The history and etiquette of turbans
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 22 2001
BY LOUISA MCLENNAN
Mullah Mohammad Omar, supreme leader of the Taleban, has demanded that his followers wear their turbans straight. This requirement is a longstanding demand of the Taleban regime, but the broader traditions surrounding the turban go back for centuries.
Turbans are made from a long, narrow strip (up to 12ft) of muslin cotton or silk and wound around a cap or the head. They are worn by Sikhs and some Muslims and Hindus, are also called Imamah (Arabic) and Dulband (Persian).
Turbans are worn to symbolize faith, but also have a practical purpose, as the soft cloth provides warmth in winter and protection from the sun in summer.
In Taleban-controlled Afghanistan, all men have had to wear a turban or face a beating. Mullah Omar's notice yesterday declared that his soldiers were not to wear them too far back on their heads or to one side, as this was "vulgar and un-Islamic".
The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have worn a turban in white, the most holy colour. Many Muslim men choose to wear green, because it represents paradise. In parts of North Africa, where blue is common, the shade of a turban can signify the tribe of the wearer.
Hindus tend to reserve their turbans for ceremonies and significant occasions, whereas Sikh men wear them all the time, except to sleep. In Islamic countries, where most men do not wear turbans, they are still worn instead of crowns. The Taleban wear them as a symbol of dedication to Islam.
The origins of the turban are uncertain. Early Persians wore a conical cap encircled by bands of cloth, which historians have suggested was developed to become the modern turban, but other theories suggest it was first widely worn in Egypt. Turbans became common among the Turks after the capture of Constantinople in 1453. Carvings left by the Assyrians, who lived 3,000 years ago in the area that is now Iraq, show turbans on the heads of kings.
In the Old Testament, Leviticus 8.9. describes a man who "Put a turban on his head and set the gold rosette as symbol of holy dedication on the front of the turban as the Lord had commanded him."
Sikh men commonly wear a peaked turban that serves partly to cover their long hair which, out of respect for God's creation, is never cut. Devout Sikhs do not cut their beards either, so many twist them and tuck them up into their turbans.
In Afghanistan turbans are worn in a variety of ways. In cold weather two turbans can be tied together and draped to hang over the shoulder, doubling up as a scarf. Short black turbans are common, as are Afghan hats.
The Koh-i-noor diamond, is said to have been stolen from the Emperor of India using turban etiquette. The Emperor kept it hidden in the folds of his turban. When Nadir Shah, the Persian conqueror, heard of this, he invited the Emperor to dinner, and requested that they exchange turbans as a token of friendship. To refuse such a request would have been an insult. The Emperor removed his turban and the diamond rolled onto the table.
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