Munavara Ghauri, UK
A while ago, staff at a primary school in Crawley, England, were compelled to issue a letter to parents regarding ‘Playground Etiquette’. It suggested that mothers stop wearing ‘skimpy outfits’ as they awaited their youngsters. It instructed that clothing such as pyjamas, revealing tops and clothes that ‘look like underwear’ were inappropriate in the school playground. 
My initial response was to smile, thinking of the chaos and abnormality that has come with the global pandemic and a series of abrupt lockdowns. Starched shirts and stiff ties are a distant memory as the population has succumbed to a new hybrid of night and day wear at home termed ‘loungewear’. My own son has spent the last few months attending university lectures from home via Zoom, wearing smarter tops that are visible online but with pyjama bottoms for comfort. Hence, parents arriving at the school gates in pyjamas is something I can understand to a degree.
However, there are many issues that parents need to reflect upon, the first being that they are inevitably the primary role models for their children. As such, their behaviour needs to be exemplary as far as is humanly possible. The Holy Prophet (sa) of Islam laid great stress upon the moral training of children and taught:
‘Honour your young and train them in good manners.’ 
The Heads of the school in Crawley have tried explaining to parents in the letter that, ‘Wearing clothes that are too skimpy or for other times of day is not setting a good example.’ I wholly concur. I believe that such behaviour reduces the importance of education in the eyes of those children who see their parents applying little thought to their own appearance as they visit an educational establishment.
Education and the acquisition of knowledge are greatly stressed in Islam as a worthy pursuit which breeds wisdom and greater insights into our Creator and His Creation. There is a prayer for knowledge in the Holy Qur’an that Muslims are divinely guided to recite: ‘Lord, bestow on me an increase of knowledge.‘  The Holy Prophet (sa) was to also teach that, ‘The quest for knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim,’  and that one should ‘Honour him from whom you acquire knowledge.’ 
Thus, respecting teachers means adopting a dignified dress code when arriving at schools. This is irrespective of how lethargic or preoccupied we may feel as parents. The importance of dressing well was also acknowledged in the Holy Qur’an 1400 years ago. We are taught by God Almighty:
‘O Children of Adam, We have indeed sent down to you raiment to cover your nakedness and to be a means of adornment,’. 
So, dressing and covering-up actually enhances rather than diminishes a person according to Islamic teaching. It reminds me of the comment made by the hijab-wearing Muslim Noble Prize-winner (2011), Tawakkol Karman. When asked why she chose to cover up she responded:
‘Man in his early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved, he started wearing clothes… What I am today and what I am wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved,’. 
Furthermore, covering-up helps prevent unwarranted attention and potential harassment which can be particularly problematic for women. Cultural differences have meant that in Western countries there is a thought that the exhibition of the female form and its obvious charm is the way to value women. In my opinion, it only objectifies them. Mothers in skimpy outfits should maybe think twice about the messages explicitly and implicitly that they are sending to their young daughters. As Dr Christiane Northrup, M.D., a leading authority in women’s health has said, ‘No other childhood experience is as compelling as a young girl’s relationship with her mother, and that ‘Our bodies and our beliefs about them’ are formed in ‘the soil of our mother’s emotions, beliefs, and behaviors.’ 
Likewise, a mother’s presentation of herself also influences her sons and may profoundly shape their perceptions and expectations of women in the future. It is why the Holy Prophet (sa) stated, ‘Paradise lies under the feet of mothers’ , because mothers can have such a fundamental influence on their offspring. They can shape their children to be virtuous and valuable members of society who can therefore please their Creator and be of use to mankind.
Indeed, the Holy Prophet (sa) advised both men and women to cover up when they left their homes when he said:
‘Put on your garments and do not issue forth uncovered,’ and ‘Wear loose trousers for they cover the limbs effectively and urge the women to do the same when they go out.’ 
How we dress profoundly impacts the way others perceive us. An interesting article by a student, Maggie Young, detailed how changes in her dress changed the way both her peers and the lecturers at college treated her.  Previously, she had opted for comfortable but unkempt clothing, consisting of sweatpants and t-shirts, until one day another student commented that she looked ‘worn down’.
Thereafter, she began wearing smarter clothes, with blazers, trousers and smart shoes, to see whether it changed other people’s perceptions of her. Consequently, she experienced a ‘noteworthy difference’ in her social interactions. Firstly, her teachers took her more seriously and seemed ‘to have more faith’ in her as a student overall. Secondly, she became more approachable and everyone seemed to converse with her in a more friendly manner. Thirdly, people remembered her name better. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Young felt that more people now valued her opinion and asked her for advice on various life matters. It led her to reflect that by being better presented externally, ‘There is an assumption from others that I am more organized internally as well.’
The importance and implications of how we dress cannot be stressed enough. Islam has taught a balanced approach to both dress and appearance. It guides Muslims to present themselves in a neat, dignified and modest fashion. To be neither dishevelled nor ostentatious, and to see our wardrobes as an externalisation of our inner thoughts and purity. The Holy Prophet (sa) also warned that a time would come when ‘There will be people who will have regard only for appearance and will be averse to inner improvement.’  So, our clothing should also not become a life obsession, diverting us from the inner improvement that constitutes the true meaning of Jihad. 
To conclude, our wardrobes should first and foremost reflect our own self-respect and value. That is the first lesson we should be teaching our children at the school gates.
About the Author: Munavara Ghauri BA (Hons) Eng Lit, is married with 3 children and works as a School Librarian. She is currently serving as the Branch Leader for the Bournemouth Women’s Auxiliary Organization of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is an Editor for the Women’s Section of The Review of Religions.
 Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, The London Mosque, 1981, p13.
 Holy Qur’an, Ch.20.V115.
 Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, The London Mosque, 1981, p85.
 Holy Qur’an, Ch.7.V.27.
 Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, The London Mosque, 1981, p14.
 Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, The London Mosque, 1981, p38.
 Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, Wisdom of the Holy Prophet, The London Mosque, 1981, p39.
 Islamic term and Arabic word which literally means ‘effort’ or ‘struggle’, first and foremost for spiritual self-improvement and then also in the defence of Islam.