A bisht (Arabic: بِشْت; plural: بِشُوت bishūt and بْشُوت bshūt), known in some Arabic spoken dialects as mishlaḥ (Arabic: مِشْلَح) or ʿabāʾ (Arabic: عَبَاء), is a traditional men’s cloak popular in the Arab world worn in general for thousands of years.
According to ancient Christian and Hebrew paintings, it was worn in the days of Jesus, by the people of the Levant, especially the inhabitants of the Holy Land. The Biblical equivalent of the bisht cloak is the me'īl.
The bisht is a flowing outer cloak worn over a thawb.
A symbol of Arab identity
A bisht is usually worn for prestige on special occasions such as weddings, or festivals such as Eid, or for Ṣalāt al-Jumuʿah or Salat al-Janazah. It is usually worn by secular officials or clergy, including tribal chiefs, kings, and imams, over a thawb, kanzu or tunic. It is a status garment, associated with royalty, religious position, wealth, and ceremonial occasions, like the black-tie tuxedo in the West.
The triliteral root of bisht is widely used in Semitic languages, including Arabic, and a theory is that the word bisht is derived from Akkadian bishtu, meaning ‘nobility’ or ‘dignity’. The alternate name of ʿabāʾ (Arabic: عَبَاء) is from the Arabic triliteral root ʿAyn-Bāʾ-Wāw, which relates to 'filling out'.
The earliest historical record in which the bisht or the Arab robe is mentioned may be the one that came in the book of histories of the Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the fifth century B.C., in describing the clothing of Arab soldiers:
“Arab soldiers wear a long robe, which they tie to a belt, and their long bows are on their right arms, and are placed upside down."
According to researchers, the linguistic origin of the word bisht goes back to Akkadian, the language of the people of Iraq in the land of Babylon, which is a Semitic dialect of the native Semitic dialects of the Arabic language. It is in the sense of prestige, as well as majesty and the historical and natural context confirm this meaning, as princes, rulers, nobles and adults used to wear it throughout history and ages, until it was considered a symbol of prestige and elevation in society.
Some misconceptions have been received by some, including linking the apparent similarity of the word “al-bisht (Arabic: البِشْت)” (broken al-bāʾ الباء) and the Persian word “pusht پُشت” (conjunction al-bāʾ الباء) to Persian (from the Persian: pusht پُشت), which means "behind, back, spine", because it is worn from the back, but it is a wrong interpretation, in addition to that it has not been proven in history that the Persians wore the bisht or have woven it.
It is usually black, brown, beige, cream or grey in colour.
Types of Bisht
Men's gowns are classified according to the style or dress they wear into two types:
1) The Al-Bisht al-Jāssibī (البشت الجاسبي), which is the doctrine and denomination, is attributed to Sheikh Khazʿal bin Jaber, the Emir of Mohammerah (المحمّرة, modern-day city and capital Khorramshahr, Khuzestan Province, Iran - which the city is still also called "Mohammerah"), and he was the first to make these gilded, meshy cloaks for him.
2) The second cloak is al-Tahrir (التحرير aṭ-Ṭaḥrīr), in relation to silk and its threads that are the same color as the robe. This type is common in Iraq, especially in the south, in the Emirate of Mohammerah, and in some parts of the Arabian Peninsula as well.
Bisht is made from camel's hair and goat wool, where this material is spun, and then fabric is made from it, which is ready to be used in weaving the bisht.
The fabric has a soft yarned for the summer and the coarsed-haired for winter.
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