The Topi – A Confirmed Sunnah and a Salient Feature of the Muslims

The topî
What is a topî?

The word ‘topî’ is an Urdû word; however it will be used throughout this book because of its widespread usage.

The Arabic equivalent is قَلَنْسُوَة  ‘qalansuwah’. This is the word used for the topî in most of the ahâdîth as well as in the books of history.

The definition of the qalansuwah is:

“A covering for the head which

*  is black, white or any other colour,

*  generally has both an inner and outer-lining but sometimes only has one lining,

*  is found both with earflaps and without them,

*  is made of fabric or leather, but generally of fabric and

*  a turban is generally worn over it.” [1]

Many other words are also used for the topî in the Arabic language. These will be discussed in detail in the chapter concerning the different types of topîs. Here we have sufficed on just listing some of them:

كُمَّة، طاقِيَّة، عَرْقِيَّة، طَرْبُوْش،قَلْسَاة، عِرَاقِيَّة،

قَلَنْسِيَّة، كُوْفِيَّة، بُرْنُس، قَلْنَيْسَة،طَرْطُوْر،شاشية.

The history of the topî

Historians have mentioned very little concerning the origin of the topî and the different phases it passed through.

`Allâmah Ibn Ja`far Al-Kattânî رحمه الله mentioned that we could gauge how long the topî has been in vogue, from the narration of Tirmizhî in which mention is made of the topî of Mûsâ (alayhis salaam). [2]

`Allâmah `Azîzî رحمه الله has written that topîs were very common amongst the Arabs, from the time when Nabî (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was sent to them.[3]

Abul Qâsim Al-Baihaqîرحمه الله has mentioned that the first person to adopt the topî was Shîth, the son of Âdam (alayhis salaam).[4]

The great scholar, Shaikh Abûbakr Ibn `Arabî رحمه الله has, in his commentary of Tirmizhî, ‘`Âridhatul Ahwazî’ (Vol. 7 Pg. 242), classified the topî as part of the attire of the Prophets (alayhis salaam) and of those pious ones who tread the path towards Allâh.

Many different types of topîs were worn in the time of Nabî (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), including the burnus (a hooded garment), however it seems that the burnus came into vogue well before this time, as it was very popular with the Christian monks of that time.

Imâm Mâlik رحمه الله was asked concerning the origin of the topî. He answered, “It was found in the time of Rasûlullâh (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and in my opinion it was found before that as well.” [5]

Hafiz Jalâluddîn Suyûtî رحمه الله has written that the first person to wear a (very) high topî was Hishâm Ibn Abdul Malik (the famous Umayyad Khalîfah who ruled from 105 A.H. until 125 A.H.).[6]

Historians agree that the person responsible for the widespread wearing of extremely high topîs is the Khalîfah Al-Mansûr. In the year 153 A.H. he ordered the public to wear very high, black topîs as a result of which topîs about 40 cm high were made, with bamboo inside propping them up.

Abû Dulâmah, a famous poet and one of those forced to wear this topî, composed the following poem concerning this incident:

وكنا نرجى من إمام زيادة * فزاد الإمام المصطفى في القلانس

تراها على هام الرجال كأنها * دنان يهود جللت بالبرانس

“We were hoping to get an increase from the Khalîfah,

instead he increased the height of our topîs.

You would see them on the heads of men,

as if they were earthenware jugs of the Jews, draped in

hooded-cloaks.” [7]

It is narrated that Abû Dulâmah, on another occasion, visited Al-Mansûr while dressed in the uniform that Al-Mansûr had ordered them to adopt i.e. wearing a tall, black topî; a cloak with the following âyah engraved on the back:

“Allah is sufficient for you against them. He is the All-seeing, the All-knowledgeable.”

and with his sword hanging from his waist. (The normal practice of the Arabs was to hang the sword around the neck). The following conversation then ensued:

Al-Mansûr: How are you? O Abû Dulâmah!

Abû Dulâmah: Not well at all, O Amîrul Mu`minîn!

Al-Mansûr: Why is that?

Abu Dulâmah: What do you expect from a person whose face is in the middle of his attire (because of the high topî), whose sword is in his posterior and who has thrown the Qur`ân behind his back?

