The turban tradition in Islam
Shaykh Gibril Haddad
Gibril Fouad Haddad has emerged as one of the clearest voices of traditional Islam in the West and is quickly earning a reputation as a respected translator and interpreter of the sacred Islamic texts.
Gibril was born and raised in a typical middle-class Lebanese Catholic family in Beirut, Lebanon. He was raised in a mixed neighborhood in the middle of Beirut and attended the Jesuit school that his father and grandfather had attended earlier. When he was 12-years-old he recalled that his religion teacher assigning his class to memorize Sura Fatiha. Little Gibril completed the assignment the next day but it didn't take long for his parents to find out that their son was made to learn a portion of the Quran in a school that was supposed to protect him from the influence of Islam. They protested so rigorously to the school administration that the teacher was eventually fired.
Two years into the brutal civil war that ravaged Lebanon beginning in the mid 1970's, Gibril lost his father and his family was forced to flee Lebanon for the United Kingdom where Gibril completed high school. His family then moved to the United States where he attended Columbia College in New York and with the help of his uncle and stepfather he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He decided to return to his native Lebanon and ended up getting a teaching job at his old school.
Two years later he left Lebanon once again, this time of his own free will. He noted that the second separation was more wrenching than the first perhaps because he was feeling demoralized and experiencing a deep need for spiritual certainties. He enrolled in a French studies graduate program at Columbia University determined to live according to the norms of his Christian faith for at least a year. He spent his time outside of classes shuffling between his local Church and the library only taking time out to visit his mother ever so often.
The road to Islam began during a year he spent in Paris on a scholarship. He started listening to a set of tapes of the recitation of the Glorious Quran he had purchased. While listening he followed with an English translation. The spark of the Fatiha that had been ignited in his heart when his teacher assigned him to memorize the Fatiha was rekindled, and Gibril came to the realization that the Divine message of the Quran descended from the same Almighty God he had been worshipping all along.
He returned to New York where communion and worship at his local church had become a habit, but nevertheless he started to feel a longing to engage in a form of prayer that was more akin to the Islamic tradition, something that would quench the spiritual thirst he was feeling. When he confessed to his local Italian-American priest about what he was feeling, the latter counseled him to stick to faith in Christ since it was the only means of salvation and then to Gibril's utter shock the priest ended his exhortation with "Allahu Akbar," God is the Greatest.
A few years before he felt drawn to Islam a devout American Christian friend of his had become Muslim. At the time Gibril said he felt spiritual and cultural envy. ‘Here was an American embracing the religion of my people -- the Arabs -- and the religion I felt attached to.’
Gibril began to read anything he could under the subject of Islam. He picked up the French editions of Martin Lings' "Life of Muhammad" and when he was done with that, Fariduddin Attar's "Book of Secrets." Soon he was reading Lings' account of Shaykh Ahmad `Alawi's life in his book "A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century" and was profoundly moved. He decided to embrace Islam before he could even finish the book.
He visited two New York mosques only to discover that the Imams were more interested in talking to him about the Bible or about the Middle East conflict rather than about the fundamentals of the religion. Frustrated that they were unable to recognize the passion that brought him to their mosques he searched everyday for the courage to declare his faith. Finally, he went to a Muslim student group at Columbia University and announced his intention to become a Muslim and that same day he pronounced the shahada: "I bear witness that there is no god but Allah" and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Prophet." The students taught him the ablution and prayer according to the Hanafi madhhab. He says today that 'those days are marked in my life with letters of light."
Shortly after declaring his shahada he met his guide on the spiritual path, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of Tripoli, and later his teacher, Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani of Cyprus, and he became a seeker of spiritual excellence according to the Naqshabandi tariqa. Today his mother too has embraced Islam and Gibril says he prays everyday that his two brothers and stepfather will soon follow in Allah's immense generosity.
Gibril began is studies of hadith with Imam al-Dhahabi’s Siyar A`lam al-Nubala' and was drawn to the personality of the author and moved by his love of hadith and the science of its collection and transmission. He looked for modern counterparts to Imam Al-Dhahabi and found the inimitable style of Shaykh `Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda and his teacher, Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari, may Allah have mercy on them.
Gibril quickly harnessed an amazing skill in sourcing information especially the kind that was selectively employed by those who call themselves ‘Salafis” to malign the practices of the people of tradition. Before long he realized that sourcing was a skill and that what he really needed was sacred knowledge that would be of benefit to both him and his family. His moved to Damascus and grew dependent on Shaykh Nuh Keller’s now famous translation of Umdat Salik (Reliance of the Traveler). He left the Hanafi madhhab and adopted the madhhab of the Qurayshi Imam Al-Shafi’, a direct relation to the Blessed Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.
His teachers are:
Damascus: Dr. Nur al-Din `Itr, Shaykh Adib Kallas, Shaykh Wahbi al-Ghawji, Shaykh Muhammad al-Ya`qubi, Dr. Samer al-Nass, Dr. Wahba al-Zuhayli, Shaykh `Abd al-Hadi Kharsa, Shaykh Muhammad Muti` al-Hafiz, Shaykh Bassam al-Hamzawi, Shaykh Munir al-Hayek.
Mecca: Dr. Muhammad `Alawi al-Maliki.
Morocco: Sidi Mustafa Bassir
Beirut: Shaykh Husayn `Usayran, the last of the close students of the pious Qadi Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabhani -- Allah reward them all and continue to benefit us through them.
“Allah’s Names and Attributes by Imam Al-Bayhaqi
“Prophet’s Night Journey and Heavenly Ascent.”
