Getting to the bottom of Muslim prayer headgear

The truly talented can pray with their headgear on, though they usually push the agal toward the back of their heads to accommodate this.

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Dear Ali: Do Gulf nationals take their headscarves off when they go to mosque? And can you tell me about the prayer caps that some Muslims wear during prayers? OH, Dubai

Dear OH: It depends on where we are coming from. If we’re going to mosque from work, we are usually in full national dress: kandura, ghutra and agal. Some Gulf nationals leave their headgear in their car. Others take off the agal inside the mosque and lay it on the ground in front of them while they pray.

The truly talented can pray with their headgear on, though they usually push the agal toward the back of their heads to accommodate this.

When we are going to mosque from our homes, we’re usually a bit more casually dressed, although going to mosque is like going to church, so we try to look nice. In this case, we usually leave our headgear at home.

Some Muslims prefer to have a small cap on the top of their head as a symbol of respect since they are entering God’s house. In this way, we follow the lead of our local women, who cover their hair to appear modest.

You’ll see a lot of new Muslims wearing prayer caps as they want to demonstrate their recently found devotion. The custom is especially popular in Asia and Africa.

Dear Ali: The greeting I always hear in the Gulf is “Assalamu alaykum”. I don’t speak fluent Arabic, so maybe I’m missing something, but do Arabs say “Good morning” or “Good night”? DK, Doha

Dear DK: We have a lot of greetings and a lot of ways of saying goodbye. If you’ve ever heard us on the phone, you know we spend a good minute just greeting and blessing each other.

Although assalamu alaykum is the most popular greeting, the others are fine. Those who are not Muslim, for example, might say “Marhaba” instead.

Arabs do say good morning, although “Sabah al khair” literally translates as “morning of good”. The most common reply to this is “Sabah al noor”, which means “morning of light” or “a bright morning to you”.

A twist on this is “Sabah al ward wal yasmeen”. In English, “sabah” means morning, “ward” means roses, and “yasmeen” is jasmine. This phrase translates to “A morning of roses and jasmine” or “May your morning be filled with roses and jasmine”.

The equivalent of the phrase “Goodnight” would be “Tesbah ala khair”, which translates as “You shall wake up to goodness”.

In English, you reply to the person by saying “Goodnight” back to them. In Arabic, the reply is a continuation of the original greeting: “Wa entah min ahlah”, which means “And you shall be part of it.” I love languages.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.