promotes modesty and seeks to minimize vice and immorality in society. One of the ways it does so is by requiring modest dress. Islam sets the standards of decency for both men and women.
In most Western countries there are laws defining what is decent. This usually amounts to the male having to cover his genitals and the female having to cover her genitals and her breasts. If this minimum requirement is not met, the most a person can be charged with is indecent exposure. The reason cited for the difference in required clothing between men and women in this matter is the difference in their anatomies.
Islam prescribes a more conservative minimum dress code for both men and women. In Islam, both men and women are expected to dress simply, modestly, and with dignity. A man must always be covered in loose and unrevealing clothing from his navel to his knee. This is the absolute minimum covering required. He must never, for example, go out in public wearing a short bathing suit. When leaving the home, a Muslim woman must at least cover her hair and body in loose and unrevealing clothing, obscuring the details of her body from the public; some also choose to cover their face and hands. The wisdom behind this dress code is to minimize sexual enticement and degradation in society as much as possible for both men and women. Obeying this dress code is a form of obedience to God. Islam forbids any sex appeal and physical allurement outside of marriage. In contrast, Islam encourages sex appeal and physical attraction for both men and women within the privacy between married couples.
Some Western observers have assumed that the head covering of a woman is meant to show her inferiority to men. This could not be further from the truth. In Islam, a woman who dresses this way commands respect, and through her modesty rejects sexual servitude. The message that the woman gives when she wears Islamic dress in society is this: “Respect me for who I am. I am not a sex object.”
Islam teaches that the consequences of immodesty fall not only on the individual but also upon the society that permits women and men to mingle freely, display themselves, and compete or allure one another through sexual attraction. These consequences are significant and cannot be ignored. To make women into sex objects for the pleasure of men is not liberation. In fact, it is a dehumanizing form of oppression rejected by Islam. The liberation of the Muslim woman is that she is recognized by the content of her character rather than by the display of her physical attributes. From the Islamic point of view, “liberated” Western women — who must often worry about their looks, figure, and youth for the pleasure of others — are trapped in a form of slavery.