I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard someone say that “she went mufti.“ It’s not a mystery word. I’ve always known that it meant that someone was “dressed down.” But I’ve never taken the time to do any research to discover where the word comes from and what it really means in the most literary sense. So, today is the day.
The word mufti is an Arabic word which means “to deliver a judgment.” In the days of the Ottoman Empire the person who delivered judgments was a civilian employee. Therefore, that person was not a government official…as in a person who might wear a uniform or other recognizable attire to identify them as “official.”
So that’s where the word mufti comes into play. The style of dress of the beaurocrat was not flashy or uniform-based. It was ordinary, as in civilian clothing.
The term carried over to Western military jargon, indicating that when an officer went to something casually dressed and wasn’t wearing his uniform, he was in mufti. From there the word spread into other categories of dress, including an indication that a party wasn’t going to be formal attire, and someone could come in mufti.
The word came up in a conversation with friends yesterday when we were talking about Pope Francis, the newly-installed head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is a member of the Jesuit monastic order which espouses poverty and simplicity in life. Pope Francis has caused quite a stir around the Vatican, indicating that he isn’t at all interested in wallowing in the grandeur usually available to the Pope. He prefers to dress simply; he doesn’t like the Mercedes-Benz Popemobile which usually transports the Pope. He doesn’t like the princely behavior that exalts him, and prefers to mix among the people, to the consternation of his secret service people. And this week he announced that he wasn’t comfortable in the elegant “apartment” created for the Pope. Instead, he has chosen to live in what amounts to a studio apartment in the building, which he says is just fine for him.
My friend, Riekie, said something about the Pope appearing in Mufti, meaning that he wasn’t going to be seen in velvets, ermine capes, and diamond-encrusted crosses. His simple white cassock is, in itself, a huge jump from the plain, brown robe he is used to wearing as a Jesuit. It will be interesting to see how this plays itself out over the next months and years. Will the lofty traditions of the papacy win out, or will the simple traditions of Franciscan piety survive? I’m putting my money on the Jesuit who happens to be the Pope. I don’t know how mufti he’ll get, but I suspect he won’t be a fashion plate. Good for him.
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