Confiscated Abayas

Today I went to a major mall here in Riyadh to pick up an abaya I had ordered and instead got a story. The abaya was supposed to be ready yesterday but when I got to the shop there was an off vibe to it. The abayas on the racks were plain. The creative cuts and colors that had attracted me just four days ago to make a spontaneous purchase were nowhere to be seen. And as soon as the sales clerk saw me he said um Sulaiman, I wish you had left a number so I could have saved you a trip. It turns out that Wednesday Feb 4th a huge abaya raid was undertaken all across Riyadh. They went around in groups of three; a muttawa Vice police escorted by a Riyadh Principality employee and a police officer. At the mall I went to, they first headed to the shop I mentioned above and the unlucky sales clerk had a customer at the time who was sitting on an armchair in the shop and discussing an abaya that she wanted made. The first thing the muttawa did was express shock and disgust that  the shop allowed women to sit. Then he looked at the abaya order that the clerk was filling out and told the lady off for ordering a 750 riyal abaya. And then he demanded that the clerk show him a 750 riyal abaya. The clerk pointed at an abaya with cuffs decorated with crystals and the muttawa grabbed it off the rack and stuffed it into one of his big trash bags. Then he went through all the racks and grabbed anything that looked “worldy” and decorative and stuffed them all in his bags. Before leaving, the muttawa also took the sale clerk’s residency card and ordered him to remove the chairs and a little mirror nook that was there for women to try on the abayas. (They take the residency card so that the Saudi sponsor would have to come to them and they could give him a little talking to as well.) Meanwhile word got around and the other abaya shops in the mall hurriedly locked up and their clerks ran off before the raid got to them. The raid group went all around the mall getting the shop numbers of all the abaya shops even though they were closed. So that they could come back tomorrow and they did. Not only that, but similar raid groups went all over Riyadh, not only raiding shops but also factories and warehouses. Abaya shopkeepers called and warned each other and because they knew the shops and factories were unsafe they took the abayas home. The last raid was Friday evening and it has been quiet since then.  

The sales clerk that I had the little conversation with has been selling abayas in Saudi Arabia for the past 13 years and he told me that a few years ago the vice police went as far as to jail him for four days just because he was doing his job. He told me that his shop’s abaya factory lost something between 50 to 60 thousand riyals from the raids this weekend!  He also said that it had been a few years since the last time that the vice police would actually confiscate decorated abayas. The past few years all they did was give something like warning tickets to all the shops that were selling decorative abayas. The other two accompanying the muttawa, the police officer and the principality employee, mostly just stood by while the Vice cop did his job. They were there only to show that the raid was official and not just a thing a muttawa did on a whim.   

Update Feb 12th

The raids did not stop and now the story is confirmed. If you go to any mall in Riyadh for an abaya, you won’t be able to find anything displayed except the extreme plain tent style. Some shops were even closed because the mutawas found that all their abayas are decorative. One shop specialized in fancy abayas lost an estimate  of 900,000 riyals. Local newspapers to my knowledge have not picked this up. I wish they would.

40 Comments

Filed under Culture, Informative, Popular

40 responses to “Confiscated Abayas

  1. B.

    even though I disagree with the muttawa, why would someone wear decorated abayas in the first place, from my understanding wearing an abaya is for modesty.

  2. Saudiman

    Have you confirmed this story from other sources? Such a thing is outrageous, but one needs to be extra careful before accepting it as a fact.

  3. This story rings true. There is no end to the muttaween’s saber rattling and attacks on what few ways women can use to brighten their appearance in the Kingdom.

    B. has a good point. Wearing an abaya is supposedly for modesty, but for many women in Saudi Arabia, it is a cultural requirement unconnected with modesty.

    A woman can dress perfectly modestly, and Islamically appropriately, without having to throw a plain, dull abaya over it all.

  4. It is too ridiculous! And what made me even more angry is that women are not allowed to sit down in a shop discussing their order???? Are women not human?

