Praise be to Allah.
Must a Muslim woman be dressed in black?
It is not one of these conditions that it should be black. A woman may wear whatever she wants, so long as she does not wear a colour that is only for men, and she does not wear a garment that is an adornment in itself, i.e., decorated and adorned in such a way that it attracts the gaze of men , because of the general meaning of the verse (interpretation of the meaning):
“…and not to show off their adornment…” [al-Nur 24:31]
This general meaning includes the outer garment, if it is decorated. Abu Dawud (565) narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Do not prevent the female slaves of Allah from attending the mosques of Allah , but let them go out unadorned.” (Classed as authentic by al-Albani in Irwa al-Ghalil, 515)
It says in ‘Awn al-Ma’bud:
“‘Unadorned’ means not wearing perfume … they are commanded to go out like this and are forbidden to wear perfume lest they provoke men’s desires with their perfume. That also includes other things which are forbidden because they provoke desire, such as beautiful clothing and visible and expensive adornment.”
What should women do if they appear before non-mahram men?
What a woman must do if she appears before non-mahram men is to avoid clothes that are decorated and adorned, which attract the gaze of men.
It says in Fatawa al-Lajnah al-Daimah (17/100):
“It is not permissible for a woman to go out in a decorated garment that attracts people’s gaze, because this is something that tempts men.”
It also says (17/108):
“The dress of the Muslim woman need not only be black. It is permissible for her to wear any colour of clothing so long as it covers her ‘awrah , does not resemble men’s clothing, and is not so tight as to show the shape of her limbs or so thin as to show what is beneath it, and does not provoke temptation.
And it says (17/109):
“Wearing black for women is not a must. They may wear other colours that are worn only by women, do not attract attention and do not provoke desire.”
Many women choose to wear black, not because it is obligatory, but because it is farthest removed from being an adornment. There are reports which indicate that the female Companions used to wear black. Abu Dawud (4101) narrated that Umm Salamah said: “When the words ‘and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)’ [al-Nur 24:31 – interpretation of the meaning] were revealed, the women of the Ansar went out looking as if there were crows on their heads because of their garments.” (Classed as authentic by al-Albani in Sahih Abi Dawud)
The Standing Committee (17/110) said: “This is to be understood as meaning that those clothes were black in colour.”
And Allah knows best.