New York Apparel Peopling of New York, Spring 2015

New York Apparel


Islamic Male Clothing

By: Anand Poonai

A common misconception in contemporary society is that the religion of Islam enforces a dress code for Muslim women only. Many people see Muslim women walking around in public, covering their heads with hijabs, and automatically assume the hijab to be a symbol of female inferiority. It is also assumed that Muslim men aren’t required to abide by an Islamic dress code, and because of this, people commonly misinterpret Islam to be an inherently misogynistic religion. However, both of these assumptions are totally incorrect. In fact, Islam’s basic requirements for clothing are the same for both men and women. The only minor difference is the degree of clothing in which both sexes are required to wear in public. There are a number of rules pertaining to a dress code that a Muslim man is required to follow. Similarly for Muslim women, there are also a variety of articles of clothing that a Muslim man is required to wear in public for religious purposes.

To gain a better understanding of the rules of Islam in regards to clothing, it must be known that Islam is a religion which encourages its followers to embrace a life of modesty and simplicity. More concisely, all of Islam’s rules regarding clothing converge upon the supreme notion of displaying oneself in a modest and demure manner. For Muslim men, dressing in such a modest manner is a must in many Middle Eastern countries. However, what happens when these Muslim men immigrate to a more lax destination, such as New York City? New York City is a fashion capital of the world, renowned for its sex appeal and flashy clothing, two appearances that Islam does not condone. Therefore, it will be interesting to analyze how assimilation to New York City culture impacts the overall Islamic dress code for Muslim men. Do the majority of Muslim men continue to abide by their religion’s dress code, or do they fully adopt the clothing styles of American culture?

Religious Dress Code

As mentioned before, Islam is a religion which encourages its followers to embrace a life of modesty and simplicity. Therefore, the religious rules pertaining to a dress code must adhere to the overall guidelines of modesty. One of the most important rules of Islam is to show a great amount of respect and obedience to God; therefore, dressing in an appropriate, unrevealing manner is a must. The framework of Islamic dress code places a huge emphasis on minimizing sexual enticement. The Qur’an enunciates that any sort of sex appeal and physical inducement outside of a marriage is prohibited. Therefore, Muslim people must wear clothing that doesn’t emanate sexual temptation to others. Considering that Muslim women are required to cover their bodies more extensively than men when walking in public, many people commonly assume that minimizing sexual enticement is a rule which only applies to women in the Islamic faith; however, this is not the case. Indeed, men are also required to wear non-revealing clothing in public as well.

In the Islamic faith, there are four basic requirements in regards to dress code that both men and women are supposed to follow.

1) First and foremost, all Muslim men are required to completely cover their ‘awrah.  The term, ‘awrah, refers to the body parts that should never be revealed in public, unless there is an extreme instance in which one has to. Both men and women have a different ‘awrah in the Islamic faith. For men, the ‘awrah refers to the area between the navel and the knees. Therefore, Muslim men are not allowed to wear shorts and bathing suits that end higher than their knees. If a Muslim man were to do this, they would be looked down upon in society.

2) The second basic requirement is that clothing should always fit a person loosely. Clothing should always be loose enough so that one’s ‘awrah cannot be outlined or distinguished by another person. Therefore, men are not allowed to wear tightly fitted pants because there is greater possibility that the outline of their crotch will show. Wearing tightly fitted clothing that hugs one’s body is frowned upon in the Islamic faith.

3) The third basic requirement is that one’s clothing must be thick enough. This means that articles of clothing that are even remotely see through are forbidden. The color of their skin is not supposed to be seen underneath their articles of clothing, nor is the outline of their body supposed to be seen either.

4) Lastly, the fourth basic requirement is to always wear non-flashy clothing. Furthermore, this implies that any article of clothing worn need not attract the attention of others. This is just another way of reemphasizing the whole notion of dressing in a demure fashion.

Aside from the four basic requirements that apply to both Muslim men and women, there are four additional rules that men are required to follow:
1) They must not wear female clothing.
2) They must not wear clothes of vanity and fame.
3) They must not wear silk and gold.
4) They must not wear clothes that extend passed their ankles.

Lastly, Islam places a huge emphasis on personal hygiene and cleanliness. Not only are Muslim men supposed to groom themselves on a daily basis, but they are required to wear clean clothing. This is a representation of spiritual purification and it is of significant importance in the Islamic faith. Now that some of the basic requirements regarding Islamic dress code for men have been established, lets move on to specific articles of clothing that Muslim men wear.

Articles of Clothing

Due to the many different types of Islamic sects in the Middle East and other parts of the world, the articles of clothing that Muslim men are required to wear vary extensively. Therefore, it will be difficult to mention and describe every piece of religious clothing that Muslim men wear. However, I will touch upon some of the most common types of male clothing. Some of the most common types of religious clothing that Muslim men wear are the jalabiyyah, bisht, kufi, turban, and sirwal. The jalabiyyah is a traditional Islamic garment that resembles a white robe and doesn’t extend passed their ankles. Although a man isn’t required to cover his entire body, the jalabiyyah covers a man’s body from his neck to his ankles. The bisht, which is a traditional Islamic cloak, is very soft and worn over the jalabiyyah. The Bisht usually varies in color, but it is usually black, brown, or beige. The kufi is a small round cap which can also vary in color. The kufi is a common article of clothing throughout the Middle East. Many people are familiar with the turban. It is a common item of headgear for Sikhs and represents courage and piety. The last common type of religious clothing that Muslim men wear is called a sirwal, which is a loosely fitted pants that ends at the ankles and is usually worn under the jalabiyyah. Despite the various articles of clothing that Muslim men are required to wear, each of the clothing items follows the rules of Islamic dress code and respects the supreme notion of modesty and simplicity.





A Traditional Bisht

A Traditional Bisht











Bearded Hate

So, what happens when a Muslim man immigrates to New York City? New York City, being the fashion capital of world, praises and nurtures contemporary fashion, which consists of tightly fitted, edgy, and provocative clothing that undoubtedly propagates sexual allurement. However, traditional Islamic rules regarding dress code do not go hand-in-hand with the contemporary fashion of New York City. It is clear that American culture definitely intervenes with Islam’s rules regarding how men should dress. For example, according to Islamic rules, a man is not allowed to shave off his beard. Why? The Qur’an gives three major reasons:
1) The beard is a key part of the male body which beautifies and adorns a man.
2) The beard is an important factor that differentiates a man from a woman.
3) Allah blessed all men with this feature, so shaving it off would be a huge disrespect to him.
However, as a sign of a professionalism, workplaces throughout New York City require male employees to be clean, cut, and shaven. It is almost rare to see a professional male worker strolling into work with an extremely large beard. Although the beard isn’t an article of clothing, it is still an appearance that is of extreme importance to the Islamic faith. When moving to New York City, many Muslim men are obligated to trim or shave their beard if they want to obtain a job. Like many other immigrants groups, Muslim people immigrate to the United States for economic and social opportunities. However, if they want to find a job and make it in this vast city, it seems as if they have no choice but to go against their religion and trim their beard. Ever since the 9/11 attacks took place, Muslim men have especially felt compelled to shave their beards due to the racial discrimination and harassment in workplace settings. According to the published article Costs of War

Since 9/11, Muslims and people of Arab and South Asian descent have increasingly become the targets of state and federal authorities through policies and practices that result in racial profiling. Private citizens in the form of hate crimes and discrimination have also directed animosity towards these populations. There has been a 150 percent rise in discrimination, targeting Muslims. Discrimination takes the form on dress and worship schedules…(Brown University 1).
Ali Aboubaker

Ali Aboubaker

Lets take Ali Aboubaker for example. Ali Aboubaker is a 56-year-old Muslim American man from Ypsilanti who has worked as an employee in the same company for over twenty years. However, after the 9/11 attacks took place, Ali reported that he faced overt racial oppression in the workplace. He felt attacked by the racial slurs and taunts and didn’t appreciate the fact that Human Resources wouldn’t do anything about it. Why was he taunted? Simply because of his appearance. Ali is a devout Muslim, and out of respect for his religion, he kept a somewhat large beard. However, after the 9/11 attacks, the media ignorantly began to associate a large beard with terrorism. Ali was told to shave his beard, but he did not. Soon after, he was fired from his job for being “disobedient”. If that’s enough, lets take Jonathan Berts as another example. Jonathan Berts is an African American Muslim who enlisted in the Navy in 2002; one year after the 9/11 attacks took place. However, due to his religious appearance (Berts wore a large beard), the Defense Department denied Berts a promotion and was “subjected to a barrage of derogatory terms, anti-Islamic slurs, and inappropriate lines of questioning about his religious beliefs and loyalty to the United States.

In the midst of completing this project, it occurred to me that many Muslim men have come into conflict due to their religious appearances. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to interview a devout Muslim and hear what they had to say about it. I interviewed my friend’s father, Khalid Ali, a devout Muslim from Lebanon who has lived in New York City for over twenty-five years. I asked him what types of religious garbs he wears usually, and he responded, “I wear my sirwal almost all the time, but for the most part, I usually don’t wear religious clothing until the holiday season.” I noticed that Khalid was completely shaven, and I asked why he doesn’t sport a beard. He responded,

“I respect my religion a lot and I am proud of call myself a Muslim. However, being one of the only Muslim men in my workplace is hard enough. Therefore, I choose not to wear my beard for certain types of security. In fact, I did used to wear my beard, but after certain events took place, I could feel some resentment and animosity towards me. It’s not right, but sometimes, we all have to make sacrifices.”

The controversies faced by Ali, Berts, and Khalid, not only represent the struggles of three individuals, but more importantly, the hardships faced by a vast community of Islamic men in New York City. Assimilation to the culture of New York City has negatively impacted the way Islamic men dress and in order to avoid racial discrimination, many Muslim men have felt obligated to stray away from Islam’s dress code. To read more about the racial discrimination towards the Islamic community after 9/11, check out Omar’s page.

Fusion of Westernized Fashion and Traditional Islamic Clothing

A t-shirt with a sirwal

A t-shirt with a sirwal

When immigrants from one country immigrate to another country, one of their goals would be to successfully assimilate to the culture of the new country and feel embraced by the new culture. For many religious Muslims who immigrate to New York City, they definitely feel conflicted between abiding by the rules of the Islamic dress code and wearing clothes that are increasingly à la mode. However, as mentioned before, much of the contemporary fashion in New York City goes against the standards of dressing in the Islamic faith. For example, skinny jeans/fitted pants is definitely a popular trend for males in New York City. However, Muslim men are not allowed to wear tightly fitted clothing because they’re not supposed to show an outline of their ‘awrah. This is an instance in which Muslim men are caught between respecting their religion and doing what everyone else is doing. However, many Islamic men have discovered a way to abide by their religious dress code and still assimilate successfully to the contemporary fashion in New York City. The other day, I was strolling through Astoria and I passed by the Masjid Al-Iman, a popular mosque located on Steinway Street. As I walked past the mosque, I noticed that many of the men weren’t wearing fully traditional clothing. I was expecting many of the men to be decked out in their jalabiyyahs and bishts. However, this was not the case. What I did notice, however, was a mixing of Westernized clothing and traditional Islamic clothing. The majority of men were wearing sirwals and polo shirts or kufis, t-shirts, and khaki pants. Seeing this surprised me a little, because I always thought that Muslims were supposed to wear religious attire solely to a place of worship. To clarify my misconception, I interviewed Waleed Shahid, a Baruch freshman who comes from a devout Muslim household. I asked him why many Muslim men don’t wear religious attire when visiting a mosque for prayer, and he said, “During the winter, Muslim men usually wear a full traditional outfit (jalabiyyahs, sirwals) because they’re thick and usually keep the men warm. However, when it is warm out, many men don’t feel the need to wear jalabiyyahs because it makes them feel hot. Mosques usually get pretty crowded as well, so wearing a t-shirt and a sirwal is more comfortable.” After interviewing Waleed, it occurred to me that many Islamic men have found a way to successfully embrace contemporary Western clothing in New York City and still retain a sense of cultural value in such a vast city.



Recently, many Westernized clothing brands have been selling clothing that look like some of the traditional Islamic clothing. For example, a pair of pants, commonly known as joggers, have become extremely popular amongst the youth generation. Joggers look very similar to the traditional sirwal, in that they are baggy towards the top of the pants and start to become more fitted towards the ankles. Popular clothing stores, including American Eagle and Urban Outfitters, have generated millions of dollars from the selling of joggers. Skinny jeans and fitted pants, as mentioned before, are quite the fad in Western fashion; however, many Islamic men are unable to wear these pants because the look conflicts with their religious dress code. Luckily, the recent popularization of joggers has allowed many Muslim men to wear these in-style pants and still abide by their religious dress code.

Whether it be adjusting their clothing styles for the weather, comfort, or just for a new look, men have fused their traditional Islamic clothing with Westernized fashion. Muslim men have not only created a new fashion statement, but they have also discovered a way to respect their religious code and still assimilate to the fashion trends of New York City.


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