Answered by Ustadh Tariq Abdul-Rasheed
Question: Is wearing a turban sunnah?
Answer: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent the Merciful
Yes, wearing the turban is an established Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhmmad (ﷺ) even if it was an Arab custom.
This is the position of scholars such as; Imam al-Haytami and Imam al-Bājūri of the Shāfiʿi school and al-Qādi Ibn ʿArabi of the Māliki school. All of whom say it is a emphasized Sunnah (sunnah mu’akidah). [ad-Dʿiāmah, Jʿafar al-Katāni]
Some of What Has Been Related Regarding the Turban
It is related: “On the day of the Conquest of Makkah, the Prophet (ﷺ) entered Makkah, and he was wearing a black turban (ʿimāmah).” [Tirmidhī, Jamiʿ and Shamā’il]
In another narration: The Prophet (ﷺ) called for ʿAli (Allah be pleased with him) on the Day of Ghadīr Khūm and wrapped a turban on his head and hung the tail draped down Ali’s back. The Prophet (ﷺ) then said, “Wear turbans for indeed the turban is a symbol of Islam and it is a barrier between the Muslims and the Polytheist!” [Abu Nuʿaym: Mʿarifat as-Sahābah from ʿAbdur-Rahman ʿAdī al-Bahrāni]
It has also been related: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Adopt wearing the turban for indeed it is the mantle of the Angels and hang the tail of it on your backs!” [Tabarānī, al-Kabīr from Ibn ʿUmar; Bayhaqī, Shuʿab al-Īman]
Also narrated: The Prophet (ﷺ) came with thobes from charity and distributed them amongst his companions and said, “Wear turbans and differentiate yourselves from the nations that proceeded you!” [Bayhaqī, Shuʿab al-Īman from the Tābʿī Khālid bin Mʿadān in a mursal narration]
It has also been related that the Prophet said, “Wear turbans! Increase in discernment! Turbans are the crowns of the Arabs.” [Bayhaqī, Shuʿab al-Īman from Usamah bin ʿUmayr] (Ibn Hajar mentions the narration is weak but has a corroborating narration.)
The like of these narrations have been transmitted from other sources with similar wording and meaning. See [ad-Dʿiāmah, Jʿafar al-Katāni]
Points of Contention between Law and Custom
Perhaps because of prevailing attitudes that exist in our time there may be some misunderstanding related to the ruling of the turban. Namely;
1) From the perspective of Hadith methodology and Fiqh
It should be noted that the aforementioned narrations and statements of the companions have weaknesses in their chains of transmission. However, the scholars of Fiqh (Jurisprudence) note that the weaknesses don’t detract from the legal probity of establishing the turban as a clearly emphasized Sunnah. They add; the multitude of narrations that have been transmitted and the numerous paths by which they have been transmitted necessitate the legal probity of considering the turban from the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).
This is a well established principle amongst the scholars of Hadith Tradition and Jurisprudence, as related from Imam al-Bājūri, Imam al-Haytami and Imam al-Manāwi. [ad-Dʿiāmah, Jʿafar al-Katāni]
This fine point of methodology may be lost on some and can be a point of confusion as mere weakness in a chain of transmission doesn’t necessitate the invalidity of establishing a particular legal ruling. As, in this case, a sound meaning is established due to the overwhelming number of transmissions that have been reported.
This is why it is necessary that we turn to scholars of jurisprudence in matters of legal rulings and not leave the matter to a cursory glance at Prophetic narrations.
2) Sunnah vs. Custom
From another perspective there has been confusion regarding how certain practices of the Prophet (ﷺ) should be considered in their legal value. Are his daily customary practices such as; food, clothing, or the way he (ﷺ) sat considered from the Sunnah? Or, are they mere Arab cultural practices that don’t take significant legal value?
Because of this we find some of our brothers and sisters in the West downplaying the wearing of the thobe or turban as mere Arab custom. Unfortunately, there are instances when these practices are discouraged based on the idea that adopting western-styled dress is “better” or “more suitable”.
While it is true scholars did, in fact, differ regarding the legal value of such practices. We don’t see in their works the notion of downplaying or discouraging people from following the Prophet’s (ﷺ) way of performing any act. We should be careful not to adopt the attitude of taking the way of our Prophet (ﷺ) lightly in any matter.
The Prophet is a Paragon for Human Action and His Way is the Basis for Allah’s Love
Allah (Most High) says, “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.” [Ahzāb: 21]
In the verse Allah (the Exalted) refers to His beloved Prophet using the word ‘uswah’ (أسوة). Imam as-Sābūni says in his tafseer that it means, “He is the most exalted exemplary who should be strictly followed in all of his words, actions, and states because he does not utter [a word] nor act from his desires. Rather he speaks and acts from revelation and what is sent to him. For this reason it is an obligation to follow his pattern and conduct ourselves in his way.”
Allah (Most High) also says, “Say, [O Muhammad], “If you love Allah , then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Āl ʿImrān: 31].
It should be noted that the words ‘love’ and ‘forgive’, as mentioned in the verse, are in the present-future tense of the verb form and indicate perpetuity and continuity. That is to say, Allah’s love and forgiveness for those who follow the way of the beloved Messenger (ﷺ) is continuous and ever-flowing and does not cease.
Realizing and Implementing the Sunnah of the Turban
We know that “actions are by intentions”, and if one intends by wearing the turban or following the Prophet (ﷺ) in any of his actions, Allah (Most High) will reward the servant according to their intentions.
The scholars mention that one can implement and realize the Sunnah of wearing the turban by intending beautification when wearing it and that one can wear the turban with or without a hat underneath it (both are acceptable). [ad-Dʿiāmah, Jʿafar al-Katāni]
Finally, It is well-known from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to our time the scholars and righteous of this Ummah have worn a turban out of reverence and love for his (ﷺ) way. All of the Muslim lands have adopted the turban along with their customary dress.
Allah (Most High) knows best
Tariq Abdul-Rasheed

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)