Why Do Arab Men Wear a Chequered Headdress?

Dina Sarayra
Arab culture
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Have you ever seen Arab men wearing something on their head? Have you ever wondered what it is? Well you came to the right place! Today we’re talking about the shemagh/keffiyeh.

A Little Bit of History


The Kufyah is said to origin to the civilizations of Babylonians and Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia. This was around 3100 BC! In fact, it is called kuffiyeh because it is originally from Kufa in Iraq. It was worn by priests and rulers, known as Imamah, as a symbol of rank or honour.

However, over time, it became more popular around the Middle East and North Africa – otherwise known as the Arab world. The Arabs wore it as a head covering to protect them from the sun and sand. They also used it to wipe away their sweat sometimes. It became something that is part of Arab culture as almost all Arab countries have it and wear it almost similarly.

In fact, it is said that even Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), known as the Muslim prophet, wore a green one. The keffiyeh is usually made out of cotton and is square shaped.

Kurds are also a group of people who wear kuffiyeh, other than Arabs. However, they wrap it differently. In fact, it’s not just Kurds who wear it differently. Different Arab countries are known to wear a specific kuffiyeh and in a specific style as well.

How It Varies from One Place to the Next


The Middle Eastern headwear names are various. Sometimes they call it ghutra and sometimes shemagh. The keffiyeh itself has different colours and patterns. There are also different styles worn depending on whether they want to be formal or casual. The checkered ones are called Shemaghs or keffiyeh. The white ones are called a ghutra. There are plain white ones which are traditionally worn in Palestine a long time ago. The Arabic head scarf male is worn with a iqal which is an accessory worn with the shemagh.

The word iqal means rope or bond, and guess what, it really does look like a rope! It helps keep the shemagh in place when a man wears it and is usually made of goat hair. Innovative, huh? That’s human beings for you. Again, the iqal has Semitic origins and is from the Middle east.

Final Remarks on this Special Headdress


Nowadays, a lot of people around the world wear a black kuffiyeh to show solidarity to the Palestinian people. Even though, originally, Arab men in Palestine wore a plain white shemagh with iqal. This is because Yassir Arafat made the black kuffiyeh part of Palestinian resistance and symbolism. Nowadays, a lot of people wear it for fashion as well. They like to wear it as a scarf. In fact, it gained so much popularity in Japan!
So what do you like more? Keffiyeh vs shemagh? Iqal vs no iqal? Black vs red? You can try all of them!

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