ALLAHUMMA salli 'ala sahibi al-taj
, goes a famous Yemeni prayer — "Our
Lord, bless the Owner of the Crown!"
The "crown" is the turban, and its
owner is the Holy Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessings and peace.
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
Turbans were worn even before Islam and signified a man's honour. An
Arab saying goes, "Turbans are the crowns of the Arabs".
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
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
. 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.
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.
Hanafis, such as Subcontinent and other Asian Muslims from the Chinese
to the Turks, are particularly strict about never praying bareheaded. A
famous manual of law according to the four Sunni Schools states,
"According to the Hanafi school it is abominable to pray bareheaded out
of laziness. But praying bareheaded out of humbleness and a feeling of
submission is permitted."
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.
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
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?"
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
— 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."
"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."