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jeans and fatwas

From: sudarshan madabushi (
Date: Wed May 19 1999 - 00:57:07 PDT

Dear friends,

I live and work in the Islamic world where sartorial propriety is defined by 
strict religious prescription. The Arab menfolk are proud of their 
"dish-dAshA" or "thobe" and the women of their "abaaya". Both these modes of 
dress give the Arab a sense of his own cultural distinction, of his or her 
being a proud Arab. Even the most Westernized Arab in this part of the world 
will be loath to be seen in polite society in "jeans" or "shorts". As for 
entering a mosque in anything but the traditional attire... it is simply 
unthinkable for any Muslim here!

I have seen personally that the willingness of the average Arab Muslim to 
abide by the religious dress code is spontaneous. It is not induced by any 
fear of "fatwa" or some severe mullah's ire. Only the Western media (who 
consider themselves "experts" on all aspects of Islamic culture)project it 
as such. The average Egyptian or Kuwaiti or Bahraini here wears his dress 
with great pride.

If we Indians ... whether we are Ayyangars, Iyers, Advaitins, 
VisishtAdvaitins or whatever... if we too had that "pride" in our sartorial 
traditions we would never have to enter into a debate at all on "jeans" Vs. 
"panchakaccham". M.K.Gandhi switched from Bond Street suiting he wore in 
England and South Africa, as a lawyer, to wearing loin-cloth as a 
freedom-fighter and going about as a "half-naked fakir" to meet the King of 
England even! It did not all happen suddenly. It happened to him over many 
years as his awareness of his innate India roots and of his traditional 
legacies expanded.

It is impossible however for many of us to take pride in a tradition if, in 
the first place, we are for some reason or other unable to  "live" it. And 
how can we "live" a tradition unless we are intimately acquainted with it? 
That I should think is the real cause of "married women wearing jeans to 

Our brave young friend on the list (a new member, I guess)who wrote to 
express his anguish about our jean-clad "padithAndA-pathini-s" has NOT got 
his priorities wrong. I would say he has made a very perceptive comment on 
our community. Except that he seems to have mistaken the symptom for the 
disease, the tree for the woods.

The young member deserves our encouragement ... not "pooh-pooh-s".

My hearty congratulations to him for speaking his mind boldly.
Good show my good friend, keep it coming!


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