The dean of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Architecture issued a public apology on Monday (Aug. 24) for wearing an Arabic robe and head covering, known as a thawb and a keffiyeh, to a back-to-school event.

According to The Oklahoma Daily, the school newspaper, three or four people contacted the school to complain about the attire. The paper described the thawb and keffiyeh as clothing associated with Islam.

In fact, according to Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the clothing is not Muslim attire.

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“If it were prescribed in the Quran or hadiths, you would see it everywhere that Muslims live,” Soltani said. “It is traditional clothing in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, and it is worn by non-Muslims in those areas, too.”

In his statement, Dean Charles Graham said he checked with several Muslim friends to see if it would be offensive to Muslims if he wore the clothing. All assured him it would not. Graham’s Muslim friends thought it was a “nice gesture of diversity and acceptance of other cultures.”

“We applaud the dean for his courage in striving for diversity and respect across cultural lines,” Soltani said, “and we also applaud his humility in apologizing, even as we believe he owes no one an apology.”

According to Graham’s statement, more than 30 architecture students participated in a study-abroad program in Dubai. Graham said he bought the clothing when he was last in Dubai, and decided to wear it as a gesture of multicultural respect and to help educate people about cultural differences.

“We have all learned about the multicultural and diverse nature of the people of Dubai, and their friendliness toward Americans,” Graham said in his statement.

Graham had initially agreed to talk to a reporter, but later declined the interview.

Soltani said he does not believe the complaints offended Muslims.

“There is nothing offensive here,” he said. “The callers were more likely offended because of biases against Islam, and they thought the clothing was traditional Muslim attire.”

Original Print Headline: Oklahoma architecture dean apologizes for wearing thawb and keffiyeh