Exploring Ghutra: Emirati Traditional Men’s Headwear

Islam advises women and men to dress modestly and adhere to the Islamic dress code by covering their bodies between the tail and knees. Men should wear loose thobes and be appropriate in their attitudes. The Ghutra is one of the significant parts of Islamic dress globally and is the national dress of the Middle East.

If you migrate or visit the UAE, you will notice the locals proudly wearing their national clothes everywhere: in the malls, at work, at airports, etc.

Let’s dive into this article and learn about what Ghutra is, its history, and its cultural significance in the Middle East.

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What Is A Ghutra?

Referred to as a Ghutra or Keffiyah in Arabic, it is a square or rectangular piece of cloth worn over the head, typically held in place with a ring. It’s commonly white, crafted from cotton or other light fabrics, protecting against severe desert elements.

This headscarf is a significant aspect of Arabic culture, specifically among Emirati men. In the United Arab Emirates, it is a symbol of national identity.

The dress has two common styles: The crisp white Ghutra and a chequered red variant. The red one is often called a Shemagh, whereas the white dress is a Ghutra.

However, there are also other color variants of the attire, but only the red and the white ones are officially recognized by the UAE.

Red and White Ghutra
Red and White Ghutra

How the Ghutra is tied in Dubai includes specific formal and informal traditions. For casual wear, Emirati men drape ghutras around their heads. Alternatively, during more traditional events, they pair it with an Egal: A black cord, worn doubled, keeping the Ghutra in place on the person’s head.

Today, the Ghutra is more than just attire in Dubai; it represents the Emirati identity of the locals and is worn by individuals across all age groups and social classes.

Ghutras in UAE look so ethereal on Emirati men, distinguishing them from all other civilizations across the globe.

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The History Of Ghutra

The Ghutra has evolved today and looks entirely different from the ones people used to wear years ago. 

While it is believed that the Bedouins used to wear Ghutras when migrating from Saudi Arabia to protect themselves from the scorching desert sun and heat, some people also believe that the Ghutra was invented in the UAE by the old Arabs.

However, another belief associated with the headscarf was that it was worn by the military men of the United Kingdom, who were in Saudi Arabia during the British Protectorate. Those army men wore these turbans to protect themselves from the desert heat, as no military caps were available then.

The History Of Ghutra
The History Of Ghutra

A few images from the 19th century indicate the popularity of Ghutra alone and not the Egal paired with it. Some photographs even display variations in colors. The Shemagh, part of the Emirati men’s attire, emerged in the 1950s in Jordan and Iraq.

Why Do Emirati Men Wear Ghutra?

Apart from the national identity significance, a ghutra is commonly worn by Emirati men to act as a barrier or a shield against the scorching heat of the sun. Moreover, it is also helpful to cover the eyes and face during a sandstorm.

The scarf’s luminous color helps reflect the sun’s heat and keeps the head cool while offering a total coverage of the face and neck to prevent sunburns.

The Difference Between Ghutra And Keffiyah

The Arabic Keffiyeh is derived from the tradition of Arab Bedouin. Keffiyeh means “from the north,” as it was initially used in Saudi Arabia, migrating to the UAE. The headscarf was used primarily as a head ornament that could differentiate between the rural nomads and the local residents.

Moreover, the Keffiyeh is basically known as Ghutra Dubai, which is a pure, crisp white cloth.

The main difference between a Ghutra and a keffiyeh is that Ghutra comes in various color variants like red, black, etc., whereas the Keffiyeh is known only for its pure white color.

The Cultural Significance Of Ghutra

As mentioned above, the Ghutra is a headscarf worn by men in the Gulf as their national attire. But for the Emiratis, it is not just an accessory but a symbol of their honor and pride. 

The headdress represents their rich heritage and distinct cultural identity globally. It has become so integral to Emirati civilization that imagining them without it seems incomplete.

Initially, the Ghutra was only available in white color, as it did not contain any patterns, texture, or symbols. However, with the innovation in the Emirati culture, people were seen wearing Ghutras in different colors like red and black, which started a heated debate.

The Cultural Significance Of Ghutra
Ghutra Color Patterns

However, regardless of the color and the pattern, Ghutras effectively serve both environmental and ornamental purposes while adhering to the standards of the Islamic faith.

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How To Wear A Ghutra?

If you are visiting UAE and plan to go to the Desert Safari, you must know how to drape and flaunt your Ghutra perfectly to nail that typical Emirati look. 

First, you must buy the correct type of Ghutra, depending on the event or place you plan to visit. For instance, a crisp white Ghutra should be your ultimate choice if you are going for a traditional or formal event. You can always wear color variants or check-patterned headdresses for casual plans like a friend’s meetup.

Here’s a simple guide on how to wear your Ghutra the correct way.

  1. Take that squared piece of cloth and fold it diagonally into half, making it a triangle.
  2. Fold the cloth again, from its broader side to the opposite side, but stopping halfway. (do not fold it in half, but just stop halfway before it gets folded into a proper half)
  3. Now, place the folded cloth over your head so the half-folded side is on your back.
  4. The two ends now should be hanging over your neck. Take these ends and offer two twists on both sides.
  5. Pull all ends over your head and neck. Cross the two ends behind your shoulders to give the Ghutra its distinctive bulge at the bottom.
  6. After crossing the ends, bring them back to the front.
  7. Wrap one end over and under the draped portion, then secure it at the back of your head.
  8. Take the second, more visible end, and wrap it similarly.
  9. Adjust the two draped lines and tweak the end to create a tail-like appearance.
  10. Examine the front and back to ensure your Ghutra sits properly on the head. You can now place the Egal to secure the headdress in place.

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The Ghutra is a significant part of the Emirati culture and history. Worn by the Emirati men, this headdress stands as the epitome of prestige and honor. However, its usage is not restricted only to the locals in the UAE. Visitors and other expats can also wear their national dress. So, the next time you visit the UAE, buy a Ghutra and a Kandura to spend your day in the Emirati style!

Zalah Khan
Zalah is LLB Graduate from the University of Westminster and joined the hopdes team in June 2022. She has been a linguistics expert and interpreter for a few years at Pearl Linguistics in London dealing with people mostly from the middle-east side. She loves the thrills and adventures embedded deeply into her genes owing to her biracial Pashtun and Persian heritage. She speaks Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Pashtu and English. Whilst she is afraid of heights but her adrenaline pushes her to take the 60-foot leap of faith body slide everytime she is at the Aqua Venture Water Park in Dubai. She recently went onto the Jebel Jais Flight at speeds of up to 150km/h (93mph) along a 2.8km (1.7-mile) cable weighing more than six tonnes. She was last seen at the Museum Of Illusions at the Dubai Creek.

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