Al-Mansûr was greatly amused at this retort and immediately ordered that this uniform be changed. [8]

It seems that these high topîs caught the fancy of many, thus they became popular to such an extent that in the year 250 A.H. the Khalîfah Al-Musta`în passed a law ordering people to reduce the height of their topîs. [9]

`Allâmah Kowtharîرحمه الله has written that the high topî was generally worn at official functions (during the `Abbâsid reign).[10]

`Allâmah Tabarî رحمه الله has recorded that in the year 235 A.H. the Khalîfah Al-Mutawakkil ordered all Non-Muslims living under Muslim rule to adopt clothing different from that worn by the Muslims. Those of them who wore topîs had to wear topîs a different colour from that worn by the Muslims and had to sew two buttons to them, as a distinguishing symbol. [11]

Shaikh Ârif Hifnî رحمه الله writes, in his commentary of Jâmi`us Saghîr, that (in his time) the topî was very common in Hijâz (the region wherein Makkah and Madînah are situated). [12]

Yazîd ibn Khâlid says: I saw Abul Umaitir (who was declared the Khalîfah in 195 A.H) with 500 of his supporters walking in front of him, all wearing tall Syrian topîs.[13]

Shaikh Yâqût Al-Hamawî (626 A.H)رحمه الله   writes concerning the people of بلغار (Bulgaria), that all of them would wear a topî. [14]

He also authored the following interesting article concerning Sijistân.

“The men all wear two or three turbans at once, whose colours are generally white, green, red and yellow. These are then tied around a huge cup-shaped topî, in such a manner that all the different colours are displayed.

All of them follow the Hanafî mazhab and (because of strict adherence to the laws of hijâb) no woman ever leaves her home. If she has to visit her family, then this is done after nightfall.” [15]

We can thus conclude that wearing the topî was the practice of the Prophets (alayhis salaam) and has remained the practice of the Muslims for hundreds of years.

May Allâh grant us the ability to follow their blessed footsteps. Âmîn.

   The significance of the topî

It will become clear to us from the coming narrations that the topî formed an integral part of the dressing of the beloved Rasûl of Allâh (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and his illustrious companions, the Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum), and has remained part of the dressing of the Muslims right up to these times.

`Allâmah Ibn Qayyim Al-Jauzîyah, `Allâmah Suyûtî, Ibnul Hâj, Mîrak, `Allâmah Bârizî and Shaikh Muhib At-Tabarî رحمهم الله have all written:

“Nabî (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) would normally wear a turban with a topî underneath. He would sometimes wear only a topî and at times only a turban.” [16]

`Allâmah Tîbî رحمه الله    (743A.H.), the first commentator of Mishkâtul Masâbîh (a famous book of hadîth), mentioned that the wearing of a topî alone (i.e. without a turban) is (also) Sunnah, as is the practice of many. [17]

The great scholar, Shaikh Abûbakr Ibn `Arabî رحمه الله has, in his commentary of Tirmizhî, `Âridhatul Ahwazî (Vol. 7 Pg. 242), classified the topî as part of the attire of the Prophets (alayhis salaam) and of those pious ones who tread the path towards Allâh Ta’ala.

He also mentioned that it protects the head, stabilizes the turban and (most importantly) it is sunnah.

`Allâmah Ibnul Jawzî رحمه الله has also classified the topî as Sunnah.[18]

Sulaimân Ibn Abî `Abdullâh رحمه الله mentions that he found the senior Muhâjirîn (radhiyallahu anhum) tying turbans on their topîs.[19]

So much importance was given to covering the head by our Salafus Sâlihîn (pious predecessors i.e. the Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum) and those after them) that we find them always wearing turbans. This fact is undeniable in the light of the hundreds of narrations concerning the turban of Nabî (sallallahu alayhi wasallam), the Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum), and those succeeding them.

Imâm Mâlik رحمه الله mentions that it was the practice of the  Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum) to wear topîs.[20]

There can be no doubt in the fact that donning the topî was the practice of the Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum) and their successors. In addition to the abovementioned narrations, the following great personalities are all reported to have mentioned that it was the practice of the Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum) to wear the topî.

  1. Hasan Basrî [21]
  2. Imâm Mâlik [22]
  3. Abû Kabshah [23]
  4. `Abdullâh Ibn Abûbakr [24]



  1. Wâil Ibn Hujr [25]
  2. Faltân Ibn `Âsim [26]
  3. Ibrâhîm An-Nakha`î [27]
  4. Mahmûd Ibn Labîd  [28]



The books of history also show very clearly that it was always the practice of the Muslims to wear the topî.

