by Dr. Mateen Khan (Trenton, New Jersey)
Yeah, I’m that guy. The one walking around wearing a jubbah and a kufi in the mall, at the grocery store, or pharmacy. Sometimes, I’m wearing a shalwar khamees.1 Sometimes jeans with a loose khamees that comes down to my knees. No, I’m not from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. I’m born and raised in America, but I’m visibly Muslim. Yes, I get stares and when I begin to speak, there is a brief look of confusion. Their eyes seem to say, “Where’s the accent?” It’s fine though—all that is understandable. What I don’t get is when a Muslim gives me a look or pretends as if they don’t know I’m Muslim. “Where’s my salaams brother, who’s trying not to make eye contact!?”
Now, I’ll be the first one to say you don’t have to dress this way. In fact, from a purely fiqh point of view, any clothing that is loose and covers the minimum is acceptable. However, I and those like me do this for a number of reasons:
It’s About Love
The majority of scholars who graced this beautiful deen from East to West have opined that imitation of the Uswah Hasanah2 (Allah bless and give him peace) in matters of habit such as dress is a sign of love for the Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) and rewarded by Allah. In fiqh terminology, these prophetic habits are known as Sunnah `Adiyyah or Sunnah Zawa’id. There is no harm in leaving them as long as one doesn’t look down upon them. Following these sunnahs is a proud tradition of this deen. There’s a reason the Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) was born into the Arab tribe of Quraysh and adopted their ways.
The Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) climbed the minbar and said, “I am Muhammad son of `Abdullah son of `Abd al-Muttalib. Indeed, Allah created creation. Then, He made me amongst the best of His Creation. Then, He made them into two groups and placed me in the best group. Then, He made them into tribes and placed me in the best tribe. Then, He made them into families and placed me in the best family. For, in terms of family, I am the best of you. And, I am the best individual amongst you.”3
Then, his students, the Companions, followed his habits to the extent that `Abdullah bin `Umar sat where he sat and `Ali bin Abu Talib laughed where he laughed.4 When he wore a gold ring, they wore a gold ring. And when he threw away that ring, they threw away theirs (may Allah be pleased with them all).5 They didn’t say, “This is just his habit, not a part of `ibadah. I’m not doing it.” It’s about love. Their students after them dressed in imitation of their teachers. They didn’t do this because it was part of their culture. Rather, they made it their culture. It was the culture of religious knowledge. Until this day, the heirs of their knowledge, as talib al-`ilm (seekers of knowledge), dress in imitation of their teachers. It’s about love. I’m not a model student, but I too find it hard to give up the ways of righteous people who conveyed this deen to me. Everyone expresses his or her love differently. This is one of the ways I do it.
It’s About Being Different
The Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) himself told us specifically in regards to our look to make ourselves different when he said, “Differ from the polytheists.”6 In other words, your appearance should differentiate you as a Muslim. The wisdom in these words is immense. So immense that, well…it had to come from the Messenger of Allah (may He bless and give him peace). For example, my look is a reminder of my minority status. I am not like the majority. I pray, fast, and I have an entire prophetic code that I strive to live up to. If I look like them, why would they want to be like me? Outwardly, I have already become like them. This is my da`wah: “I have a way of life that is so full of contentment and peace that I choose to dress this way. Ask me about it.”
It’s About Connecting
Whether I’m pulling up to a McDonald’s drive-thru for a salad or playing basketball in a public park, people who don’t “look” Muslim are always giving me salaams. They recognize me as their brother. That’s awesome. Two strangers have just connected on a spiritual level as if saying, “Don’t worry, I’m your brother. You’re safe with me.”7 In addition, why should our mothers, daughters, wives and sisters stand alone? There’s no hiding their Islam when wearing a hijab, abaya, or niqab. Why shouldn’t I don my Islam too? We’re connected, and we’re in this together.
After having said this, the contention usually arises, “Do you think the Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace) dressed the way you do?” Well, he wore a jubbah and a khamees.8 Sure, the style may have been different since we don’t know the details. We know the labels didn’t say ‘Haramain,’ ‘Shiyakah,’ or ‘JJ.’ He always covered his head, but the label on the kufi didn’t say “Shukr.” His dress is a guideline for me: wear it loose, wear it long, and wear it like the pious people before you. For those who adopt this way, it is from the Sunnah to dress clean and presentable and wear clothing that identifies you as a proud Muslim.
Again, I’m not saying I have to dress this way, nor am I implying that a person is any less Muslim if he doesn’t. My sincere hope is one day American Muslims adopt a dress of their own. One that says, “I have proudly consolidated my American culture and beliefs in a way that reflects my love of the Messenger of Allah, (may He bless and give him peace).” Until then, rather than looking away the next time you see me ordering a mocha cappuccino, give me a salaam so we can connect through the deen we both love.
1 The loose and long top (khamees) with baggy pants (shalwar) traditionally worn by people from Indian subcontinent.
2 Uswah Hasanah is a Qur’anic term (Surah al-Ahzab 21) meaning the most perfect and complete example. It refers to our Prophet (Allah bless and give him peace).
3 Musnad Imam Ahmad
4 Sunan Abu Dawud
5 Sahih Muslim
6 Sahih Muslim & Sahih Bukhari
7 Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (may He bless and give him peace): “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” (Riyadh al-Salihin from Bukhari and Muslim)
8 Sahih Muslim, Sahih Bukhari, Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan al-Nasa’i and others narrate hadith about him wearing these articles.