praying. The broader issues of modesty and clothing are discussed in the section of this website on Women and Men.)


The Qur'an calls on Muslims to keep their clothing clean and pure[1] and, when praying, to wear beautiful clothing.[2]


The Qur’an also says that polytheists (idolaters) are impure and shall no longer be permitted to near the sacred site of worship (in Mecca).[3]


In the time before Islam, men and women would perform ritual circling of the Ka'ba (in Mecca) naked.[4] The injunction in the Qur'an (7:31) concerning clothes to be worn when praying is said to have originated to require the naked women who circled the Ka'ba to cover their private parts.[5] In the year before Muhammad went on his final hajj, the prohibition against circling the Ka'ba naked was announced and polytheists were forbidden from making pilgrimage to the Ka'ba,[6] though an exception was made for those polytheists who had a treaty with the Muslims.[7] (Editor's note: The Qur'an (9:4) requires Muslims to honor treaties with polytheists who have fulfilled their treaty obligations and have not supported the enemies of the Muslims.)


When asked what a woman should do if she does not have a veil to participate in festival ('Id) activities, Muhammad said that she should share the veil of a woman who has one.[8]


Muhammad was known to pray wearing only a single piece of clothing.[9] This garment is described in various hadiths as having its ends crossed[10] or having its ends on his shoulders[11] or having its ends crossed around his shoulders.[12] Muhammad was also seen, at least on some occasions, praying while wearing shoes.[13]


When asked if it is permitted to pray when wearing a single piece of clothing, Muhammad asked if everyone has two pieces of clothing[14] (implying that at least some of the Muslims of his time were too poor to own two garments). In one of these hadiths, Umar explains that a person should dress properly for prayers when they become wealthy enough to own appropriate clothing, but need not do so if they are too poor to own such clothing.[15]


After Muhammad's death, Jabir (one of Muhammad's companions), put all of his clothing aside while praying except for an izar (a garment meant to be wrapped around the waist).  Jabir wore the izar tied to his back while in prayer. When questioned about this, Jabir said he was doing this to make a point and asked if any of the Muslims had two pieces of clothing when Muhammad was alive.[16] Jabir also said that he prayed in one garment, with his other clothing put aside, because he saw Muhammad pray in a single garment.[17]


Muhammad said that no one should pray wearing a single piece of clothing unless it covers his shoulders.[18] Some men were praying wearing either an izar (waist wrapper) or a sheet tied around their necks. Some of the sheets were long enough to reach their legs and some others reached their heels. Those with such long sheets would gather them with their hands to make sure that their private parts were covered.[19]


The men praying with Muhammad would tie their waist wrappers (izars) around their necks, so the women (who were behind the men at prayer[20]) were directed not to raise their heads until the men were sitting up straight (after prostration).[21] The reason for this is illustrated by the story in which a young boy is leading prayer wearing a short garment and a woman asks that his anus be covered up. As a result of this, a long shirt was made for him.[22]  Abu Huraira, a close companion of Muhammad, said that for women in prayer the best rows are the last ones (i.e., those furthest from the men), while the front rows are the best for men.[23]


It is also reported that Muhammad said that only a large piece of clothing should be placed over the shoulders when praying; a short article of clothing, like an izar, should be tied around the waist.[24]


Muhammad said that on the day of Resurrection, the people will appear together before Allah (God) barefoot, naked and uncircumcised.[25] Even one who dresses well in life may be naked in the Hereafter.[26]  The first person to become clothed will be Abraham.[27] Upon hearing Muhammad say that the people will be barefoot, naked and uncircumcised, Aisha asked if the men and women will be looking at one another. Muhammad explained that the situation will be too serious at that time for such behavior.[28]



Modesty when Praying

From Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh/sharia§):  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer of Ibn Rushd and Reliance of the Traveller


(Editor's note: This page discusses modesty and clothing while praying. The broader issues of modesty and clothing are discussed in the section of this website on Women and Men.)


Different rules concerning covering one's body apply at different times. The scholars* agree that it is required to cover one's private parts when praying.[29] The private area of a man to be covered when praying extends from the naval to the knees.[30] Most scholars say that a woman's private area is her whole body except for her face and hands,[31] though Abu Hanifa excludes her feet as well.[32] Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that the clothing worn during prayer must cover one's nakedness from view on all sides and above, but not from below[33] and that the material of the clothing must be thick enough so that the color of the skin cannot be perceived through it.[34] Abu Hanifa and al-Shafi‛i say that covering one’s private parts is required for a prayer to be valid while the Maliki school says it is recommended based on tradition, but not required.[35]


Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that when one's nakedness is exposed during prayer because of wind and the covering garment gets out of reach, then the prayer is invalidated.[36] In the similar situation of the ritual walking around the Ka'ba (circumambulation) when on pilgrimage, the example is given that even the exposure of a single hair of a woman's head invalidates the ritual, though a note by a 19th century commentator says that if the exposure was inadvertent and immediately covered, then there is no invalidation.[37] Praying in a bathhouse or the outer area where people remove their clothes is offensive.[38]


