Ethnicity Online

Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Muslims: Dress Codes

general guidelines

In general, Muslims are expected to behave and dress with modesty when in public, even if they no longer wear traditional dress (hijab). At home, among their families and close friends, they may be more relaxed. This duty to dress modestly also extends to not mixing with the opposite gender in public; mixed wards or consulting rooms are not acceptable.

If a Muslim needs to be examined, it is likely that they will expose only the relevant area and will keep the rest of their body covered up.

Women have a special duty to keep their hair covered at all times in public and will therefore often wear a headscarf (hijab) even if they wear western clothing. If they feel the need to be particularly modest (for example, when being questioned by a male doctor), women may even draw their scarf up to cover the lower half of their face. Because of the importance of the headscarf, its removal must be asked for only if absolutely necessary. Offer an alternative, if possible (a surgical cap, for example), and keep the scarf safe and clean.

Men, too, will often wear a head covering; this usually takes the form of a brimless cap. The same duty of care and respect applies in the case of men's headgear.

The Sunnah, or the way of the Prophet Muhammad, tells Muslim men to grow their beards long and shave their moustaches, and so they may be reluctant to shave their faces before an operation.


Muslim women must have their arms, legs, hair and torso covered at all times to prevent them from causing distraction and encouraging unwelcome attention. In public, women generally wear a long scarf (hijab) that can be wound around their head and throat and raised to cover their face if necessary. When a woman attends prayer or visits the mosque, only her hands and face are allowed to be exposed.

If a Muslim woman is required to change into a hospital gown for any reason, the gown offered ought to be long enough to reach the floor and cover her ankles. It also ought to have long arms that reach the wrist and a high neckline to cover the throat, and it must tie securely with no gaping at the back. If such a gown is not available, then a dressing gown or large shawl can be worn over the top to make the patient feel more at ease.


For a Muslim man, the dress code is less rigid. The region between the waist and knees must be covered at all times, and a man may be reluctant to expose this area even to a male member of staff. A hospital gown that securely covers this area will help male Muslim patients feel more relaxed.


Muslim women may often wear jewellery that has special significance for them. Marriage bangles may be worn by the older generation, and have the same significance as wedding rings. Do not remove them unless absolutely necessary, and ensure that they are kept safe and returned to the patient at the earliest opportunity.

Both genders may also wear charms with words of the Qur'an written on them. These charms are often given to patients by members of their family to help them ward off ill health. Again, they must not be removed unless absolutely necessary, and must be kept safe and returned as soon as possible if they are removed.

Babies may also be given small pouches that are tied around their neck soon after birth; the pouch will contain prayers and words from the Qur'an and help to ward off evil. Similar respect must be shown to these pouches.