One of the Islamophobic phenomena of the War on Terror is calling thobes a “man dress.” This misnomer was really one in a long list of insults against Muslims to otherize our religion and culture and make Muslims seem as weird and “backwards” as possible. So let’s break it down from every angle.
What is a “Dress” in English?
Oxford defines a dress as: “A one-piece garment for a woman or girl that covers the body and extends down over the legs.” This is the definition in use here to make Muslim men seem like they’re dressing like women, thus the term “man dress.” Because those weirdo Muslims are so backwards, their men even dress like women!
The other definition is “Clothing of a specified kind for men or women.” For example, “traditional African dress.” This is not the definition in use here which is a general term for attire, not a specific term for a particular article of clothing.
You may find the term “dress” in Arabic-English dictionaries. Again, this is using the general term for attire, clothing, a garment, garb, apparel. Hans Wehr gives more context with compound words like thawb as-sahrah for evening gown.
So we can easily conclude that the Arabic-English translation of “dress” is a misnomer. A better translation is tunic or robe.
There’s Nothing Strange About the Thobe Anyways
What’s odd is the fact Westerners find the thobe odd, despite its prevalence in Western culture and religion. Friars, priests, various pre-modern Europeans, ancient Greeks (toga), and biblical folk wore similar clothing. Even prophet Jesus ﷺ wore a tunic according to John. There’s even a “Jesus Tunic Adult Costume” and “Mens Tunic Biblical Times” that you can buy.
So why is it when Westerners seen an alb or cassock they see a “religious figure,” but when they see a thobe they see a “man dress?” Westerners have no consistency to their random, vacillating opinions and arrogant criticisms. Or perhaps it’s just a dearth of language skills.