Malik, al-Shafi‛i and Abu Hanifa agree that a praying woman is to wear a veil as well as a long garment that covers her body. A female slave may pray without covering her head and feet.[39]


Reliance of the Traveller (Shafi‛i school) says that if a person has no clothes at all, then prayer while completely naked is valid. The front private parts must be covered if there is enough clothing to do that. The front and rear private parts are to be covered when praying if there is enough clothing to accomplish that.[40]




*Islamic scholars disagree on certain points of law based on different methodologies used in deriving the law from the Qur’an and the traditions (sunna) concerning the life of Muhammad and his closest companions, particularly as expressed in the compiled hadiths. There are four major schools of jurisprudence in Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‛i and the Hanbali. These names are derived from the individual scholars considered to have been the founders of each school: Malik, Abu Hanifa, al-Shafi‛i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, respectively. The source texts we have used to prepare our summaries of Islamic jurisprudence contain the legal views of these different founders and schools, as described at Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.


§The specific derived laws of fiqh summarized here are often referred to by the more general term sharia law.



Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.


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Abbreviations used in footnotes:

QR:   Qur’an, with surahs (chapters) and ayahs (verses) numbered as in most modern translations, including those found here, here and here.

BK:    Hadith collection of al-Bukhari as found here (USC/CMJE website) and here (ebook download). In a few instances, the hadiths on the USC website differ from those in the ebook download, either by having slightly different numbering of the hadiths or because the hadith appears only on the USC site and not in the ebook download. Such cases are noted in the footnotes by putting either “(USC)” or “(ebook)” after the relevant hadith number when it applies to only one of these two sources. Part or all of the hadith collections of al-Bukhari, with somewhat different numbering systems, can also be found here, here and here.

ML:    Hadith collection of Muslim as found here and here. Part or all of the hadith collection of Muslim, with somewhat different numbering systems, can also be found here and here.

DJP:  The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996. Full text online and download for Volume 1 are here and here and for Volume 2 are here and here.

RT:    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.  Reliance of the Traveller can be found here and here.

SR:    al-Shafi‛i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence, translated by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by The Islamic Texts Society.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Islam.

[1] QR 74:4

[2] QR 7:31

[3] QR 9:28

[4] BK 2:26:726, ML 7:2808

[5] ML 43:7179

[6] BK 1:8:365, BK 2:26:689, BK 5:59:649, BK 6:60:178, BK 6:60:179, BK 6:60:180, ML 7:3125

[7] BK 6:60:179

[8] BK 1:6:321, BK 1:8:347, BK 1:15:96, BK 2:26:714

[9] BK 1:8:349, BK 1:8:350, BK 1:8:351, BK 1:8:352, BK 1:8:353, BK 1:8:366, ML 4:1047-1048, ML 4:1049, ML 4:1050, ML 4:1051-1052, ML 4:1053, ML 4:1054-1055

[10] BK 1:8:350, ML 4:1049, ML 4:1051-1052, ML 4:1053, ML 4:1054-1055

[11] ML 4:1047-1048, ML 4:1055

[12] BK 1:8:351, BK 1:8:352, ML 4:1050

[13] BK 1:8:383, BK 7:72:741, ML 4:1127, ML 4:1128, ML 4:1129-1130

[14] BK 1:8:354, BK 1:8:361, ML 4:1043-1044, ML 4:1045

[15] BK 1:8:361

[16] BK 1:8:348

[17] BK 1:8:366

[18] BK 1:8:355, BK 1:8:356, ML 4:1046

[19] BK 1:8:433

[20] ML 4:881-882

[21] BK 1:8:358, BK 1:12:778, BK 2:22:306, ML 4:883

[22] BK 5:59:595

[23] ML 4:881-882

[24] BK 1:8:357

[25] BK 4:55:568, BK 4:55:656, BK 6:60:149, BK 6:60:264, BK 8:76:531, BK 8:76:532, BK 8:76:533, BK 8:76:534, ML 40:6844-6845, ML 40:6846-6847

[26] BK 9:88:189

[27] BK 4:55:568, BK 4:55:656, BK 6:60:149, BK 6:60:264, BK 8:76:533, ML 40:6847

[28] BK 8:76:534, ML 40:6844-6845

[29] DJP (Volume 1, page 125), DJP (Volume 1, pages 127-128), RT f2.2 (page 111), RT f5.2 (page 121), RT f9.13 (pages 152-153)

[30] DJP (Volume 1, page 126), RT f5.3 (page 121)

[31] DJP (Volume 1, page 126), RT f5.3 (page 121)

[32] DJP (Volume 1, page 126)

[33] RT f5.4(c) (page 122)

[34] RT f5.4(a) (pages 121-122)

[35] DJP (Volume 1, pages 125-126)

[36] RT f9.13 (pages 152-153)

[37] RT j5.16(a) (pages 328-329)

[38] RT f4.14 (page 120)

[39] DJP (Volume 1, pages 127-128)

[40] RT f5.8 (page 122)