Can Anyone Wear a Turban? Are There Styles Specific for Scholars?
Answered by Sidi Salman Younas
Question: I have read narrations about the turban of the Prophet (Allah bless him) in Shamail-e-Tirmidhi, and I felt compelled to wear one (at least every now and again). However, I have noticed that there are several unspoken rules to wearing turbans. Apparently, a certain speaker from America raised a problem when he wore the Azhari-turban, and some groups only let Sayyids wear black turbans. Therefore, I want to make sure there are no unspoken rules I’m breaking, nor am I stepping on anyone’s feet (i’ll stay away from black imamahs). So, Can anyone wear a turban (such as a white one or a blue/read/green one)? Are there certain styles that are restricted for certain peoples? What should I do when I wear a turban to ensure that I don’t step on people’s toes?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
I pray you are well.
There is no doubt that wearing the turban is a sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), there being numerous narratives that demonstrate this. It is narrated that Jabir ibn `Abdullah said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) entered Mecca on the Day of Conquest wearing a black turban.” [Tirmidhi, Shama’il] Ibn `Umar said, “When the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) wrapped his turban he would let its extremity hang between his two shoulder blades.” [Tirmidhi, Sunan] Similarly, it is narrated that many of the companions and pious predecessors wore turbans of varying colors, from black to white to yellow.
Further, the legal texts of our tradition explicitly mention the wearing of the turban when discussing “recommended clothing”, which is clothing for the purpose of adornment and manifesting the blessings of Allah. It is narrated that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) stated, “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty. He loves to see the remnants of His blessings on his servants.” [Muslim] Similarly, it is narrated in a number of narrations that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would oil and comb his beard, keeping a tidy appearance which is of the sunnas of dressing.
As such, wearing a turban with the desire to imitate and follow the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), adorn one’s outward self, and display the blessings of Allah, is a highly recommended act that is a means to attain Allah’s pleasure and reward.
The Effects of Outward Appearance:
It is important to note, before discussing the specifics of the question, that outward appearance plays an important part in maximizing the acceptance and benefit of one’s words and teachings. This is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) dressed well. Imam Ghazali states regarding this:
“This [s: dressing well] was an act of worship from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) because he was commanded with the preaching of creation, making them desirous in following, and winning over their hearts… and so it was necessary for him (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to display the beautiful qualities of his state to them in order that their eyes grasp sight of him (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Indeed, the eyes of the laity among creation only stretch toward looking at the outward as opposed to the inward secrets.” [Ihya `Ulum al-Din]
As such, dressing in a beautiful manner was a means the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) employed to spread the teachings of Islam. It is obvious to anyone, even in our times, that an unkept person draws attention and respect away from himself and people rarely submit or defer to him or his opinions. This is, sadly, regardless of how knowledgable that person may be. Since the scholars are the “inheritors” of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him purpose), serving the similar role of preaching to creation, drawing them closer to the religion, winning over their hearts, and so forth, it is pertinent for them to also dress in a noble and dignified way and also in a way that distinguishes them as people of knowledge. This is all in order for people to recognize them and defer to their authority. [Khadimi, Bariqa al-Muhammadiyyah]
The Dress of the Scholars:
In light of the above, the texts have discussed aspects relating to the dress of the righteous scholars under discussions relating to the “distinguishing marks of the scholars” (shi`yar al-`ulema). The discussion also relates to distinguishing styles adapted by scholars that have no specific precedence in the sunna. Imam Khadimi mentions that the basic principle here is that it is recommended for an individual to adorn himself and dress in a manner coinciding with others of the same rank and file. Thus, scholars should dress in a scholarly way, the laity should dress in their own specifically normal way, and so forth.
Ibn Hajar al-Haytami says regarding the wearing of large turbans:
“If its largeness is due to the excuse of [warding off] cold and the like, or because its largeness is from the distinguishing features of the scholars, one being from among them and not being known… then there is no dislikedness in its large size.” [al-Haytami; al-Fatawa al-Fiqhiyya al-Kubra]
The above is also stated in the books of the Hanafi scholars. Shaykh Zada states in his Majma` al-Anhur:
“In the Qunya [it is stated], ‘A long turban and the wearing of spacious clothing is commendable (hasan) for the scholars who are the signs of guidance as opposed to all other people.” [Zada, Majma` al-Anhur]
In the Mawsu`at al-Fiqhiyyah it states:
“The Hanafis and Shafi`is have opined that it is recommended for the scholars that their dress be splendid (fakhir)… and that their clothing be spacious. It is commendable for them to wrap a lengthy turban that makes them known. If the customary practice is known in another locality to wear it without making it lengthy then it is done in order to manifest the abode of knowledge and in order that they be known and asked regarding matters of the religion.”
Lastly, Imam Khadimi quotes Imam Abu Hanifa as stating to his student, “Make large your turbans and widen your sleeves.” Imam Zarnuji states that Imam Abu Hanifa stated this so knowledge and those who possessed it would not be taken lightly and deemed unimportant. Therefore, the practice of the Imam himself was to wear splendid, expensive, and beautiful clothing.
The above clearly demonstrate that the scholars should wear a particular dress that distinguishes them from other individuals, which is dignified, splendid and noble in appearance. This dress may vary from place to place, but, nonetheless, it is a means for people to recognize, respect, and defer to them in order to make it easier to seek them out and learn about their religion.
As such, it would be advisable for individuals who are not scholars to avoid dressing in a way that would indicate that one is. This is especially true when the customary practice of a locality dictates that the wearing of turbans in specific styles is a sign of scholarship. This is, ofcourse, not to say that it will be prohibited for an individual to wear the turban altogether but, rather, that it should be worn in a way that does not give the impression that one is a scholar.
As for wearing black, then if in the locality of an individual it has become a distinct sign of sects at variance with the Ahl al-Sunnah, one should not wear it. Otherwise, it would be permitted. This is what I have personally seen from the practice and advice of the scholars.
In the end, for normal people, the best way is the way of moderation. Imam Sarakhsi mentioned that one should try to wear normal clothing that conforms with the sunna most of the time. One should wear worn-out or old clothing some times, in order to recall Allah’s blessing. Sometimes, one should wear one’s finest clothes, such as on Friday, or the days of Eid, or when visiting others, with the intention of manifesting Allah’s bounties. This is the safest recourse for the laity and saves us from the entrapments of pride and showing-off.
And Allah Knows Best
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani