The dress of Allah’s Messenger and the issue of imitating the unbelievers

By Shaykh Muhammad Idris al-Kandhlawi
Summarised by Hafiz Sulayman

Excerpted from Sirat al-Mustafa, Volume 3
  • The clothing of Rasulullah (saw) was that of Ibrahim and Isma’il ‘Alaihimas salam.
  • The clothing of Rasulullah (saw) was in no way in emulation of any national or tribal dress.
  • a Prophet of Allah سبحانه وتعالى does not follow the dress code and ways of the people to which he is sent. He teaches the people beliefs, character, mannerisms, deeds, acts of worship, transactions, etc. in accordance with divine revelation and the orders of Allah سبحانه وتعالى. A Prophet is so particular in this regard that he teaches them the etiquette of relieving themselves.
  • There is no aspect of this material life or of the hereafter regarding which the Messenger of Allah does not have any divine inspiration or indication.
  • Rasulullah (saw) established a distinction between the Muslims and unbelievers in their dress code.
  • The Sahih of Imam Bukhari rahimahullah and Imam Muslim rahimahullah narrate that Rasulullah (saw) said: “Oppose the polytheists. Lengthen the beards and clip the moustaches.” In other words, do not make your appearance like that of the unbelievers.
  • The Musnad of Imam Ahmad rahimahullah and the Sunan of Abu Da’ud rahimahullah narrate from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (ra) that Rasulullah (saw) said: “Whoever imitates a nation, is enumerated among them.”
  • In his commentary to this Hadith, ‘Allamah Qari rahimahullah says that this imitation applies to clothing and other outward matters.
  • Assuming Rasulullah (saw) was sent as a Prophet to London or Germany, he would have reformed the ways of the people there just as he did of the people in Makkah.
  • If any immature person claims that if Rasulullah (saw) were sent to London or Germany he would have followed western ways and customs is nothing but a reflection of a person suffering from an inferiority complex and a person suffering from foolishness and stupidity.
  • A Prophet of Allah سبحانه وتعالى is subservient to divine revelation. He is never subservient to nationality and country. Rather, he invites the nation towards following him and dyes them with the color of Allah سبحانه وتعالى.
  • A Muslim has to live his life in this color of Allah سبحانه وتعالى. And the basis for this is that he should abstain from the ways, customs, dressing and appearance of the enemies of Allah سبحانه وتعالى . In so doing, he will be displaying his aloofness and distance from every department of unbelief, and the color of Iman may glitter from every direction from his body.
  • It has been clearly established that Rasulullah’s (saw) clothes, lower garment, shawl, cloak, turban and outward appearance were all in emulation of his forefather, Isma’il ‘Alaihis salam.
  • Allah forbid, this was not in emulation of and did not bear any similarity to that of the polytheists of Makkah, of the people and the land.
  • those who ardently follow western culture and wish to free themselves from the limits and restrictions of Islamic injunctions make their first attack against this matter of imitating the unbelievers.
  • Since this matter concerning imitating the unbelievers is of extreme importance in the Shari’ah, there is no book of tafsir, Hadith, jurisprudence and beliefs that does not delve into this topic.
  • The jurists and theologians explained this matter under the chapter concerning apostasy (Bab al-irtidad), i.e. through what ways does a Muslim become an apostate and how does he come out of the circle of Islam. Among these is also imitating the unbelievers.
  • To clarify this matter of tashabbuh bil kuffar, a great scholar of the 7th century, Hafiz Ibn Taymiyyah rahimahullah (d. 728 A.H), wrote a detailed book in this regard, titled Iqtida’ as-Sirat al-Mustaqim Mukhalafah Ashab al-Jahim.
  • Maulana Qari Muhammad Tayyib rahimahullah compiled a book in two parts, titled at-Tashabbuh fil Islam. This is a unique and matchless book on this subject.
  • Hakimul Ummah Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thawi rahimahullah pens his impressions about this book. He writes: “After praising Allah سبحانه وتعالى and salutations to Rasulullah (saw), I have read this book word for word. As I read this book, my heart was filled with joy and my eyes with light with every word that I read. I have not come across any writing on the subject of tashabbuh written in such a complete, detailed and authorative manner.
