The imitation of donning the baggy, wide-designed attire worn by Arabs and Muslims historically has expanded worldwide.
‘Euro-centric supremacy’ has been put under the spotlight by Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwa Al Khater, who responded to ongoing attacks by western media on the traditional bisht.
The vocal Qatari official shared a tweet to remind critics that the graduation gown, shared universally, stems historically from the Arabian cloak.
“Gowning Messi with a ‘Bisht’ drove many Euro-Centric supremacists Crazy. Do they know that their graduation gowns came from the Arabian gown?” the Qatari official said in a tweet on Saturday.
During the World Cup final match, Messi was draped in a black garment lined with gold fabric, locally known as ‘bisht’, by Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. For the Arab hosts of the region’s first World Cup, the gifting of the cloak was a symbolic part of Arab culture to honour guests.
In a follow up tweet, Al Khater hit out at critics for being unable to comprehend how a Muslim tradition could be so universally accepted.
“A tradition Muslims started in 859 at Al-Qarawiyyan University; founded by a Muslim Woman by the way. Too much for your colonial fantasy?” Al Khater said, underpinning the Arab origin of the graduation gown worn internationally to mark the completion of an education phase.
Short history lesson
Al Qarawiyyan University in Fez, Morocco, is one of the oldest universities in the world and has the oldest library in Africa.
Notably, Al Qarawiyyan University was founded by a Muslim woman named Fatima El Fihriya in 859.
Export of knowledge poured out of the borders, allowing universities and libraries throughout the Muslim world to grow, with people traveling far and wide to study at educational institutions and learning centres.
In Egypt the oldest running institution is Cairo’s Al Azhar University, founded in the 10th century.
Students from Europe who studied at these institutions received their degrees and then returned to their home countries donning Arab robes, ‘thawb’ or ‘qamees’, which served as a sign that they had completed their studies at a Muslim university, according to research.
This imitation of donning the baggy, wide-designed attire worn by Arabs and Muslims has continued today and expanded worldwide.
“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,” Jack Goody penned his book titled “Islam in Europe”.
The graduation gown worn today is known as the subfusc and is highy influenced by the thawb.
The graduation cap or the mortar boards were an Islamic inspiration whereby local scholars would place the Quran atop the flat hats, the ‘mortar’, to represent the primacy of holy scripture over the intellect.
The tassel on the back of the “mortar board” served as a bookmark for the Quran’s pages. Students carry their mortar boards while dressed in subfusc, emulating the tradition of Muslim students carrying their Qurans.
The right to wear it on your head only comes after graduation, historically signifying the knowledge acquisition of the holy book.
Sensationalisation of the ‘bisht’
The word ‘bisht’ topped the list of the most searched topic worldwide on Google last week after Argentine star player Lionel Messi elevated the winning World Cup Qatar 2022 trophy while draped in the traditional Qatari garment before the global stage.
Bisht also became the most searched in a number of countries, namely Qatar, Ghana, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, and Argentina, a report by Eekad revealed.
The bisht is a traditional men’s cloak, part of the region’s ancient heritage, and is worn in special ceremonies.
This coverage took centre stage when Messi finally lifted the trophy, an iconic moment in which millions of eyes across the globe had been eagerly anticipating.
However, western pundits and journalists did not shy away from exhibiting brazen xenophobic criticism when reporting on the moment.
Western pundits and journalists did not shy away from exhibiting brazen xenophobic criticism.
BBC pundit Pablo Zabaleta asked “Just why? There’s no reason to do that,” while BBC host Gary Lineker said it was “a shame they’ve covered his shirt” during what was “a magic moment”.
Meanwhile, ESPN journalist Mark Ogden described its as a barber’s “cape” while HITC Sport’s Dylan Walsh compared the traditional clothing to a “Victoria Secret robe”. Both of those tweets have now been deleted and the journalists issued watered down criticism of the moment.
The Telegraph referred to it as “the bizarre act that ruined the greatest moment in World Cup history,” while an Australian media site charged Qatar with “hijacking” Messi’s moment—a word used particularly disparagingly of Arabs, penned Khaled Beydoun, a law professor at Wayne State University and the Berkman Center at Harvard, in Doha News.
“It should come to no surprise that the vast majority of this tirade came from Britain, the faded empire that replaced the spilling of colonised blood with the modern spilling of postcolonial ink,” Beydoun said.
While Al Khater fell short of pointing fingers, the Euro-centric supremacy mentioned in her tweet appears to take aim at some of the Islamophobic and racist narratives that have plagued the online world during the tournament in Qatar.
Western media criticism of the World Cup hosted in Qatar has been seen as an ‘old Orientalism refashioned for modern audience’.
Throughout the tournament, western media outlets have been scrutinised heavily for racist tropes, including comparing Morocco’s players to ISIS members and monkeys.