Wearing one's lower garment below the ankles (for men) is known as isbāl (from sa-ba-la which means to lower). There are dozens of authentic ahadith from the Prophet (saws) prohibiting isbal. For example, here are two well-known ones:
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (saws) said “Whatever is below the ankles of the izār is in the fire.”
Narrated Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, the Prophet (saws) said “Whoever trails his garment out of pride, Allah will not look at him on the Day of Judgment.”
Both of these ahadith are in Sahih al-Bukhari.
Before getting to the scholarly opinions on this issue, a little bit of history to get some context to better understand this will help. In the society of the Prophet (saws) most people were poor. Clothing was one way the arrogant and rich among them would flaunt their wealth. They would lower their lower garments so that the bottom would get soiled, as if to say “Oh I don’t care if this garment is dirtied, I have dozens more like it at home.” For the Arabs of that time, their status symbol was wearing garments below the heels and letting it drag behind them in the dirt.
However, within two generations this custom was gone. Arab society grew prosperous and this practice lost its place as a status symbol. Now this is interesting because this was the time of the great imams and fuqaha. The position among the scholars at the time and since then was that pride was prohibited but not the garment itself (one that goes below the ankles).
Today there are two major opinions on the issue of isbal. There is unanimous consensus that isbal when done out of pride or arrogance is haram and in fact it is a major sin due to the explicit punishment prescribed in the Hereafter in the hadith. When it is not done due to pride, the opinions of the scholars are as follows:
Minority opinion: Practising isbāl out of habit or custom is harām. This is the opinion of Imam ibn Hajr, Imam ibn al-’Arabi and a minority position among the other madhhabs. Two of their proofs are the hadiths of ibn ‘Umar (ra) and Abu Huraira (ra):
- Abdullah ibn ‘Umar narrated that the Prophet (saws) said : “Whoever trails his garment out of pride Allah will not look at him on the Day of Judgment.” Abu Bakr said “One of the sides of my garment drags below [the other] unless I protect myself against that.” The Prophet (saws) said “You don’t do that out of arrogance.” [Bukhari]
- Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet (saws) said “Whatever is below the ankles of the izār is in the Fire” [Bukhari]
Majority opinion: Practising isbāl out of habit or custom is makruh (disliked and not recommended). This the standard position of all four madhhabs as well as that of Imam ibn Taymiyya and Imam an-Nawawi. They have 3 major proofs:
- From a fiqhi standpoint, they consider the unconditional hadith (e.g. Abu Huraira’s hadith above) as being conditional to ‘arrogance’ due to the other hadith. So it’s important to put all the related hadith together and view them that way.
- Some of the salaf understood that if isbāl was done for a valid reason it would be permissible.
- Considering the historical context above, isbāl no longer holds the cultural significance it once did.
The reason why the second group of scholars still categorizes this as makruh is due to the quantity of hadith on this matter. It cannot be mubāh (permissible).
- Precious Provisions taught by Yasir Qadhi, AlMaghrib Institute, 2009.