بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Read this post with an open heart and an open mind, in sha Allah (God willing).
عباية ، حجاب ، نِقاب
Abaya, Hijab & Niqab
I wanted to take time to write a post about the clothing that you will see on a daily basis here in Saudi Arabia. I know that it can be a little bit shocking or even unnerving for some people when they haven’t seen it before, but I would like to show you some of the styles and explain why these styles are worn.
These days I see a lot of double standards and I just want people to be aware of them and to perhaps change the views of those around them to create a more peaceful and understanding world.
Here in Saudi Arabia there is actually a dress code that you should follow while in public. Women are required to cover their bodies with an عباية abaya (which means “cloak” in English). A typical abaya here is made from a lightweight black fabric. There are a lot of different cuts and designs. Some abaya are closed and some have snaps down the front. Some are extremely plain, some have small details around the cuffs and others use different textured materials, colored beads and more.
This is about as simple an abaya as they come. It has no designs or details, a very simple cut with plain black with snaps down the front. (I will try to make a post at another time showing you some other styles and designs)
I know you are probably wondering why women in a desert climate would wear black, but I can tell you from experience they are no where near as hot as they look, besides the fact that no one in their right mind would sit out in the hot sun of midday in this country.
Muslim women cover their hair with what is called a حجاب hijab (which means “veil” in English). The hijab is not a requirement like the abaya, but many choose to wear it here simply to avoid extra attention.
This is a really common way to wear the hijab, but it is certainly not the only way. Most women here wear black, but many westerners choose to wear colored or patterned scarves instead. The hijab will often have details that match the details on the abaya, like rhinestones or a lace trim. It is an even lighter material than the abaya.
Many women also choose to cover their face with what is called the نِقاب niqab (which also means “veil” in English). It is not a requirement and a lot of women choose not to wear it, but there are many muslim and non-muslim women who do.
On the left is probably the most common kind of niqab that you will see. It ties around the head and has a space for your eyes. It is also very lightweight and helps to keep the hijab in place without using pins.
On the right is a niqab with more than one layer that can be used to cover the entire face. The material is see through so her vision isn’t impeded. There are some women who choose to do this, but I would say that it is not as common.
For example, when I went to the wedding, most of the girls covered their entire faces when they were walking into the wedding hall because they were wearing makeup and men were around outside. Often the girls will just use their hijab folded over instead of wearing the niqab in this case, but it is the same idea.
At this point you are probably wondering why the women wear that abaya, hijab and niqab. Women are supposed to cover everything except their face and hands in front of most men (I will explain this below). The clothing should be loose enough to not show her shape and thick enough to not show her skin (which is why women wear black and not white).
The Quran explains to us that as muslim women, we are meant to be modest in our appearance and not show our bodies to men that we are permitted to marry. Just to explain a bit further, a muslim woman’s محرم mahram includes: their husbands, their fathers, their grandfathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers, their nephews, their uncles and their step-fathers/grandfathers. This means that she should cover her body and her hair in front of any men other than those who are her mahram.
Covering by the abaya, hijab and even niqab are seen as a form of obedience and worship towards God. They are also seen as a form of modesty and faith. This takes dedication and patience. In my opinion it also provides a strong self-worth as our bodies are seen as something that should be guarded and kept. At the same time it requires others to deal with us without having a perception of our physical appearance or “beauty” and simply our minds.
I also want to mention that while we spend so much time covering our bodies, there is also a strong sense of modest behavior in Islam.
The one thing that I ask of you is to be open about this topic and to not make assumptions. For most muslim women the abaya, hijab and niqab are liberating and not oppressive.
Please, if you have any questions just ask :).
I’m also happy to bring more resources if you would like to learn more about modesty in Islam.