    And what about all those modestly dressed bedouin in their colourful dresses? Who decides that colour is not ”modest”???
    Aïscha herself is reported to have loved colourful dresses!

    I wanted to write about cows today, but I’m going to post on abaya’s, with patterns for making your own abaya! See if they will raid houses to control your sewingmachine.
    May I quote your report on visiting the abaya shop on my blog? and link to your blog?

  5. BCIS

    This is too ridiculous to really even comment on, and Saudiman…comments like this type of outrageous behavior isn’t capable in the KSA when we in fact know by Saudi news accounts that this and worse (i.e. the girls who were not allowed to escape a burning building because they weren’t properly covered) isn’t capable at the hands of the Muttawa.

    A woman not sitting in a store!! What in the hell does that have to do with Islam? Please someone tell me…does the Quran state a woman can not sit down while shopping. What a freaking joke!!! And, so what if she’s spending 750 riyals on an Abaya. SO WHAT!! What business is that of a so-called man who makes his living harassing women. Sounds like the words of a misogynistic, jealous, hypocrite.

  6. What strikes me is that this man has no recourses at all to protect him from the whims of the muttawa who have way to much time on their hands. They can detain him, steal his items from the store, harass his customers, shut him down and for what? Do nothing against the law. But yet he has no protection.

    That the muttawa are peeved over abayas is one thing. Let them get all steamed up.. but that they can run around like cowboys and people have no resources is beyond me.

    Makes me want to go out and get a brighter abaya with even more decorations!!

  7. saudiwoman

    Aafke you are more than welcome to link to my blog.

    And about confirming the story… no I did not bother but the sales clerk seemed very upset and sincere. I believe him.

  8. Saudiman

    Again, if this story is true, it’s outrageous. Similar and even more outrageous acts have happened in the past. Still, I see it necessary to check from another source before passing a judgment. BTW, earlier tonight, I was with my wife in Hayat Mall, Riyadh and I saw all kinds of abayas with all sorts of colors and decorations. I randomly asked about one of them and the clerk said it sells for SR 1200.

  9. Umm Latifa

    salam alaykum, Although I am not a “fan” of fancy and decorated abayas, the story above is true. Y’day I went to the Al-Owais souq in Riyadh, to buy myself an abaya. The seller told my husband a similar story, about religious police confiscating colorful, decorated abayas. The seller though said, first they gave him a warning notice. In most shops in the souq there were chair for women to sit and rest.
    Regarding shops in big malls, maybe they did not reach them yet. The local souqs are the easiest target.

  10. Umm Latifa

    Ops, I just noticed Saudi Women was at the mall. So maybe the malls also… :-)

  11. B.

    @Marahm

    I didn’t say women shouldn’t wear abayas, quite the opposite actually, I was pointing out that decorative not to mention expensive abayas, totally misses the point. modesty shouldn’t be reduced to fashion.

  12. Pingback: Crackdown on colourful abaya’s « Clouddragon

  13. Fashion should be modest.
    Abaya’s are totally modest in their nature, even if they were firy red.
    Abaya’s are a foreign fashion, originating in Persia.
    All human beings have a natural desire to have something personal in their appearance, from the earliest Homo Sapiens onwards. I don’t see why of all humans on the planet the women in Saudi Arabia should be denied this natural urge.
    Bedouins have always worn modest colourful dresses.

  14. I just can’t believe the extremes that these idiots go to! Whose business is it anyway if a woman wants to pay 750 riyals for an abaya? For that kind of money, she should be able to wear an abaya dripping in whatever the hell she wants! This stupidity is completely maddening!!!

  15. B- modesty doesn’t have to be drab or cheap either.

  16. Hi SaudiWoman – I just wanted to give you a heads up – I linked this abaya post of yours to a recent post of mine:
    http://susiesbigadventure.blogspot.com/2009/02/hair-do-or-hair-dont.html

  17. Umm Latifa

    Susie, despite of a situation, I do believe that using a term “idiots” is not appropriate.