  • The reader is therefore requested that if he wishes to make a full research on this subject of tashabbuh, he should study this book of Maulana Qari Muhammad Tayyib rahimahullah.
  • An unislamic society is based entirely on desires, lusts, name and fame, pride and haughtiness. In addition to this, it is nurtured in the shade of strength and power which is naturally liked by the nafs.
  • Islamic society is based on simplicity, humility, asceticism, contentment, worship of Allah and subjugation of the soul – all of which is not liked by the nafs.
  • On the one hand, Abu Bakr (ra) and ‘Umar (ra) were such leaders that the two super powers of the world, Rome and Persia, used to be awe-stricken by them. On the other hand, they were also men of Allah سبحانه وتعالى , wrapping themselves in a shawl and leading the people in salah. Merely looking at them enabled people to reform their religious lives.
  • Allah سبحانه وتعالى made the form and appearance of each species different from the other. He did this so that there may be a distinction among them and they are able to recognize each other. The means of differentiation is only this outward appearance and form, this outward color and complexion.
  • If a member of any particular species were to abandon his own characteristics and peculiarities, and adopt the characteristics and peculiarities of any other species, we will not refer to him as a member of the first species. Rather, he will be referred to as the second species.
  • If a man abandons male characteristics and peculiarities and adopts those of a woman, if he adopts the clothing of women, speaks like them and adopts all the ways and mannerisms of women, then that man will not be referred to as a man. Rather, he will be referred to as a hermaphrodite. This, despite the fact that he is still essentially a man. It was just his appearance and clothing that changed.
  • We thus learn that if, in this material world, the characteristics and peculiarities of each species are not safeguarded, and the doors of intermingling and mixing were opened, then the existence of this species will not remain.
  • The differences between nations and communities should be understood in the same light. Just like the material universe, the nations of this world are distinguished from each other through their metaphysical and internal peculiarities and idiosyncrasies.
  • The Muslim nation, the Hindu nation, the Christian nation, the Jewish nation – despite all being from one father (Adam ) have formed into different nations apart from being different in the religion that each one follows. The reason for his difference is that the culture of each nation, its civilization, its society, its way of dress, its way of eating, etc. is different from the other. Despite each one believing in one God, the form and shape of each one’s way of worship has become different.
  • It is because of these different forms of worship that a Muslim and a monotheist are different from a polytheist and an idol worshipper, a Christian is different from a Parsee.
  • What is the way of distinguishing these nations from each other apart from these national peculiarities? As long as these specific forms and appearances are not safeguarded, the distinctions among nations cannot continue to exist.
  • When the religious and social peculiarities of a nation remain, that nation will remain in existence.
  • When a nation abandons its peculiarities and appearances and chooses the peculiarities of another nation, and the former nation becomes mixed and absorbed with the latter nation, you can deduce that the former nation has now died. It now has no existence on the surface of this earth.
    Tashabbuh could be defined as any of the following:(1) To abandon your essence, your appearance and your existence and to totally absorb the essence, the appearance and the existence of another nation.
    (2) To destroy your existence into the existence of another nation.
    (3) To alter your form and appearance and adopt the form and appearance of another nation.
    (4) To leave your distinctive character and adopt the distinctive character of another nation.
    (5) To abandon your own and your own people’s appearance and way of life and adopt the appearance and way of life of another nation

