The brimless cap called a kufi is traditional in many Muslim cultures.
The brimless cap called a kufi is traditional in many Muslim cultures.

A kufi is a round, brimless hat widely seen among African men and their descendants around the world and in parts of Asia. These round caps are nearly flat on top with slightly domed, high sides; in parts of Africa, they are highly decorated and reflect the wearer’s status. Because they are so indelibly linked to the wearer’s culture, they have become associated with traditional Muslim dress. Wearing a kufi is not, however, required for Islamic worship or prayer.

Head Covering

Muslim men are not required to cover their heads, only their private parts, as stated in the Quran, Surat 24:30. Islamic scholar Sayyid Saabiq says there is debate over the precise definition of the area to be covered, whether, for instance, the thighs are proscribed. However, Saabiq reports no mention of a requirement that men cover their heads. In fact, Saabiq says that an uncovered head can communicate humility, relating instances of Prophet Muhammad removing his cap to pray.

Gender Distinctiveness

Although head covering is not mandatory, the kufi may serve an important function in helping a Muslim man to obey wardrobe requirements in other ways. Islamic law requires men to dress distinctively from women.The kufi is a traditionally male accessory, visibly different from a woman’s headscarf or wrap.

Cultural Distinctiveness

Islamic law also calls for Muslims to dress distinctively from unbelievers. This is another way in which a kufi may be important, if not mandatory, for Muslim men. The cap has become so prevalent among African Muslim populations that it has come to signify Muslim identity at least as much as African identity. It is widely popular among Asian Muslim populations as well; cab driver Raja Awais Naeem, who is of Pakistani origin, sued the city of St. Louis in 2012 for not being allowed to wear his kufi on the job. Indeed, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in its “Employer’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” includes the kufi as one of the garments important to many Muslims.

Optional Garments

The kufi is permitted, even encouraged, by Islamic law and custom, but it is not mandatory. Islamic scholars record a number of important precedents for early Muslim leaders wearing a kufi, including Anas Bin Malik, Rasulullah and Wabisah. Other garments may also fulfill the requirements of gender and cultural distinctiveness, such as a turban and thowb (a long shirt). None of these, however, is specifically required during prayer or worship.