Clothes Below the Ankles – Is it Just a Problem of Pride?
  • Wed, 08/06/2008
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The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The part of the waistcloth that falls below the ankles is in the fire." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5341)]

There are those scholars who argue that it is categorically prohibited for a Muslim man wearing a robe or waistcloth to intentionally wear that garment so that it hangs lower than his ankles. They argue that the ruling of prohibition is based upon the cause expressed in the hadîth, and that cause is for the garment to hang below the ankles.

Other scholars – and they are the vast majority – disagree. They point out numerous other hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) specifically mentioned the problem of pride in the context of letting one's robes drag below the ankles.

For instance, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will not look at the one who dragged his waistcloth conceitedly. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5788) and Sahîh Muslim (2087)]

The prophet (peace be upon him) also said: "Whoever treads on his waistcloth in pride, will tread on it in the Fire." [Musnad Ahmad – an authentic hadîth narrated by Hubayb b. Maghfil]

These scholars argue that the condition of pride explains and qualifies the prohibition that is found in more general terms in some other hadîth. Therefore, only when someone drags his robes out to ostentation and pride is he engaging in prohibited behavior.

This is indeed the opinion of most scholars, as well as one of the two views on the topic expressed by Ahmad b. Hanbal. Among later scholars, it is the opinion of Ibn Taymiyah, al-San`ânî, and al-Shawkânî.

They make a strong case that the condition of pride in this context is a valid one for consideration, since the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not mention it without a reason. Scholars acknowledge that a descriptive term can qualify a general ruling, like the condition of being "free-grazing" for the Zakâh tax on cattle. This is a form of textual indication that the vast majority of scholars acknowledge.

When we consider all the hadîth together, we see that they bring a single subject of dress and a single ruling of prohibition. The punishment is the same – the one who is in the fire is someone whom Allah will neither regard nor purify.

Therefore, we have no reason to assume that the few hadîth that fail to mention "pride" are speaking about a different situation than the other hadîth that mention it. The situation is the same. Therefore, the qualification of pride applies to the ruling, and clarifies the intent of the more generally worded texts.

This becomes even clearer when we consider the hadîth where Abû Bakr discusses with the Prophet (peace be upon him) his dragging his waistcloth without pride is as follows:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will not look at the one who dragged his garment out of pride.”

Abû Bakr said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, my waistcloth slips down if I do not pay attention to it.”

He said: “You are not one of those who do it out of pride.” [Related in full in Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5784) and partially in Sahîh Muslim (2085)]
This is clear. It should not be argued that Abû Bakr's blameless ness was due only to the fact that his waistcloth slipped down unintentionally. This narrow reading is unsupported. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not say to Abû Bakr: "Do not worry about it because you did not let it slip on purpose." Rather, he reiterated the matter of pride, and said to Abû Bakr that he was not doing so out of pride.

Therefore, the reason for the prohibition is pride, and the ruling therefore only exists when its reason is present. In the absence of pride, there is no prohibition.

Someone might ask: "Why do we find some texts on the subject fail to mention the condition of pride?"

Ibn Taymiyah provides us with the following answer: "This is because letting one's garments hang below the ankle gives an impression of pride, and is therefore disliked as is anything else that gives an impression something sinful."

Therefore, the clearest ruling on the matter of wearing a robe or waistcloth below the ankles is that it is prohibited only when the reason for doing so is to make a show of ostentation and pride, and it is not forbidden when it is not the result of prideful conduct. As we said before, this is indeed the majority view.

We are not saying this simply to take the easy ruling. Rather, we wish to awaken students of Islamic law to the reality that this issue is one of legitimate juristic disagreement. It is a simple matter of what the texts indicate. It is not a matter that people should be exaggerating, or used as a criteria to determine who is righteous and who is a sinner.

And Allah knows best.