    • The prohibition of tashabbuh is not based on discrimination and narrow-mindedness. Rather it is based on self-respect and self-honor whose purpose is to save the Islamic nation and the Muslims from destruction through being confused with other nations.
    • The nation that does not safeguard its peculiarities and idiosyncrasies does not deserve to be referred to as a free and independent nation.


  • Tashabbuh bil Kuffar in beliefs and acts of worship is kufr. In religious customs it is haram, for example, wearing a cross around the neck like Christians, wearing a zunnar like the Hindus or placing a dot on the forehead like the Hindus.
  • Tashabbuh of this nature is absolutely haram and there is a possibility of kufr. The reason for this is that to openly opt for the salient features of kufr is an indication of the heart being pleased to do this.
  • Although this second form of tashabbuh is slightly less than the first form, will a person opt for urine when given the choice between urine and feces?! He will never.
  • Tashabbuh in social habits, customs and national peculiarities are all makruh tahrimi, for example, wearing that special dress of a particular nation that is specifically attributed to that nation, and the person wearing that dress is considered to be from that nation.
  • This is more so when it is worn out of pride or with the intention of emulating…This will entail greater sin.
  • As for inventions – the Islamic Shari’ah did not teach the ways of inventing. Inventions, crafts, occupations, etc. have been left to the intelligence and experience of people and their requirements. However, the Shari’ah has laid down what kinds of crafts and occupations are lawful, to what extent they are lawful, and in what way it is lawful to use them.
  • Islam teaches the purpose and objectives. A doctor does not teach you how to make a shoe. Yes, he will tell you that do not make a shoe in such a way that nails stick out and thereby injure your feet. In like manner, Islam does not teach inventions. But it will tell you that the invention should not be such that it causes a disadvantage to your religion or poses a danger to your life.
  • If an invention is such that Muslims have an alternative for it, then tashabbuh therein will be makruh.
  • it is related in the Hadith that Rasulullah (saw) prohibited the Muslims from using the Persian bow because the Muslims had an alternative for it, the Arabian bow. Moreover, the benefit of both was the same. There was only a difference in the construction of both.
  • There is no fanaticism in Islam: there is self-respect. Therefore, if the Muslims have something which the unbelievers also have and there is only a difference in the appearance and form of that thing, then in such a situation, Islam prohibits tashabbuh bil kuffar.
  • This is in the sense that apart from it being a sin, it smacks of lack of self-respect because you are unnecessarily making yourself subservient to other nations and demonstrating that you are relying on them.
  • The Muslims of today no longer have this self-respect. They have completely neglected their own house, in fact, set a fire to their own house and began following the ways and habits of others.
  • The new inventions and new weapons for which the Muslims do not have an alternative, it will be permissible for them to use these in order to fulfill their needs, for their comfort and for the removal of harm…the condition is that using them should not be with the intention of emulating the unbelievers.
  • Just as you would not like to be similar to your enemies and would not want to emulate them, in like manner Allah سبحانه وتعالى cannot accept His own friend (a Muslim) emulating His enemies (the unbelievers who reject Allah سبحانه وتعالى and ascribe partners to Him) or doing something with the intention of bearing similarity with them.

Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:

وَلاَ تَرْكَنُواْ إِلَى الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُواْ فَتَمَسَّكُمُ النَّارُ

“Do not incline towards the wrong-doers or else the fire will afflict you.” [Surah Hud, verse 113]

  • The reason for the prohibition of Tashabbuh bil kuffar is that Islam is a complete and perfect religion. It has come as an abrogator of all previous religions and Shari’ahs. It does not permit its followers to adopt the ways of religions that are imperfect and abrogated.
  • Emulating others is also against self-respect.
  • A nation is considered different and distinct from another nation on the basis of this outward form and appearance.
  • When a nation adopts the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, and the form and appearance of another nation, then its own personal nationality is destroyed. It is obvious that to destroy your own nationality and personality for the nationality and personality of another nation is absolutely against self-respect.
  • Islam is a perfect religion. It is independent in its belief system and acts of worship. It does not follow anyone else in this regard nor is it subjected to anyone in this regard. In like manner, Islam is independent in its social structure and customs. It does not follow anyone in this regard nor is it subjected to anyone in this regard.
  • No government will permit its soldiers to adopt the uniform of the soldiers of its enemy, nor will it permit any of its soldiers to bear the flag of the enemy government. The soldier who does any of this will be worthy of having his head chopped off.
  • It is extremely surprising that a British general has the right to consider it a crime for someone to adopt a German or Russian uniform because these two countries are enemies of Britain, but the Messenger of Allah سبحانه وتعالى does not have the right to consider it a crime for a Muslim to adopt the appearance of the enemies of Allah سبحانه وتعالى!!!
  • the prohibition of tashabbuh is not based on fanaticism but on self-respect, self-honor and person protection. That is, a nation cannot be referred to as a nation as long as its peculiarities and distinctions are not independent (of others).
  • In like manner, in order to save the Islamic nation and the Muslim Ummah from unbelief and apostasy, there is no way other than safeguarding their Islamic peculiarities and distinctions and saving it from emulating the unbelievers (tashabbuh bil kuffar). This is because tashabbuh means losing your identity among others.
  • Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:
  • “O you who believe! Do not be like the unbelievers.” [Surah Al ‘Imran, verse 156]
  • The believer (a friend of Allah سبحانه وتعالى) has to remain aloof from and distinct from the enemy of Allah سبحانه وتعالى (the unbeliever). It is not lawful for the loyal subjects of a government to bear any similarity as regards their appearance and dress to those who are enemies and rebels against the government.

Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:
“O you who believe! Do not be like those who harmed Musa.” [Surah al-Ahzab, verse 69]

Allah سبحانه وتعالى says:
“Has the time not come for the believers that their hearts should feel humble at the remembrance of Allah and what has come down of the true religion, and that they should not be like those who were given the Book before this and the term was prolonged for them and so their hearts became hard? And many among them are disobedient.” [Surah al-Hadid, verse 16]

The harms of Tashabbuh are:

(1) The first consequence of this will be that there will be no outward distinction between Islam and kufr. The true religion will become confused with the false religions. The truth will become confused with false religions. The truth of the matter is that emulating and imitating the Christians will open the door towards Christianity.

(2) It is also against self-respect and self-honor to choose to imitate others. A national emblem and national identification is also something whereby it becomes clear that this person belongs to a certain nation. If this is a real necessity, then there is no other way except abstaining from wearing the dress code of other nations. Just as other nations restrict themselves to their own dress code, in like manner, Islamic self-respect demands that we restrict ourselves to our dress code and that we have special means of identification whereby we will be distinguished from other nations.

(3) Choosing the social, cultural and dress code of the unbelievers actually entails accepting their leadership and authority. In fact, it entails an admission and an announcement of our inferiority. Islam does not permit this because the inferior choose the appearance of the superior and not vice versa. The ruled is compelled to follow the ruler. He wears his type of dress in order to please him. Since Islam is an independent religion, why should it emulate and follow others?

(5) This tashabbuh will gradually lead to ridiculing and mocking at Islamic dress and Islamic culture. The person will look down upon Islamic dress and consequently look down upon those who wear this Islamic dress. If a person is not looking down upon Islamic dress, why would he choose the dress of the unbelievers?

(6) Difficulty will be experienced in promulgating Islamic laws. If a Muslim sees a fellow Muslim in the appearance of unbelievers, he will assume this person to be a Christian, Jew or Hindu. If such a corpse is found, he will hesitate and not know whether the janazah salah should be read over him and whether he should be buried in a Muslim cemetery or not.

(7) When a person abandons Islamic dress and appearance, he will no longer enjoy any honor among his own people. If his own people do not honor him, what honor can he expect from others? Others only respect a person when he enjoys respect among his own people.

(8) Adopting the dress code of others is a proof of one’s aloofness from one’s own people.