  18. I agree, ”idiots” is too weak, too feeble, too insipid.
    Besides being quite insulting to real idiots.
    And it doesn’t express the perversion, their utter depravity, their unhealthy voyeurism and obsession with women.

  19. Aafke: U R So Funny!! And spot on…thanks for the laugh!

  20. Pingback: Victoria's Corner · Weekend Web Roundup No. 1

  21. Umm Latifa

    TO Aafke:
    I do believe you can be critical about something, without being offensive.

    Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said that the Jews came to the Prophet and said, “As-Samu ‘Alaykum” (death be on you). Aisha said (to them), “(Death) be on you, and may Allah curse you and shower His wrath upon you!” The Prophet said, “Be calm, O Aisha ! You should be kind and lenient, and beware of harshness and fuhsh (i.e. bad words).” She said (to the Prophet), “Haven’t you heard what they (Jews) have said?” He said, “Haven’t you heard what I have said (to them)? I said the same to them, and my invocation against them will be accepted while theirs against me will be rejected (by Allah). ” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Book #73, Hadith #57).

  22. Umm Latifa, was I offensive?
    That is my favorite hadith, I wish I could be so wise.
    I’m still hard at work trying to improve myself.
    Thank you for reminding me what I should be aspiring for.

  23. Mumtaz

    couple of things that i need to understand. one why are muttawas not worried about men dressing in KSA. i mean long robes and small beards not traditionally islamic is it? What abotu fat guts? wastn eating beyond your hunger the first bidah? that way most guys should be lashed to walk 2 km every day to avoid obescity. selective islam is always a problem. what about the racial supremacy? why the muslim from non arabic back ground are treated like dirt?
    seems to me like islam is only in place for women and not for men.

  24. Aafke

    Your very diplomatic…I wish I can be as diplomatic as you.

    anthrogeek10

  25. My dear Saudiwoman,

    Here I am: a portuguese living in Portugal, on this rainy afternoon, uncapable of leaving your blog. By now I’m not quiet sure how exactly did I come to it. All I know is that I spend a delightful sunday reading you. I kept on reading and reading, forward and backwords. And as the time was passing by, I felt like, in a way, I was talking with a woman friend, sit at the same sofa, here at my home. I just had to tell you how much I thank you for blogging. Sharing your experiences, your thoughts and points of view over all that is around made me feel a litlle bit closer to your country, culture and reality.
    I will sure come to visit your blog again and again from now on. Really appreciate the attention you pay to women in general and saudi women in particular. I consider it a rather important tribute for mutual understanding and enpowerment of us all.
    Please keep writing and congratulations for the sensitive attention you pay to life and human kind. In a word: for being such a good observer.

    Love from Portugal, my friend :)

    Margarida C.

    p.s – please pardon me for my bad english. Hope you can at least understand what I meant to tell.

  26. um meccy

    The mutwwa have nothing better to do but to find fault with the women. I dont see them raiding the malls and getting the young men to do somthing with their hair. Or even the way some of them dress. Or better yet some of the music that is played in their cars while they are circling the malls.

  27. Umm AbdulAziz

    Assalamualaikum,

    This is totally not related to your post atleast the part of the muttawwa stealing the abayas. I do have to say though that i am a bit envious of you. I used to live in riyadh… never took advantage of it. When i immigrated to america finding a decent abaya and niqab became the hardest thing on the planet. Certain specialty stores carry abayas but rarely are they from saudi and rarely are they black. Sadly i always loved the black abaya, and so i envy you this advantage you have. But maybe we can both benefit from my envy. while i do not know you and this is out of the blue… maybe you can ship me certain abayas and i’ll pay you? both for the abaya and shipping and a little profit for yourself?
    Let me know if you are interested. And no this is not a scheme… we’ll work out the logistics.

  28. Naftali

    I lived in the Middle East for 8 years (Israel) and heard about what goes on in Saudi Arabia, but when I read yours and others blogs from there about what goes on, especially with the religious police, I’m amazed. Aside from all the crap you have to put up with, what kind of religion or faith is it if you are forced to do it? Its like the Taliban. When will young Saudis who I know for the most part want to lead normal lives rebel against this nonsense?

