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Seeking History, Finding Faith

Left: Omar Northern stands in a work room with his finished turban; right: the turban on display in the Museum exhibition

“The design style was so inspiring, and I remember it just kind of hit me while I was looking at how to make a turban, and I remember I actually had tears.” — Omar Northern

This Black History Month we recognize Omar Northern, a Chicago native and Sufi, who is featured in our exhibition American Medina: Stories of Muslim Chicago. Northern makes turbans for the men of Masjid (Mosque) Al-Hafeez, of which he is a member. As a young man, Northern “really wanted to know more about the history of people of African descent.” This drive led him to meet Shaykh Abdur Rashied, who leads Masjid Al-Hafeez on Chicago’s South Side. Shaykh Rashied and mosque members have gotten deeply involved in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood where their mosque is located. Members sometimes run summer camps. Others work with area families to build generational wealth through financial investment.

Through training and intense study, Northern developed this turban design for Masjid Al-Hafeez members. The cone (taj) is cotton velveteen while the wrap consists of a fabric from India called voile that is several feet long and ends in a tail (tasween). The Arabic reads “In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” using a calligraphy style once popular in the Ottoman Empire. Men of African descent in this Naqshbandi Sufi order typically wear red turbans like this one. Red represents the blood shed for righteousness and love for Allah (God). During ritual prayer (thikr), Sufis seek personal connections with the divine while a sufi’s turban protects the spiritual center located in his head.

In our oral history interview with Omar Northern, he talks about how Shaykh Rashied has impacted his and his brother’s lives.

Turban, United States and India, 2019. Courtesy of Omar Northern.

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago's Stories
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