  • The secret and basis of Muslims success is the clear fact that the light of Islam spread from Makkah to the four corners of the world. In a short while, the world was at the feet of the Muslims and they enjoyed religious and material progress. The absolute power, sway and authority which they enjoyed while spreading the Shari’ah, was not because they acquired the sciences and knowledge of the rulers of that time, they excelled in business and craftsmanship, or that they proliferated interest and usurious transactions on a grand scale, and that they established usurious banking institutions for this large scale business.
  • Rather, the reason for this was that the divine Shari’ah was their guide and following the Sunnah was their strength, their army, their weapon, and their flag of victory. Through this, they established a powerful domain which reduced the greatness and grandeur of Rome and Persia to dust.
  • This is such a clear fact that there is no need to provide any proof and evidence for this. The Jewish and Christian scholars testify to this fact that Rasulullah (saw) was commissioned as a Prophet in Makkah, that he alone taught the desert dwellers, ignoramuses and camel-herds the lessons of tauhid, and taught them the divine Book of Allah سبحانه وتعالى.
  • On one hand, he taught them servitude before Allah سبحانه وتعالى and His cognition, while on the other hand, he taught them how to administer laws, justice, and equity whereby they became a superpower in a short time. They did this without having any wealth, no army and no force. They neither learnt nor acquired the knowledge and sciences of other nations nor did they consider usury to be lawful. All this they did through the blessings of following the Shari’ah.
  • It should be understood well that through the blessing of following the Sunnah of Muhammad (saw), the Sahabah رضي الله عنهم were bestowed with a huge government like that of Dhul Qarnayn and Sulayman ‘Alaihihs salam. It was through the blessing of following the Sunnah of Muhammad (saw) that the thrones of Caesar and Choesroes were overturned and their empires were reduced to shreds by the Sahabah رضي الله عنهم. If we also follow their way, we will progress.
  • Imam Malik rahimahullah says:
  • “The latter part of this Ummah will not enjoy prosperity and success except through what the first part of this Ummah enjoyed prosperity and success.”
  • The Islamic Shari’ah taught such principles of government that the world had neither seen nor heard of. It is only through following it that we can progress. There can be no progress in following and emulating others.
  • Mere clothing cannot remove humiliation and insignificance. It is based on following the noble way of Rasulullah (saw). The progress that was witnessed in the era of the Rightly Guided caliphs, the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs was all due to following the way of Rasulullah (saw).
  • The reason for our fall is tashabbuh of others and diverting from tashabbuh of the Prophets.
  • To assume that the Islamic dress will cause our lack of respect in the eyes of the west is baseless. Honor and respect is based on competence and capability and not on clothing. In fact, those who emulate and copy others are considered to be sellouts.
  • A Round Table Conference was held in London. Many Hindu leaders attended wearing western clothing. Gandhi also went, wearing his loin cloth. The respect and honor that was bestowed on Gandhi by the British government was not bestowed on the others who were wearing western clothing.
  • There were many guards in Delhi who were worthy of the government. They used to come in Islamic dress. The respect and honor that was shown to them was more than what was shown to those who came in their pants and coats.
  • No matter how much the Muslims dye themselves in the color of western society and culture, the Jews and Christians will never be happy with them as long as they consider themselves to be followers of Islam. Allah سبحانه وتعالى says: “The Jews and Christians will never be happy with you until you follow their religion.”
  • If you desire progress, follow that path through which the first century of Islam found progress, and through which the call of Islam reverberated in the four corners of the world.
  • World history is witness to this fact that the power, authority, victories, progress, academic, cultural and moral supremacy that was enjoyed during the eras of the Rightly Guided caliphs, Umayyad caliphs and Abbasid caliphs, was never enjoyed by Britain and America put together.
  • When the Islamic victories and conquests increased during the caliphate of ‘Umar (ra) and the thrones of Cesar and Choesroes were overturned, Umar (ra) became concerned over the fact that Islamic peculiarities and idiosyncrasies should not become affected by intermingling with the non-Arabs.
  • On the one hand he stressed on the Muslims to abstain from emulating the non-Muslims and from adopting their appearance and way of dress. On the other hand, he stressed on the unbelievers to maintain their ways and appearance so that they may remain distinct from the Muslims.
  • “Imam Bukhari rahimahullah narrates that ‘Umar (ra) wrote a letter to the Muslims in Persia saying: Beware of adopting the appearance of the polytheists.”
