You are what you wear

Published 18.04.2016 20:43
Updated 18.04.2016 21:05
You are what you wear

Clothes have come to symbolize various identities throughout history. Naturally, clothing preferences have also been shaped by religious beliefs, most significantly in Judaism, Islam, Sikhism and others

People have attributed meaning to objects for as long as history has been recorded. Some of these objects already existed in nature, while some were produced by people. People ascribe holiness to things that they see, taste and use. Water, bread, the sun, the moon, land, these things are holy and meaningful for some people living in different parts of the world; clothing is no different. Today's fashion madness demonstrates the importance of clothing as people try to look different but still want to wear the same things. Early on in the history of civilization, the aim of humans wearing clothes was not fashion. A sacred command, the desire to be distinguished from others and believing in the power of clothes were the reasons behind clothing.

Jewish women were expected to cover their heads after marriage in certain periods. The Turkish phrase of "his or her head was bonded," which is used for married people, comes from this practice in Judaism. The most common Jewish religious cloth in is the "kipa." It is a small skullcap that Jewish men wear. While some just wear it during the time for prayer or eating, some wear it throughout the day. Jewish men also use an accessory called a "tefillin," which consists of two square pieces of cloth with verses from the Torah written on them and a leather strap connecting these squares. With the help of the strap, one square is tied to the top of the head and the other is tied to one arm. This is reminiscent of Muslims wearing an amulet with verses from the Quran.

In the first periods of Christianity, women were supposed to cover their heads, too. Paul the Apostle - who taught the gospel of Jesus Christ in the first-century despite not being one of the 12 Apostles - wrote in his letters that women should cover their heads while men should keep them uncovered all the time. Clement of Alexandria, one of the Church Fathers in the first period, wrote that it is only possible for women to be exalted and become closer to God if they cover themselves. Unlike in Judaism, they did not differentiate between married or unmarried women, and Christian women covered their heads with just their faces showing. The first Protestants, who adopted the practice of covering their heads, wore shawls, scarfs and bonnets until the 20th century. After the 20th century, the Catholic Church removed the order for women to cover their heads. However, even though the Orthodox churches and Catholic Church formally ended this practice, women continued to cover themselves in some regions as a tradition. On the other hand, Christian clergymen's wear differ according to sects. We are mostly familiar with the priests and nuns wearing black. The Orthodox discipline says the world is full of sin and dirt, thus the clergy wear black.

Clothing has been interpreted differently in different regions and periods in Islam. While Arab countries mostly use the black hijab or abaya, there are Far Eastern Muslim countries where women prefer wearing a shawl to cover the top of their head and their chests. How has women's wear, which causes many discussions today, been described in the Quran? The Quran reads: "O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is God forgiving and merciful."

In divine religions, clothing is about moral values. The issue was mostly about women's clothing, and the rules about their clothing were shown as reasons to make them feel comfortable in society. On the other hand, people outside the three Abrahamic religions considered clothing very differently. They did not consider it as a part of social life, but a link to God. It is the same in Shamanism, an old Turkic belief, and many Eastern religions. Clothes, accessories, jewelries, perfumes and colors all have meanings.

We can say with no doubt that the leading mystical Eastern religion and most striking one is Hinduism. Each cloth, accessory and smell has a meaning. Hindus do almost everything for a reason and they have shaped their whole life according to their belief. Even the dance moves and hand gestures in the dance, which we often see in Bollywood movies, have meanings in Hinduism. We may understand a person's class or caste from their accessories, and we may even learn about their personal life. Married women often have a nose piercing and paint the middle of their hair with a red "sindoor." It is a form of henna that married women must use as a sign of marriage. Hindus also believe in the holiness of land and fruitfulness of it like almost every other religion. Because of that, those following a traditional lifestyle do not wear shoes as they believe the land cleans people and makes them fruitful.

Yet, another religion from the South Asian region is Sikhism. This religion was formed by Guru Nanak during the 15th and 16th centuries. Nanak wanted to form the ideal religion, so he combined Islam and parts of Hinduism to form a new system. This new belief has been adopted more in time and widened. The rules in this belief involve not shaving body hair, carrying a sword and covering their head with a "turban." Sikh men make a hair bun and wrap their long hair in a turban. A Sikh also has five clothing rules to obey. One of them is to wear a "karha," a type of bracelet. Sikh women wear a two-piece outfit called a "salwar kameez," and they cover their head while entering Sikh temples.

Clothing has a significant place in old Turkic traditions. An extensive geography made this tradition incorporate a wide range of clothing habits. In Shamanism, the oldest Turkic belief, the clergyman - known as shamans - cannot choose his own clothes; the soul he served for decides chooses on his behalf. According to this belief, if shamans do not wear the clothes that the soul decided, he cannot protect himself from evil spirits. The soul determines the shape and size of the frock, drums and other accessories. If anything is missing from the things the soul asked for, the frock and the drum will not be useful to perform a religious ceremony. After the clothes are prepared, they are being presented to the soul for approval. Some pieces of fabric are stitched into the shaman's jacket. These fabrics symbolize the creatures that are believed to live in the spirit world. Shamans' clothes change according to region and time. Some are made by peltry; they also have drums, which carry symbols belonging to the spirits in the sky and the underground. According to old Turkic belief, shamans provide the significant link between God and believers.

People of many faiths have long ascribed importance to appearance. Dress codes have almost always been applied more strictly to women and clergy, and head covering has been considered a way to engender respectability in almost all beliefs. In Abrahamic religious traditions, it was said that Adam and Eve were punished and forced to wear clothes when they were dismissed from the Garden of Eden. This shows that since the beginning of humanity, covering has been very important and irreplaceable. The Quran reads: "So he made them fall, through deception. And when they tasted of the tree, their genitalia became apparent to them, and they began to fasten together over themselves from the leaves of Paradise. And their Lord called to them, "Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is to you a clear enemy?"

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