Albani and His Friends: A Concise Guide to the Salafi Movement
The Prophets in Barzakh. The Hadith of Isra and Miraj. The Immense Merits of Al-Sham. The Vision of Allah. (All in one book)
Christ and the Mahdi by al-Habib `Ali Jafri
Sunnanotes Volume 1. Studies in Hadith and Doctrine: Hadith History and Principles with Ibn Hajar's Nukhbat Al-Fikar. With Musa Furber.
Sunnanotes Volume 2. The Excellent Innovation in the Qur’an and Hadith with Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali’s “The Sunna of the Caliphs.”
The Four Imams and Their Schools
Ibn `Abd al-Salam's Belief of the People of Truth (second edition)
Qadi Ibn Jahbal al-Dimashqi's refutation of Ibn Taymiyya's Fatwa Hamawiyya in which the latter attributes altitude and the upward direction to Allah Most High.
Mulla Ali Al-Qari's Dictionary of Hadith Forgeries
Qadi Yusuf Al-Nabhani's Miracles of the Unseen
(These two books cover about 625 hadiths)
The following are original works:
The Rightly-Guided Caliphs
The Ash`ari School
The turban tradition in Islam
'Imama, the turban, has been the most distinctive vestimentary sunnah — "way of life" — of Islam since the beginnings of the Religion. 'Abd Allah ibn 'Umar said: "The Prophet used to wind the turban around his head and tuck it in behind him, letting its extremity hang down between his shoulders."
Turbans were worn even before Islam and signified a man's honour. An Arab saying goes, "Turbans are the crowns of the Arabs". This was explained to mean that although the pristine Arabs were too proud to accept a king's rule over them, and therefore had no crowns other than their turbans.
The early Muslim way of wearing the turban consisted in two pieces of headdress: the qalansuwa or borderless hat of varying thickness, and the 'imama, the actual turban cloth wound around the qalansuwa. Abu Dawud mentioned in his Sunan that the Prophet is related to have said, "The difference between us and the pagans is that we wear the 'imama on top of the qalansuwa." Thus, wearing either exclusively of the other was originally a foreign practice.
The material of the turban is ideally white muslin, a very fine cotton. I have not seen it in Brunei Darussalam but presume it could easily be imported from India. The colours and length of the turban vary. In the chapters on the Prophet's turban in the books of the "Prophetic Characteristics" known as Syama'il, the authorities have mentioned seven and 10 yard lengths as the two standards. However, as long as one can at least wind the turban around once, its length suffices, while great Shaykhs of the past have been known to wear large and heavy turbans exceeding 10 yard-lengths by far.
All of the founding Imams of the four schools of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama'ah wore the turban. In their biographies of the founder of the Hanafi School, Imam Abu Hanifah — famous for his awesome analytical mind — al-Suyuti and al-Haytami relate that he owned seven turbans, perhaps one for each day of the week.
Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani has the largest number of turban wearing Western converts of any Muslim guide in history.
The founder of the Maliki School — which dominates most of Africa today — Imam Malik ibn Anas always wore beautiful clothes, especially white, and he "passed the turban under his chin (a style known as tahannuk), letting its extremity hang behind his back, and he wore musk and other scents," said one of his students.
Malik stressed the wearing of the turban, particularly for the learned. "The turbans should not be neglected," he said. "I wore the turban with nary a hair on my face. When I asked permission from my mother to pursue the scholarly life she said: 'First, wear the garb of the scholars'; she took me and dressed me in short-hemmed (mushammara) garments, placed a tall headcover on my head and tied a turban around it then she said, 'Now go and write the Science'.
"I saw over 30 men wearing the turban in my teacher Rabi'a's circle. He would not put it down before the Pleiades rose (late at night) and he used to say: 'I swear it strengthens wit!"'
Baring the head in Islam was the sign of a man of low condition and is listed in many a manual among the "acts which betray lack of self-respect" (khawarim al-muru'a). A scholar relates that as a young man, one day, he entered the mosque in Madinah without anything on his head whereupon his father scolded him to no end. "How dare you enter the mosque bare-headed?"
It was a different matter, however, if the same was done out of humility, as revealed by the wording of a question that was put to one of the eight-century authorities in Syria: "Is it all right if people gather in the mosque, making zikir and reading al-Qur'an, praying to Allah and taking their turbans off their heads, weeping, as long as their intention is not pride nor self-display but seeking to draw closer to Him?" he replied yes.
The illiterate Shaykh 'Ali al-Hajjar was described as "the Bare-Headed, the saintly man" but another Egyptian, the stern Ibn Daqiq al-'Id, said: "What is carried on top of the head should not be put down" — at least, not on the floor.
Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi'i, founder of the School which bears his name and dominates large parts of the middle East and the totality of Southeast Asia, "was thrifty in his dress and wore thin clothes of linen and Baghdadi cotton. He sometimes wore a headcover that was not very tall but he wore the turban very often", said one of his students. "I counted three hundred turbans in his circle save those I could not see."
Another said: "Al-Shafi'i used to wear a large turban, as if he were a desert Arab." Both he and his student, the Imam of the Hanbali School, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, passed it under his chin the way the North African Touareg and many Sudanese do to this day.
Such is the high nobility of the turban that we are told even the angels wore it. Of the Qur'anic verse, "Your Lord shall help you with five thousand angels bearing marks" (Surat Ali 'Imran, verse 125), Ibn 'Abbas, the greatest of the early exegetes, said: "The signs are that they wore turbans."