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Most people are familiar with the image of a Muslim woman and her distinctive dress. Fewer people know that Muslim men must also follow a modest dress code. Muslim men often wear traditional clothing, which varies from country to country but which always fulfills the requirements of modesty in Islamic dress.
It is important to note that Islamic teachings regarding modesty are addressed equally to men and women. All traditional Islamic attire pieces for men are based on modesty. The clothing is loose-fitting and long, covering the body. The Quran instructs men to “lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them” (4:30). Also:
“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise—for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and great reward” (Quran 33:35).
Here is a glossary of the most common names of Islamic clothing for men, along with photos and descriptions.
The thobe is a long robe worn by Muslim men. The top is usually tailored like a shirt, but it is ankle-length and loose. It is usually white, but may also be found in other colors, especially in winter. Depending on the country of origin, variations of the thobe may be called the dishdasha (such as is worn in Kuwait) or the kandourah (common in the United Arab Emirates).
Ghutra and Egal
The ghutra is a square or rectangular headscarf worn by men, along with a rope band (usually black) to fasten it in place. The ghutra (headscarf) is usually white or checkered in red/white or black/white. In some countries, this is called a shemagh or kuffiyeh. The egal (rope band) is optional. Some men take great care to iron and starch their scarves to precisely hold their neat shape.
The bisht is a dressier men’s cloak sometimes worn over the thobe. It is particularly common among high-level government or religious leaders, and on special occasions such as weddings.
These white cotton pants are worn beneath the thobe or other types of men’s gowns, along with a white cotton undershirt. They may also be worn alone as pajamas. Serwal has an elastic waist, drawstring, or both. The garment is also known as mikasser.
In the Indian subcontinent, both men and women wear these long tunics over loose trousers in matching suits. Shalwar refers to the pants, and kameez refers to the tunic portion of the outfit.
This wide band of patterned cotton cloth is wrapped around the waist and tucked into place, in the fashion of a sarong. It is common in Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, parts of the Indian subcontinent, and South Asia.
Known by various names around the world, the turban is a long (10 plus feet) rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around the head or over a skullcap. The arrangement of the folds in the cloth are particular to each region and culture. The turban is traditional among men in North Africa, Iran, Afghanistan, and other countries in the region.
There is no getting away from it- we all judge people by the way they dress. It is not that we always consciously want to, but it does give us an idea of the kind of person we are dealing with.
The way someone dresses tells us about their personality, their job, social class, likes, interests and more importantly their beliefs, etc it is a quick way for us to get to know new people. Saudi Arabia is no exception.
So, how must men dress in Saudi Arabia? Like women, men must also dress conservatively. This means they should wear traditional ‘thobe’ or else long trousers, a long-sleeved shirt, and light shoes. Shorts can be worn as long as the waist begins above the belly button and the legs end below the knees. They should avoid wearing bracelets, bangles, and necklaces.
In reality, there are few hard and fast rules. Men can dress pretty much dress how they like, but they must do it in a manner that does not cause offense.
The rest of this article deals with how Muslim men in Saudi Arabia dress and the dress expectations for male visitors and tourists to the kingdom.
Addendum: As of Nov 2019, Saudi authorities are enforcing legislation targeting violations of public decency that include dress, graffiti, and verbal and threatening behavior using spot fines. (See details below)
Table of Contents
What are the dress code indicators in Saudi Arabia?
In Saudi Arabia, a dress code for men is super important. It not only tells you about someone’s nationality but about the type of work they do, their religion, their educational levels, their class status, their personality, and their beliefs generally. MFS
Who wears what in Saudi Arabia?
In Saudi Arabia, men are instantly recognizable both by the way they look and by the way they dress. When meeting someone for the first time, a couple of things need to be established about the person. Most people are first interested to find out if the person is:
- Saudi or non-Saudi
- Asian, Arab or European/Western
- Professional or non-professional
- Muslim or Non-Muslim
Knowing this will largely determine how you respond and establish your future communication with that person. You can usually tell this by the way they dress, look and speak.
First, you can know a Saudi because he often wears a traditional long white ‘thobe’ and ‘shamag’ (headcloth).
Increasingly today, however, Saudis prefer to wear jeans, shirts, and shirts. Saudis also like to wear leather sandals and fashionable clothes of good quality.
