Allah chose to use the word “clothing” rather than any other word to describe the special relationship between a man and his wife. Allah made the man clothing for the woman and the woman clothing for the man. The word “clothing” as used in this context is rich with meaning. It would be quite difficult to express in words every subtlety that it conveys. We shall try, however, to consider a few of the ideas that this word expresses.
1. The word “clothing” in its most literal sense is what immediately covers the body with no barrier in between.
2. The word clothing connotes the idea of equality, complementarity, and support of both a psychological and physical nature. The man has his role and the woman has hers. The woman cannot be construed as merely a vehicle to fulfill the man’s desires. She is a human being, equal to the man. Each of them is as clothing to the other in every aspect of life.
3. Clothing implies adornment and beautification. Allah says: “Take your adornment to every mosque.” [Sûrah al-A`raf: 31] A man and woman are an adornment and beautification for each other.
Ibn `Abbâs said: “Indeed, I like to dress up for a woman in the same way as I like it for a woman to dress herself up for me. This is because Allah says: ‘And they have upon you similar rights to those you have upon them in good dealings.’ And I do not like to exact from her every right to which I am entitled, since Allah says: ‘and for the man there is a degree over them’.” [Tafsîr al-Tabarî (1/625)]
Some of this beauty is of a physical kind, for a person sees in the one he truly loves beauty that others do not see.
Some of this beauty is also of an intangible nature. Faithfulness and enduring friendship are a part of faith, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said.
A woman adorns herself with her husband when she speaks about him to her friends. She can tend to embellish her account, claiming that he loves her so much, honors her so much, and gives her so much… even when the truth is far short of all that.
4. Clothing conveys the meaning of covering and concealment. Allah says: “O children of Adam! We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your shame and as an adornment.” [Sûrah al-A`râf: 26]
A husband and wife screen each other from falling into sin by fulfilling one another’s needs in a lawful manner.
Likewise, they conceal from others their intimacy. They do not disclose to others the details of their physical relationship nor the secrets that they share between them nor the little problems that they have with each other. They do not allow the personal life that they share together become the topic of public discourse.
5. Clothing implies cleanliness and purity. This is why Allah commands us saying: “And your clothing, purify it.” [Sûrah al-Mudaththir: 4]
This dispels the notion that some people have that the marital relationship is somehow a “dirty” thing. There are those who disdain even talking to any length about marriage and what it entails in Islam, because of the bad feelings they have about the topic.
Allah made the institution of marriage the practice of the Prophets: “Indeed we sent Prophets before your time and provided for them wives and children.” [Sûrah al-Ra`d: 38]
It was the way of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He said quite clearly to those of his followers who wanted to become overly ascetic: “By Allah! I am the most God-fearing among you, and yet I both fast and break my fast; I both pray and sleep; and I marry women. Whoever wishes for a way other than my way is not of me.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]
Clothing is something clean and decent and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
6. Clothing is a sign of wealth and self-sufficiency. In marriage, the husband and wife fulfill each others needs. Allah says: “And those who safeguard their private parts, except from their wives and those whom their right hands possess.” [Sûrah al-Mu’minûn: 5-6]
7. Clothing is a pleasure and a delight. Indeed, Allah has made clothing one of the pleasures of Paradise. He says: “Their clothing therein shall be of silk” [Sûrah Fâtir: 33] “And they shall wear therein green garments of fine silk and brocade.” [Sûrah al-Kahf: 31]
Marriage should indeed be a garment of pleasure. It should bring pleasure to the body and to the soul. It should bring about inner balance and alleviate tension and anxiety. Those who are denied this often suffer from depression, worry, and emotional instability.
8. Clothing provides protection, shelter, and warmth. Allah says: “…and He has made for you garments that protect you from the heat and coats of mail that protect you in battle.” [Sûrah al-Nahl: 81]
Allah says about David (peace be upon him): “And we taught him the fashioning of suits of armor to protect you in battle.” [Sûrah al-Anbiyâ’: 80]
The Prophet (peace be upon him), after he bathed, used to sometimes warm himself with his wife `A’ishah. She relates to us: “Sometimes the Prophet (peace be upon him) would bathe after having intercourse and then come to me for warmth. I would hold him to me without having had taken a bath.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî]
9. Clothing implies peace and tranquility. Allah says: “And we have made the night a clothing.” [Sûrah al-Naba’: 10]
A husband and wife should find in one another peace and tranquility.
This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave his first wife Khadîjah glad tidings of a house in Paradise made of reeds wherein there would be no turmoil or discomfort.
Abû Hurayrah relates the following:
Gabriel came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allah! Khadîjah is bringing a vessel containing broth or food or drink. When she comes to you, greet her with peace on behalf of my Lord and of myself and give her glad tidings of a house in Paradise made of reeds wherein there would be no turmoil or discomfort.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]
Scholars have commented that the reason she was given glad tidings of such a house in Paradise is that her home on Earth was like that. It was not like most other homes wherein shouting was commonplace and arguments were frequent and marital problems were rife.
10. Clothing covers a person’s body, particularly the private areas. In the same way, a wife protects her husband with herself and likewise protects his wealth and children. The husband in turn protects his wife with himself and safeguards her secrets and fulfills her needs.
Allah says: “Righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in their husbands’ absence what Allah would have them guard.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 34]
11. Clothing connotes quality and goodness. Allah says: “Good women are for good men and good men are for good women.” [Sûrah al-Nûr: 26]
12. Clothing conveys the image of something directly touching the skin. It is an intimate bodily contact without any barrier. When the husband and wife have intimate contact, it is as if their bodies take the place of clothing. Symbolically, there is the implication of close proximity and contact throughout their life together.
13. Clothing needs to be kept fresh and clean. It needs to be washed. Likewise the marital relationship between a husband and wife must be refreshed and reinvigorated.
14. Clothing is a personal distinction. Each of us wears his or her own personal clothing. One’s husband or wife has an even greater exclusivity. Allah says: “And those who safeguard their private parts, except from their wives and those whom their right hands possess.” [Sûrah al-Mu’minûn: 5-6]
15. Clothing provides variety. Who among us would be content with only one suit of clothes? Likewise the marital life should provide variety. This is why when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked about the limits that Islam imposes upon a husband and wife in their intimate relations, he made it clear that everything between a husband and wife is permitted except for two things: anal sex and sex when the woman is menstruating.
Even then, the Prophet (peace be upon him) informed the husband and wife as to what they could do when she is menstruating. He said: “Engage in everything except sexual intercourse itself.” [Sahîh Muslim]