Understanding turbans | Story: Don't link turbans to terrorism
Sikh men commonly wear a peaked turban that serves
partly to cover their long hair, which is never cut
out of respect for God's creation. Devout Sikhs also
do not cut their beards, so many Sikh men comb out
their facial hair and then twist and tuck it up into
their turbans along with the hair from their heads.
Sikhism originated in northern India and Pakistan in
the 15th century and is one of the youngest of the
world's monotheistic religions. There are an estimated
18 million Sikhs in the world, with some 2 million
spread throughout North America, Western Europe and
the former British colonies.
Muslim religious elders, like this man from Yemen,
often wear a turban wrapped around a cap known in
Arabic as a kalansuwa. These caps can be spherical or
conical, colorful or solid white, and their styles
vary widely from region to region. Likewise, the color
of the turban wrapped around the kalansuwa varies.
White is thought by some Muslims to be the holiest
turban color, based on legends that the prophet
Mohammed wore a white turban. Green, held to be the
color of paradise, is also favored by some. Not all
Muslims wear turbans. In fact, few wear them in the
West, and in major cosmopolitan centers around the
Muslim world, turbans are seen by some as passé.
Afghan men wear a variety of turbans, and even
within the Taliban, the strict Islamic government that
controls much of the country, there are differences in
the way men cover their heads. This Taliban member,
for example, is wearing a very long turban — perhaps
two twined together — with one end hanging loose
over his shoulder. The Taliban ambassador to
Afghanistan, on the other hand, favors a solid black
turban tied above his forehead. And some men in
Afghanistan do not wear turbans at all, but rather a
distinctive Afghan hat.
Iranian leaders wear black or white turbans
wrapped in the flat, circular style shown in this
image of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The word turban is thought to have originated among
Persians living in the area now known as Iran, who
called the headgear a dulband.
Indian men sometimes wear turbans to signify their
class, caste, profession or religious affiliation —
and, as this man shows, turbans in India can be very
elaborate. However, turbans made out of fancy woven
cloths and festooned with jewels are not unique to
India. As far away as Turkey, men have used the
headgear to demonstrate their wealth and power.
The kaffiyeh is not technically a turban. It is
really a rectangular piece of cloth, folded diagonally
and then draped over the head — not wound like a
turban. Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, has
made the kaffiyeh famous in recent times. However, the
kaffiyeh is not solely Palestinian. Men in Jordan,
Saudi Arabia and the Arab Persian Gulf states wear
kaffiyehs in colors and styles that are particular to
their region. Jordanians, for example, wear a red and
white kaffiyeh, while Palestinians wear a black and
white one. And a man from Saudi Arabia would likely
drape his kaffiyeh differently than a man from Jordan.
The black cord that holds the kaffiyeh on one's head
is called an ekal.
Desert peoples have long used the turban to keep
sand out of their faces, as this man from Africa is
likely doing. Members of nomadic tribes have also used
turbans to disguise themselves. And sometimes, the
color of a person's turban can be used to identify his
tribal affiliation from a distance across the dunes.
This man's turban is a very light blue. In some parts
of North Africa, blue is thought to be a good color to
wear in the desert because of its association with
BY PAUL SCHMID / THE SEATTLE TIMES