The great historian, `Allâmah Ibn Jarîr At-Tabarî رحمه الله has, in many places of his book, Târîkhul Umam wal Mulûk, discussed the dressing of the Muslims and has mentioned that the topî of the Muslims of a certain era was of a particular type. (E.g. Vol. 11 Pg. 3 and Pg. 156)

In the same strain we find that another famous historian, Muhammad Ibn Sa`d رحمه الله , when discussing the topî of Dâwûd At-Tâî رحمه الله, mentioned that his topî was similar to the topî worn by the businessmen of that time.[29] Thus it was the habit of the businessmen as well, to adhere to the Sunnah of the topî.

`Allâmah Ibn Taymîyah رحمهالله has also highlighted the importance of the topî. It is mentioned in his Majmû` Fatâwâ (Vol. 11 Pg. 493) that he was asked regarding a group of Muslims who engaged in a variety of weird actions viz. carrying snakes, keeping dishevelled hair, leaving their heads uncovered etc.

He answered that actions such as leaving the head uncovered etc. are neither the distinguishing characteristics of the Pious nor of the Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum) or the Tâbi`în and was not found amongst the `Ulamâ of the Muslims in the previous or latter times, therefore they have opposed the path of the Muslims, have abandoned the realities of our dîn (religion) and have strayed off the path of the servants of Allâh.

This strong rebuke by `Allâmah Ibn Taymîyah رحمه الله speaks volumes of the importance attached by him to the topî.

Anyone who peruses through the books of history will realize that the topî was always a latent feature of the lives of the Muslims. This can be gauged by the fact that in every era there lived a group of people whose sole occupation was the sewing of topîs.

If it was not the practice of the people to wear topîs then for whom were they making the topîs?

The following incident concerning a topî-maker is mentioned by Hafiz Ibn Kathîr رحمه الله :

Qâdhî Abû `Umar رحمه الله  (320AH) was a great scholar who was known for his beautiful character and fair dealings. On one occasion when many of his associates were gathered around him, a roll of expensive material was placed before him to purchase. The associates of the Qâdhî greatly admired the rich cloth, so the Qâdhî purchased it for 50 dînârs (gold coins) and then ordered a topî-maker to make topîs from this material for all those present.[30]

The famous Mufassir `Ikrimah  رحمه الله, who was a Tâbi`î (one who met the Sahâbah t), explained that the verse:

و لا تقربوا مال اليتيم

 “Don`t even come close to the wealth of an orphan”

means: “Don’t even take a topî from him”. [31]

We thus learn that the topî was part of their wardrobe, as well.

The historians have mentioned that there was a certain family who lived from about 100 A.H. who were known as the ‘Dowraqî’ family on account of them wearing a type of high topî known as الدَوْرَقِيَّة ‘The Dowraqîyyah’.[32]

From this we can understand how particular the Muslims were regarding the wearing of the topî.

Another proof that the topî was worn in the time of the Sahâbah (radhiyallahu anhum) and those after them are the many narrations mentioning the discussions of the Mufassirîn (commentators of the Qur`ân) of those times, concerning whether giving someone a topî will be classified as clothing him and thus suffice as kaffârah (atonement) of a broken vow, as Allâh Ta`âlâ has ordered us saying:

“أو كِسْوَتُهُمْ”

 “or clothe them.”

Hadhrat `Imrân Ibn Husain t answered this question in the following manner, “If a delegation visits your leader and he gives each one of them a topî, will you say that he has clothed them? No.”[33]

This also shows that the topî was one of the items of clothing worn in those glorious days.

After studying all these narrations, we can only arrive at one conclusion and that is that the topî forms an integral part of the dressing of every Muslim and there can be no doubt in the topî forming part of our religion.

Why should we wear the topî?

A doubt lurking in the heart of many people is that the topî was worn by Rasûlullâh (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) as a habit not as an act of worship; there is therefore no need for us to emulate Rasûlullâh (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) in this regard as there will be no reward in practising upon that which is not an act of worship.

To clarify this doubt, the following should be borne in mind:

Firstly, when the intention is to attain the pleasure of Allâh then one will be rewarded for any action performed. This is derived from the hadîth: “Actions are judged by the intention.”

Secondly, we have been ordered by Allâh U to emulate Rasûlullâh (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). No distinction was made between emulating him in those actions done out of habit and those done as an act of worship. Allah Ta`âlâ ordered Nabî e to announce, “If you love Allâh then follow me, Allâh will love you.” (Surah Âlu `Imrân Verse 31)

`Allamah Ibn Kathîr رحمهالله stated in the commentary of this verse:

“This verse classifies as a liar any person who claims to love Allah yet does not follow the pattern of Rasûlullâh (sallallahu alayhi wasallam). This (classification as a liar) will continue until he follows Nabî (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) in all his statements, actions and conditions.”