Second, Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis, on the other hand, make up the biggest expat population in the kingdom. These are the nationalities you will see the most of anywhere in the kingdom.
It is fairly easy to know if they are Saudi or not but often it is difficult to tell them apart in terms of own nationalities.
You can see Indians because they mostly wear semi-formal Western-style pants and shirts. Pakistanis also wear casual attire, but at the weekend you will usually see them wearing the stylish Pakistani Shalwar (loose trousers) and Kameez which is the shirt which extends to the knees. Afghanis wear the Shalwar and Kameez most of the time.
On the other hand, most of the Bangladeshis are of a lower status doing the menial, though vital, jobs such as cleaning, serving, maintenance and laboring.
They wear the cheapest clothes, usually trousers, shirts and woolly hats and sandals. Sadly, because they are low paid and usually from low-class families, their standards of cleanliness and hygiene are pretty poor.
Third, non-Saudi Arab nationals are part of the educated, professional class in Saudi Arabia. They look similar to Saudi nationals but you can tell them apart by their look, clothes, jobs and accents.
Sudanese men are often dark-skinned, with black African or Arab features. At the weekend and on special occasions, they wear a wide-sleeved thobe called the ‘Jallabiya’ and an ‘Imma‘ or turban.
Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians and Lebanese wear semi-formal shirts and trousers and you can usually distinguish them by the differences in their Arabic accents. After work and at the weekend you will see the ‘Sham’ Arabs wearing short-sleeved, colored, cotton thobes in the mosques and out and about the town.
However, short-sleeved thobes became illegal in the kingdom as of Nov 2019.
Fourth, the Yemenis are similar in appearance to the Saudis because they are from the Arab peninsula and ethnically of common origin. However, a Yemeni in addition to the ‘thobe’ likes to dress in a traditional Yemeni ‘Izhar’ a favorite piece of clothing worn by Prophet Mohammed (SAW) himself
Finally, Westerners and the Philippine people almost wear formal, semi-formal or casual type Western clothing. You can, of course, distinguish a Western person from his coloring white or black. The Philippine people are usually short, clean in appearance and have a distinctly Asian appearance.
In general, this is how you can normally tell people apart in the Saudi kingdom in terms of the clothes and know them from the types of clothes they like to wear.
Saudi or non-Saudi
In general, Saudi nationals have high self-regard and are dress conscious. This is reflected in both the laws about clothes and the attitudes they hold. You can, of course, tell a man is a Saudi by the way he dresses.
On his body, he wears a beautifully tailored white, cotton tube-like shirt which reaches to the feet called the ‘thobe‘. On his head, he wears a ‘taghheeya’ which is a white cotton tight-fitting hat. Over that he puts on a ‘shamag’ or ‘keffiya’’ which is a traditional wide red and white or plain white, cotton head covering. To hold it in place, he also wears, an ‘agal’, a circular weighted rope. Religious men generally do not use the ‘agal‘.
Under the thobe, he wears a ‘fanela‘, a short-sleeved vest. On his legs, he wears a white cotton ‘sirwel’ or cotton under trousers and light white cotton underwear. On his feet, he wears soft shoes or open leather sandals.
His accessories include a ‘sebha’ prayer beads, ‘oud’ perfume and a ‘bisht’ or ‘’mishla’ for Friday prayer or formal occasions.
This official dress is very important to Saudi people. With it, they distinguish themselves in terms of their national identity and it helps to generate feelings of national pride and belonging to the nation of Saudi Arabia. MFS
The dress is beautiful, but it is not always very practical. In the modern world, it is difficult to do many kinds of jobs and tasks that the modern workplace demands- not least of all because it is easy to get the ‘thobe’ dirty and the headgear can get in the way of operating machinery and falls off with excessive movement.
Today, in factories, plants and workplaces, Saudi workers wear a rugged shirt, trousers and safety shoes etc. Unless you are employed in government, a shop or in an office environment where the official dress is a must, the usual dress code for Saudi men is a shirt and trousers.
Though the ‘thobe’ is clearly the most popular form of dress for Saudi men increasingly young people are choosing to wear informal, fashionable clothes.
This often includes designer labeled pants, shirts, and baseball-type caps. It is understandable because it is the most common type of clothing in the world for young men in the world today and perhaps it is the most comfortable too. Young Saudis are very fashion-conscious and like to follow trends as in any other country.