The Islamic roots of the graduation attire

How Muslims pioneered higher education

Published in: History
Date: 04 / 12 / 21

Ever wondered why we wear a very specific attire when we graduate?

The graduation gown also known as the subfusc and the flat hat with the tassels also called the mortar board.

History has a lot to tell us about the massive influence the Islamic civilization had on the making of the modern world.

Did you know that the first university in Europe was established by the Muslims in 841 AD, in the city of Salerno (Italy). It was an extension of the Muslim universities in the east.

So when the students (non Muslims from Europe) learned and graduated from these universities and returned to their lands, they used to dress in Muslim robes (Thawb or Qamees) and that would become an indication that this particular student graduated from the university of the Muslims. This imitation of wearing the Arab / Muslim garb (which is baggy and wide in design) has stayed with them to this day and spread all across the world.

Jack Goody in his book titled "Islam in Europe" says that "The Arabic clothing (Thawb) has remained the purest and clearest sign of scholastic integrity up to this day of ours, especially during scholastic events such as debating and graduations.” This is why when we graduate from university today, we wear these gowns known as subfusc.

Even the 'mortar boards' of graduates are Islamic and derive from the flat hats of the scholars there who would rest the Qur'an on the 'mortar' to symbolize the primacy of Scripture over the intellect. The tassel at the back of the 'mortar board' was for bookmarking the pages of the Qur'an. When in subfusc, the students carry their carry mortar board - this is a tradition based just like students would carry their Qurans with them - and the right to put it on one’s head only comes at the end of one’s study - i.e. once you’ve graduated.
So there you have it. The influence of Islam and Islamic culture is deep rooted in the modern world. 


Safiyyah Sabreen Syeed

About the author

Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.

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