  • In another tradition in Fathul Bari, he wrote: “You should wear the izar (sarong – lungi), the shawl and sandals and hold on firmly to the dress of your forefather Isma’il ( ). Beware of falling into luxury and the appearance of the non-Arabs. Choose coarse, rough and old clothes which are the clothing of humble people.”
  • A misgiving that is expressed at times is that if a person is covered in western or Hindu clothing from head to toe, will there be any effect on his belief in the oneness of Allah سبحانه وتعالى and the messenger-ship of Rasulullah سبحانه وتعالى or will he become a kafir by wearing these clothes?
  • The answer to this is: if you were to remove your male clothing for a short while and wear your wife’s clothes: a satin pants, a red silk dress, a brightly colored scarf, bangles in your hands, anklets at your feet and a necklace around your neck; and you go to your office in this manner, then will you become a woman? Will there be any difference and decrease in your internal masculinity? Will you be prepared to sit in this manner in your office? It is hoped that based on your principles, you will be prepared to do this because according to you, there is nothing wrong in outward emulation. There is no harm in mere clothing. And when a person does not become a kafir by wearing western clothing, a man will not become a woman by wearing a woman’s clothes. What change will there be in him by merely wearing the clothes of women?
  • The reason for this is that the outer has an effect on the inner. All the intelligentsia are unanimous in this regard that just as the inner has an effect on the outer, in like manner the outer has an effect on the inner. The heart is illuminated by good deeds and it becomes dark by evil deeds.
  • By law, a Pakistani is he who accepts the laws of the Pakistani government and abstains from adopting the uniform of the enemies of the government. As for the person who criticizes the laws of Pakistan and wears the uniform of India and walks about in the streets of Pakistan, then although such a person may be a Pakistani national, but according to the laws of the government, he is an enemy of the government.
  • The definition of Islamic dress – Allah سبحانه وتعالى says: “The dress of piety, that is best. That is from the signs of Allah so that they may take admonition.” [Surah al-A’raf, verse 26]
  • There are two ways of considering any deed and action to be Islamic. One is that Rasulullah (saw) did that himself. The other is that he permitted it and did not stop anyone from doing it.
  • If Rasulullah (saw) stopped anyone from any particular deed or action, that will be un-Islamic. If he did something himself or permitted it, that will be Islamic.
  • Clothing should be understood in the same light. The clothes that Rasulullah (saw) himself wore: kurtah, lungi, shawl, cloak and turban are all obviously an Islamic dress.
  • Those garments that were not personally worn by Rasulullah (saw), e.g. a pants, closed shoes, a long coat, a waistcoat, but permissibility in this regard is established from the Shari’ah, then these are lawful.
  • Those items which have been prohibited, e.g. silk clothes, saffron-colored clothes, garments that go below the ankles, then these will be referred to as un-Islamic clothes.
  • The prohibition of emulating and imitating the enemies of Allah سبحانه وتعالى, i.e. the unbelievers, is mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith. Therefore, wearing clothes which to onlookers makes the person look like a Jew, Christian, Magean or Hindu, will certainly be un-Islamic clothing.
  • An answer is given to the misgiving of the followers of fashion who object to the ‘ulama’ that if the coat and pants of the English are un-Islamic, then the long kurtahs, long coats and closed shoes which the ‘ulama’ wear will also be un-Islamic because it is not established from history and the biography of Rasulullah (saw) that he or his Sahabah رضي الله عنهم wore these.
  • The reply to this is that if Rasulullah (saw) permitted anything either verbally or by his actions, then that will all be referred to as Shari’ah and Islamic. Whatever he prohibited, will all be referred to as un-Islamic. Although Rasulullah (saw) did not wear such kurtahs, long coats and shoes, and although he did not each such foods like biryani, kebabs, etc., he did permit the acquisition of such luxuries provided they remain within the limits of the Shari’ah. Such luxuries and items of comfort made their appearance in the time of the Rightly Guided caliphs. The Sahabah رضي الله عنهم did not reject the items of comfort that were within the boundaries of the Shari’ah, except for those specific personalities who led an especially ascetic life and therefore refused to wear fine clothing and rejected the acquisition of dinars and dirhams.
  • The clothing, the food, the drink, the appearance and the culture that are within the limits of Shari’ah will be referred to as Islamic. Those that are not within the limits of the Shari’ah will be referred to as un-Islamic.
  • Allah says:
  • “These are the limits of Allah. So do not transgress them. Whoever transgresses the limits of Allah such persons wrong (Themselves as well as others).” [Surah al-Baqarah, verse 229]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s