The kufi is the most identifiable symbol of Muslim men around the world. Since the kufi is so prevalent throughout the world, each culture has their own version of the Muslim headwear. “Kufi” is an Arabic term which refers to the common brimless knit skull cap that almost every Muslim owns. These are by far the most common form of the headwear anywhere. They can be found in any country around the world. However, there are various other styles of headwear for Muslim; they all have their own names and styles but they all fall under the umbrella of a Kufi. As stated earlier, the term “kufi” is an Arabic word. Although this term is very well known, there are other names for the headwear. The South Asian continents may call this a “topi” or “topee”, this term was inspired by the jewish doppah (more commonly known as a yamaka). This shows that the tradition of head covering (for men and women) is a common practice around the world for many faith systems.
Who Wears Kufis?
Although the Kufi is practically synonymous with Muslim hat, the kufi is worn by Christian and Jewish individuals in certain parts of the world. With the rapid spread of Islam during the late 7th century, the apparel and fashion of early Muslims transcended through history and embedded the cultural traditions of many faiths throughout North Africa. Although the majority of African tribes and religions were not muslim, they still accepted the clothing and headwear of Muslim tradesmen who came from Arabia. Eventually, as North Africa began to embrace Islam and convert, the fashion and attire of the region changed as well. The thobe, kufi and shemagh became a traditional garb for many faiths including Christians and Jews in Africa. Even women of Christian faith (specifically in Ethiopia) wear a headcovering similar to a hijab during religious days and ceremonies.
Is Kufi Cultural or Religious?
This prevalence of the headwear raises the question, is the kufi simply a cultural tradition which was inspired by older belief systems and passed on through trade and interactions with people or is the kufi a symbol of religious belief and piety which is ordained by God? The answer is, both. It is very easy to confuse culture and religion, especially in faiths that have close connections between belief and daily life such as Islam. It is rather common for an outsider to think that the certain attire of Muslims is a religious commandment rather than a preference. Many Muslims, especially in secular countries, do not wear thobes or kufis on a regular basis. Likewise, many Christians wear kufis or headwear in predominantly Muslim countries. Muslim men are not obligated to wear any specific form of clothing, they are only commanded to cover the regions of the body which are deemed improper (the navel to the knee). Any garb is generally permissible as long as it follows that rule. Muslims wear the thobe and kufi in an attempt to emulate the practices of Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). As a form of respect and admiration for his character and his teachings, Muslims mimic the cultural aspects of his time as well. This is because Muslims believe that everything he did was guided by God and therefore the cultural attire of pagan Arabia became embedded in Muslim heritage because the clothing Prophet Muhammad wore was inspired by the culture of Arabs during his time. That is why it is more common to see Muslims wear Kufis in Muslim countries. It is rare to see a Muslim wearing Kufi or Thobe in America or Europe except on religious days or certain times of the year. Generally, Muslims living in secular countries feel more comfortable wearing the attire of the local culture and there is nothing wrong with that as long they cover what they have to cover.
As stated earlier, the kufi is loose term. There are many forms of kufis around the world. The most common is the knit skull cap kufi which can be found anywhere in the world. The second most common type of Kufi is the crown cap. This is a hard shell cap which fits on the head like a crown. The crown cap is an alternative headwear for muslims who like a more relaxed kufi which sits loosely on the head. This form of cap is common almost everywhere east of Saudi Arabia.
This crown kufi style is a very tall hard kufi. The kufi style is meant to sit above the forehead with ample room between the scalp and the top of the kufi. The kufi is usually beautifully embroidered and is used to accentuate the rest of the outfit.
The Pakistani crown kufi is a very shallow kufi which is meant to sit comfortably above the head with space between the top of the cap and the scalp, similar to the omani cap. The Pakistani topi is a very common style in North India as well. These crown kufis can come in variety of styles. Another version of this hat is the Sindhi cap. This cap is attributable to the Sindhi people of Pakistan. The kufi similar to the Pakistani kufi except that it has a distinctive archway on the front of the Kufi.
This is the the bread and butter basic style kufi that can be found anywhere. This is the most iconic form of the kufi and is said to be the kufi that was commonly worn in early Muslim history. The cap has taken many forms over the years with new and advanced manufacturing methods, however, the original has acquired great respect and admiration. Therefore the classic knit kufi is popular throughout the world.
This Turkish variation of the crown kufi has a deep and rich history which intertwines with Islamic history and the Ottoman empire. The kufi is still worn today during Turkish events and celebrations. If you visit Turkey during any time of the year, you will see Fez vendors everywhere since the hat is become a symbol of Turkish heritage and tradition similar to how the baseball cap is deeply American.
The songkok is the Malay crown kufi style. This style of kufi is worn almost exclusively by Malaysians and Muslims who live in that region of the world. The songkok is often worn as an accessory to the Baju Melayu which is the traditional Malaysian men’s garb for special occasions and religious days. The songkok is often made to match with the entire outfit and therefore is made of the same material or cloth. The entire Malay attire is color coordinated to perfection and looks amazing.
Afghani Wool Pakol
The pakol is an iconic cap which many have seen. The style is authentic to that region of the world and is arguably one of the most recognizable pieces of men’s clothing in the world. The constant media coverage of people in this region of the world has lead to many discovering the attire of men and women. This has also lead to great misunderstanding of people as well. However, the wool cap is also the most comfortable to wear as well, as it is made out of wool and stuffed to create essentially a pillow.
Can I Wear A Kufi?
Sure you can! Just be sure to be respectful to all the people around the world who admire the Kufi. Do not appropriate or mock any culture when you’re wearing it and you’ll be fine. Thousands of years of heritage, religion, and sacrifice are intertwined with every strand of cloth in that kufi. Therefore, be sure to wear it with honor just as millions of others do around the world.