Thirdly, the practice of the Sahâbah, Tâbi`în and those after them has always been to emulate Rasûlullâh (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) even in the minutest details. Dozens of narrations in Hayâtus Sahâbah and other books testify to this. By us claiming that these things are baseless, we are refuting something that has remained the practice of this Ummah from its very inception and are in fact claiming that no one properly understood Dîn until today. Allâh forbid!

Lastly, the topî has today become a distinguishing characteristic of the Muslims. As soon as we see someone wearing a topî, regardless of which part of the world we are in, we identify him as a Muslim. It is thus necessary for us to hold fast to our Muslim identity and strive to distinguish ourselves from the disbelievers.

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Next: The Turban and Different Colours of the Topi Mentioned in the Narrations


[1] منتهى السول على وسائل الوصول إلى شمائل الرسول 1/508 ، الدعامة ص 40 نقلا عن شرح كتابالفصيح للفراء و شرح الشمائل لابن حجر الهيتمي.

[2] الدعامة ص 49 و الحديث وإن كان فيه كلام لكن ذكرت قلنسوة موسى في روايات أخر،

منها :ما رواه القرطبي في الجامع لأحكام القرآن 7/287 عن ابن القاسم قال سمعت مالكا يقول: كان  موسى إذا غضب طلع  الدخان من قلنسوته و روى ابن عساكر(61/161) نحوه عن زيد بن أسلم وما أخرجه ابن أبي شيبة في مصنفه 7/185 عنوهب بن منبه قال كان على موسى يوم ناجى ربه عند الشجرة جبة من صوف وتبان من صوف وقلنسوة  من صوف.

[3] السراج المنير 1/235

[4] محاسن الوسائل ص 320 وهو من زيادات المحقق نقلا عن مشارق التجارب

[5] المختار شرح الموطأ، كذا في الدعامة ص 49

[6] الوسائل في معرفة الأوائل ص 80

[7] الكامل لابن الأثير 5/610 ، تاريخ الطبري 8/617، تاريخ الذهبي 9/356 ، النجوم الزاهرة 2/20

[8] تفسير القرطبي 2/143

[9] تاريخ الخلفاء  ص 406  و الوسائل إلى معرفة الأوائل  ص 80

[10] تعليقات الكوثري على مناقب الإمام أبي حنيفة للذهبي ص 8

[11] تاريخ الطبري 11/156

[12] الدعامة ص 40

[13] تاريخ دمشق 43/32

[14] معجم البلدان 1/488

[15] معجم البلدان 3/110

[16] زاد المعاد 1/135، الحاوي 1/83، الدعامة ص 43

[17] الكاشف عن حقائق السنن 8/215

[18] شرح المناوي على الشمائل 1/203

[19] مسند إسحاق بن راهُويَه 3/882  والمصنف لابن أبي شيبة 6/48 و رجاله رجال الصحيح إلا سليمان بن عبد الله وهو مقبول

[20] التمهيد 14/261

[21] البخاري تعليقا ص56 – باب السجود في شدة الحر – و قال الحافظ:” وصله ابن أبي شيبة”

[22] شعب الإيمان 5/167 و رجاله ثقات

[23] الترمذي ص 308 (1782) و قال: هذا حديث منكر

[24] عمدة القاري 21/306 و فتح الباري 10/272

[25] ابن خزيمة 1/233 و قال محققه: إسناده صحيح،و رواه أبو داؤد ص105 (728)

[26] ابن قانع في معجمه (1534) و أبو نعيم في تاريخ إصبهان 2/131 و الطبراني

في الكبير و قال الهيثمي في المجمع (2226): رجاله موثقون

[27] عبد الرزاق 1/401 ورجاله رجال الصحيح

[28] المغازي للواقدي 1/75 و رجاله ثقات إلا الواقدي وهو مقبول في المغازي

[29] ابن سعد 6/347 و رجاله رجال الصحيح

[30] البداية و النهاية 11/172

[31] تفسير الطبري 3/599 و الدر المنثور 3/384 عن أبي الشيخ

[32] الأنساب للسمعاني 2/564، الثقات لابن حبان 5/605

[33] الدر المنثور 3/154 عن عبد بن حميد و ابن المنذر و ابن أبي حاتم و قال الحافظ في

التلخيص الحبير 4/172 إسناده ضعيف

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