June 30, 2014 By A.K ABDUL MAJEED

The Spiritual Wardrobe

sufi attire

Once a Sufi was asked why he wore blue robe. He replied: “The Prophet left us three things: poverty, knowledge and sword. The sword was taken by kings, who misused it; knowledge was chosen by scholars, who were satisfied with merely teaching it; poverty was chosen by dervishes, who made it a means of enriching themselves. I wear blue as a sign of mourning for these three.”

Does our wardrobe articulate our spirituality? The attire that the monks, priests, nuns, Sanyasins and Sufis wear seems to suggest so. White, saffron, yellow, black, blue-whatever be the colour they choose-invariably indicate  some sort of inherent or rather acquired monotony depending on the credo the God men belong to. Clergy, especially of the Christian community, quite evidently maintain a sophisticated hierarchical holy dress system.

Sometimes we feel that the attire is holier than the person who puts it on! You might have heard people saying: “I can’t wear this uniform” or “He shouldn’t have worn that turban”. Here the outer clothing is more valued than the person’s ‘garment of skin’ (for the expression I courtesy Bible).

The origin of clothing has been depicted in Quran: “But as soon as the two (Adam and Eve) had tasted (the forbidden fruit) of the tree they became conscious of their nakedness; and they began to cover themselves with pieced together leaves from the Garden” (7:21). Till they ate the forbidden fruit they had not been aware of their nakedness. Mystically, nakedness symbolizes ignorance. That is to say the eating of the fruit caused their ignorance to stem out and they apparently felt ashamed of it. They naively believed what Satan said as they were innocent. From this inherent innocence which is designed for Paradise they were woken up to the warped realities of the earth, their deemed destination. When they tasted the fruit they immediately became aware of their ignorance and they felt there was something reprehensible in their body to be covered.


Covering nakedness can be seen as the basic principle of clothing. It also protects human bodies from high and low temperature. By and large, as civilization grew thicker, costumes assumed key role in deciding one’s social status. Despite these three important functions of clothing, mystics view the bare human body as the first outfit of human soul. All the other added extras are secondary and unimportant. Imam Al-Gazali conveys it in his last poem:

Say to my brethren when they see me dead,

And weep for me, lamenting me in sadness:

Think ye I am the corpse you are to bury?

I swear by God, this dead one is not I.

When I had formal shape, then this, my body,

Served as my garment. I wore it for a while.

However your dress is transparent at some level and it reveals your soul. Your dress advertises your faith, attitude and philosophy. Ending the discussion on clothing, Quran says: “The garment of righteousness is superior” (7:26). The internal garment of piety excels the external clothing of adornment. The western suit, the Arab robe, the Indian dhoti-whatever be the external outfit- the inner raiment of righteousness stands out. In the absence of the latter the former is a precious zero. Meaning outsmarts material.

God asked his messenger to “keep his garments free from stain” (Quran, 74:4). When you go to people your garments should be clean. Clean shirt indicates clean image. It boosts your moral courage and strengthens your confidence. By wearing clean garments the prophet was making a political as well as spiritual statement.

At Mecca, in the vicinity of Ka’ba, the first edifice erected on earth to worship god by Abraham the arch prophet of Semitic religions, the pilgrims (except women) wear two pieces of unstitched cloth leaving their heads bare. The differences of caste, race, tribe, nation and class blur there. Before god your costumes make no sense. You, not your dress, matter. “God does not look at your form or shape; but He looks into your hearts”, said the prophet. Generally we do the opposite. We judge the book by its cover.

Mullah Nasaruddin was invited to a dinner by a renowned sheikh. Since Mullah was busy in his field he found no time to change his usual wear. He rushed to the party. The host and other guests scornfully looked at Mullah’s casual dress. Nobody cared to ask him to take a seat and join the feast. Disappointedly Mullah went home and came back in full suit. This time he was well received and offered all kinds of hospitality. Mullah, instead of helping himself to anything started to feed his coat! “Eat coat, eat…” saying thus he put nuts and berries in his pocket. He smeared curries on his coat. While guests happened to notice this they gathered near his table. They asked why he was doing so. He replied innocently: “when I came here without wearing this coat I was frowned upon and I wasn’t offered anything. But when I came herewearing this coat, I was welcomed and offered yummy food. So this banquet is not for me but to my coat!” Mullah was ridiculing the ways of wealthy and the so called “civilized.”

Sufis, since they wanted to protect their “inner glow” from all outside temptations, preferred to wear rough and coarse patched woolen frocks. This traditional garb of Sufis is known as muraqa’. Plenty of treatises are there on wearing this robe. For them it is the symbol of renouncing the world. Only those who successfully fulfil the requirements of the spiritual discipline of the Sufi path are supposed to adorn themselves with the traditional patched frock. Masters set certain conditions to put on the attire. Worshiping god absolutely for His sake alone, cutting off selfish interest relating to this world or the next and preserving heart from the assaults of heedlessness are among them. The Persian Sufi master Al- Hujwiri in his well known Kasful Mahjub gives us two good allegories concerning muraqa’:

One:Its collar is patience, its two sleeves fear and hope, its two gussets contraction and dilation, its hem soundness in faith, its fringe sincerity.

Two: Its collar is annihilation of intercourse (with men), its two sleeves are observance and continence, its two gussets are poverty and purity, and its belt is persistence in contemplation, its hem is tranquility in (God’s) presence, and its fringe is settlement in the abode of union.