Common Myths About the Abaya and Veil
While visiting friends in Dubai, Arun and I participated in a cultural meal at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding. Our hostess was an Emirati college student. The Emiratis of Dubai are from Bedouin tribes, so she shared a unique perspective and had an obvious love for her city and Emirate.
As a Muslim, she wore an abaya and head scarf. She answered many questions about life and traditions in Dubai. Because this is a blog about headwear, I will share my remembrance of her perspective on wearing the veil.
Three Myths of Why Women Wear The Veil
The first misconception I had is that women have to 'cover up' all the time. In practice, women only wear a veil and abaya for a couple of hours a day on non-work days (work days are longer, of course) - just when they are out in public running errands or at the mall. The malls are huge and fashion is big business in Dubai! But fashion is for personal and family/friends enjoyment, not showing off to strangers. They take their outer garments off like we take our coats off when we get home. After all, our families love us - they are not thinking "is she rich?" "is she poor?" like a stranger on the street.
For our hostess, wearing a veil is not about hiding from men, it is about equality. She had a good point about how much time and money women spend on their hair. It is a source of frustration for many. The phrase 'bad hair day' can be used as an idiom for a bad day in general! She wears a veil when she is in public so that strangers cannot judge her and I saw it as an act of solidarity with all other women. This is a wonderful teaching from Islam. Women stand shoulder to shoulder at the mosque and a homeless woman can stand right next to a queen, because in God's eyes they are both equal. I felt grateful that she shared her perspective with me. As an American, I love our belief in equality.
Some women wear a veil over their face as well, or the traditional burqa face covering. It looks unusual from an American perspective, and camera flashes abounded when she demonstrated how it is worn. I also attended the Jumeirah mosque tour. On the tour, a different volunteer hostess showed how she sometimes covered her whole face with a veil when she was walking outside. She busted another myth about the veil - women can see perfectly well when wearing a veil, even over their entire face. This was a potent misconception for me. As a feminist, I worried that veiling women limited their interaction with the world. The truth is - wearing a veil limits strangers' ability to judge you.
I flipped the corner of my headscarf over my face and walked down the street with my husband in Dubai. I saw perfectly well but no stranger knew who I was. This 'invisibility' felt a lot like a superpower. I felt like a celebrity in sunglasses and a hat - able to walk around without the pressure of 'looking good' to strangers.
"Fashion is for personal expression, not showing off to strangers"
"Wearing a Veil promotes equality"
"Wearing a Veil limits strangers' ability to judge you"
I have spent the past week thinking a lot about these three new truths. How much of my style is pleasing myself and how much is preening for attention from strangers? How much of my money goes to buying branded items that show strangers that I am wealthy? How much earlier would we get to work if we got to wear a veil every day instead of blow drying and curling our hair?
Top Myth about the Abaya - Are They Hot?
Here is a photo of me in an abaya and veil. As you can see, I am not Muslim and not used to wearing either garment.
My face is not shown off to its best effect and I have a part of my shirt peeking out because my veil is not attractively arranged.
The abaya is loose fitting and kept me cooler than wearing American clothes. The hot sun did not touch my skin, so I felt cooler, and the wind circulated through the garment. Amazingly, the black fabric did not get hot. I learned that the key to keeping cool in a hot climate is wearing loose fitting clothes.
Has an experience in a foreign culture changed your opinion about your Personal Style?
Sharing with Visible Monday.
Know a lady who loves to wear hats?
Please share this blog with her - it will make her day!
Want to feel inspired to wear hats?