Imitating Non-Muslims

(Prepared by Mohamed Baianonie, Imam at the Islamic Center of Raleigh, NC, November 27th, 2012)


As young Muslims, many questions may cross our minds or come up in our conversations with friends or family about the do and do not’s in Islaam. For example, you may have wondered, “Is it okay for me to wear that outfit to school?” Or, you may have wondered whether or not it’s okay to go to a birthday party or to throw one for someone else. There are some things that non-Muslims do that are halaal [permissible] for Muslims to do as well, but there are also some things that we must avoid doing so that we do not imitate them.


The prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) said: "Whosoever imitates a people, he is one of them.”[1]


Two areas that we should NEVER imitate non-Muslims in are with their:


  • Religious acts: Copying their rituals, forms of worship, etc. (Praying the way they pray, celebrating their religious holidays, etc.)
  • Imitating their physical appearances: Wearing clothing that is specifically worn by other religious groups (Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc.) or even dressing the same as non-religious groups. For example, copying the clothing styles, hair styles, head-coverings, make-up, etc., of non-Islamic groups is forbidden.  


What does it mean to imitate the physical appearance of other religious groups?


A few examples of imitating the clothing of non-Muslims may be wearing a turban like the Indian Sikh group, a yamaka like the Jews, or the clerical collar that a Catholic priest wears to church. If we were to come across a person wearing any of these articles of clothing, then we would immediately categorize them in that apparent religious group. Anything that they wear that symbolizes them with their religion would be forbidden to wear or use by a Muslim. Even if a Muslim has no intention of imitating them, it is still a prohibited act to wear their same religious attire.


What does it mean to imitate non-religious groups?


            As you may notice in school and outside of it, there are some youth and even adults, who dress in a certain style and behave a certain way so that they can fit into a specific group. For example, at school there may be those that dress preppy to fit in with the preps, or those who may wear gangster style clothing and rap, so they can act like rappers or be part of the hip-hop group. These groups may not be religious groups, but we must avoid imitating them, because imitating their actions and appearance is forbidden.




Why does it matter if I dress like a non-Muslim as long as I am not a non-Muslim?

It matters because similarities in appearance will lead to similarities in actions. This is why Islaam prohibits us from imitating non-Muslims. Typically, much of the clothing that is worn by non-Muslims is halaal for Muslims to wear as well; however, if your intention is to imitate non-Muslims or you are dressing in a certain way just to fit in with a certain group, then this is prohibited. Your actions are judged by your intentions. If for example, you like what some non-Muslims are wearing and you want to wear a particular outfit or style, then it is okay if there is no Islamic evidence that prohibits it, and as long as you have no intention of imitating them. And Allaah (SWT) is the only One who knows your true intentions.


One time, one of the companions was wearing two pure red garments, the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) immediately told him, "These are the clothes of the kufaar and you must not wear them."[2] Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) had prohibited him from wearing these two pure red garments because these garments represented non-Muslims at that time.


Nowadays, we see some young adults who try to dress in Gothic fashions. You may find them wearing heavy black eye and lip make-up, as well as black nail polish, and dark, morbid-looking clothing. It would be forbidden for a Muslim to dress or imitate Gothic fashions or any other type of unusual, un-Islamic subcultures, unless it becomes a widespread fashion choice by many Muslims.


During the 1960’s in the US, a social movement arose, and brought with it hippies who chose to lengthen and let their hair loose, and they wore hippy clothing (bell-bottom jeans, flower dresses, etc.). At that time, it would have been forbidden to imitate the hippies’ fashion choices, because that would have been a form of imitation of non-Muslims, even if their activities were not related to a religion. Since this trend is no longer practiced by a specific group, you can wear hippy style clothing, as long as you have no intention of imitating the hippies.


           If we look back even further in time, at one point, pants were specifically known to be worn only by non-Muslim westerners. At that time, if you had seen a man in the Muslim world wearing pants, you would have immediately known that he was a non-Muslim westerner because none of the Muslims in Muslim societies used to wear pants. Over time, many upper class Muslims were able to travel to western countries for work or study, and began using pants, and when they returned home, they introduced to their families and friends, the concept of wearing pants. Those Muslims who first began wearing pants were committing a sin not because pants were prohibited, but because at that time, only non-Muslims were known to wear them and were therefore imitating non-Muslims. Over time, more and more people began wearing pants in the Muslim world, and pants started becoming a popular fashion choice for Muslim men, and since pants were no longer looked at as ‘non-Muslim’ clothing, then there was no longer a reason to prohibit wearing pants. If at any time, a Muslim decides to wear pants so that he can imitate a non-Muslim, then his actions are prohibited, because all actions are judged by intentions.


Although there are dress codes[3] Muslim men and women must follow, they do not have to wear a certain clothing style. In general, most clothing is halaal and we should use the best judgment when picking out our clothing. We should wear clothing that is not too revealing or transparent, clothing that is comfortable and loose, not form-fitting, and we should wear clothing that makes a positive statement about who we are, by avoiding clothing that is vulgar or immodest. For example, a pair of pants is typically halaal to wear; unless they are very tight, sheer, or are so loose they sag or do not cover our private areas and undergarments adequately. This rule applies to anything we wear including dresses, skirts, shirts, shorts etc.


The prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) wore the same types of clothing as most of the people in his non-Muslim society.[4],[5],[6] He chose to wear Omani and Yemeni clothing, made and worn by non-Muslims, mainly Christians. Both the Muslims and non-Muslims wore this clothing, and since he (S.A.W) had no intention of imitating the non-Muslims, then his clothing choices were permissible. He was careful from wearing clothing that specifically only non-Muslims wore. In fact, he preferred to wear a type of material called ‘Hibara’ made of cotton or linen.


According to the Prophet, the best way to dress is to wear whatever is available, most practical, comfortable, and cost effective.[7],[8]

Is it okay for me to celebrate birthdays?


The idea of celebrating the day you were born is a foreign idea to Islaam because as Muslims we understand that our birthday is not a day we chose (Allaah decided that before we were even born), nor are we celebrating our own accomplishments; at most, we can celebrate only our mother’s accomplishments on that day that she gave birth to us.


Normally, as Muslims it is encouraged for us to celebrate an accomplishment, to give thanks to Allaah (S.W.T.) for guiding us and helping us to success and to motivate others. Such celebrations may be for our graduations, contest or team victories, hijaab, prayer or Qur’aan parties, and many other types of happy occasions.


As we have learned, it is forbidden to imitate non-Muslims in their dress and appearance, and this also may include imitating them in their social activities, religious or non-religious. Again, we can use the example of wearing pants many years ago to help us decide whether it is okay or not to celebrate birthdays since celebrating birthdays is not a religious act. For example, when pants were only worn by non-Muslims, then they were not okay for Muslims to wear. Once pants became common among both Muslims and non-Muslims, then they became permissible for all. With birthdays, if in one society or country they are only celebrated by non-Muslims then it would not be okay to celebrate a birthday party. You would probably be categorized as a non-Muslim. However, if celebrating birthdays becomes so common that many Muslims and non-Muslims celebrate them, then it would be permissible to take part in the celebrations.


Keep in mind we must always be aware of the origins of rituals that we practice. You may be surprised to know that one practice to avoid is placing candles on a birthday cake, since this practice originated from the non-Muslim Greeks who were attempting to communicate with their god Artemis with the smoke of the blown out candles.[9] Remember that any practice that originates from a religious ritual is forbidden for Muslims, even if those who practice it today have no knowledge or intention of imitating non-Muslim practices.


Islaam always encourages moderation in spending on celebrations, so that we do not overburden our own family or others. Even if we are financially able to spend, we must

try not to put others under any social pressures to compete or keep up with everyone else. Keep your spending simple and moderate. And Allaah (S.W.T.) knows best.



[1] [A good hadeeth reported by Imaams Abu-Dawud, Ahmad, Tabaraani and Bayhaqi]




[2] [Reported by Imams Muslim, An-Nisaa’i and Ahmad]

[3] The dress code for Muslim men includes covering the area between the navel and the knees. The dress code for women differs in that some scholars were of the opinion that a woman must cover her whole body, including her face. However, according to the opinion of a majority of scholars, Muslim women must wear clothing that covers the whole body, excluding the face and hands. Imaam Abu Haneefah (R.A) added that it was permissible to expose the top of the feet. Women must follow this dress code in the presence of males other than her husband and those who are not her mahram (a close male relative who she can never marry).


[4] Anas (R.A.) his servant said that, "The most beloved garments the Prophet (S.A.W.) wore were made from Hibara a kind of Yemeni cloth)." [Reported by Imaam Bukhaari and others]


[5] Aisha (R.A.) his wife said that, "When he died, he was covered with a Hibara Burd (a garment decorated with green squares) a Yemeni dress." [Reported by Imaam Bukhaari and others]


[6] The companion, Mughirah bin Shu’bah (R.A.) said that, “The Prophet (S.A.W.) wore a Rumi Jubbah (a long-sleeved, longer, outer covering worn on top of other clothing made by Romans) which had narrow sleeves.” [Reported by Imaam Bukhaari and others]


[7]Umm Salamah (R.A.) his wife also said that, "The most beloved garment the Prophet (S.A.W.) wore was the shirt (qamisa).” [Reported by Imaams At-Tirmidhi, Abu Daawood and An-Nisaa’i]

8“The most common types of material worn by the Prophet and his companions were made mostly from cotton, and sometimes from wool and linen.” (p.137) “The best way to dress is the… Continued on page 4)

same way the Prophet always dressed and ordered, and he encouraged wearing whatever is available made from materials such as wool, cotton, linens, and styles such as, the Yemeni Burd, green Burd, Jubbah, Kibbaa’ (outerwear) qamis (shirt), saraweel (long underpants), izaar (long fabric wrapped around the waist) and redaa’ (long fabric worn over the shoulders and across the chest). (p.138)  

Most of the material they wore was made in Yemen, because of its close proximity, and sometimes they wore whatever was imported from al-Shaam (region known today as Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon) and Egypt. (p.139) [Kitaab Zaadul Ma’aad Fee Hedee Khair il-‘Ibaad: Volume 1, written in Arabic, by Imaam Ibn Al-Qayyim].