Signs and Symbols

Are there any signs or symbols that might identify an individual as a Muslim?

Muslim men and women sometimes wear items or styles of clothing that clearly set them apart from non-Muslims. Stop by the local mosque on Friday afternoon and you will invariably find men arriving for the congregational prayer wearing long flowing gowns and small knit or other fabric caps that cover most of the head, in honor of Muhammad’s practice of covering his head during prayer. Men of southern Asian origin (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh) sometimes wear a kind of boat-shaped cap commonly worn back home. In some parts of the world men who have made the Hajj signify their status as hajjis by wearing a burgundy fez wrapped in a white cloth. The rimless fez became popular because it was practical for use during prostration in prayer, allowing easy contact of the forehead with the ground. More than likely the women attending a mosque will be wearing some form of head covering and an ankle-length dress or tunic with slacks.

In many instances the choice of distinctive garb is related to an individual’s personal devotion and desire to symbolize his or her commitment to Islamic religious and social values. Most items of clothing are best understood as traditional rather than inherently religious, since they carry no explicit and uniquely Islamic symbolism. However, many Muslim women and men wear various items of jewelry bearing Islamic symbols. Most common are rings, pendants, and bracelets containing religious words or phrases in Arabic. Some show a star within a crescent moon, a symbol some interpret as a reference to the astronomical signs that mark the onset of the month of Ramadan. Favorite texts include the word Allah, phrases such as In sha’a ‘Llah (God Willing), the Shahada, names of Muhammad and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali). Muslim designers produce a wide range of religious adornment and market them through an increasing number of suppliers and boutiques that advertise in Muslim publications worldwide.


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