  29. lulu

    The more women cover the more women are forced to cover. If you allow your face to be covered then your hands will be next, then your feet, your voice, your identity, and so on. The problem is the mind, who judges. If you treat flesh as something to be desired then every time a man see’s flesh he will be even more driven to desire.

    If only as much thought and effort that is put into clothes was put on a clean mind, learning, science, logic, and advancement then clothes would not be so much of a problem. If the mind is clean, and does not judge then nothing can change it or disrupt it. An unfocused mind has no control and therefore it blames others, instead of it self. How foolish.

    I personally never felt so bothered and judged by my body than I have in my travels to the gulf, even while covered. In all honesty, as much as I view sexual obsessions in the west to be to an extreme, I still feel that the East thinks more about sexuality and puts more thought into sexuality than any where in else. Their is so much thought put into the human body, that it seems that health and well being, or sports are all put aside.

    In Europe or in the U.S. I can walk any where and into any shop without feeling eyes on my body or feeling judged. Even my friends who came to the U.S. for the first time were amazed how little attention they got, and how little anyone cared for their bodies even during walks at night. The more men are inhibited the more they become obsessed. It’s human nature. Forbid a child from stepping outside and the child will be more tempted by the outside world.

    Western media focuses allot on the body, yes. But at least women in streets don’t get followed, or yelled at by phone numbers, or even get chased because their legs are showing. A beautiful woman can walk in the street and the most anyone will do IF AT ALL is turn heads, then they go on with their business.

    My point is this, if the body is the problem then anything that covers the body becomes a problem. Rights are taken away one by one, not all at once. It’s a tactic that is growing and has been used in the past in every religion.

  30. crazy M

    It is just down right dispicable what happens to people who have done nothing wrong. Just another example i know for a fact that some vice police in alhassa actually went walking in the markets and used red spraypaint on the merchendise they didnt approve of. How do we expect to change if we are still unable to shop for what we want?!?! *damn……..

  31. muslimah

    AstarfirAllah I hope the ‘idiots’ here are not our BROTHERS of the muttawa, do you know that your tongue can take you to hellfire? obviously not, the muttawa do a great job may ALLAH protect them and grant them long life and keep them there for many years to come. They are right hijab is not a decorated abaya ya’ni a dress, and if they were’nt there saudi would decend into chaos due to the low morals people who think been ‘free’ is to follow the kuffar.

  32. Mehwish

    I think there should be a degree of what women should and can wear,if u let them loose they just keep on innovating their styles and dresses so much so that they rather look like fancy cannes films festival gowns!!
    I am a woman i love all these glittery abayas and i wish i could wear them all, i do want other women to admire my abaya,its just that men will turn heads too!!!
    Look in to your heart ,yourknow your self, wear that much which makes you look good,but doesnt say, ‘hey look at me’
    Sis Mehwish
    Southampton

  33. Daisy

    Muslimah, has the whole world drowned into low morals and only Saudi-A is placed on a high moralistic pedestal? I wonder when the people of Saudi-A will just come out and say enough is enough!

  34. Hafsa

    i used to live in Hail, which is like a 5 hr drive away from Medina and there were many decorative abayas there. And i never even once saw a mutawwa there either. i was 14 and i went around without a niqab and no one bothered me and almost all abaya shops had decoratrive abayas.

  35. Maria

    I agree the point of an abaya is modesty so full on bling bling abayas should be kept for the home I live in Sydney Australia n would love to have such abayas available here but I would never wear them on the street rather I’d love to wear them at home and enjoy them. There is a place for glamour and expressive fashion and this is the home with those who will love and appreciate you not for someone on the street staring at you like you are a circus attraction screaming “look at me”

  36. Adam

    I guess this is a Riyadh thing. In Jeddah there are plenty of decorated abayas.

    Did the mutawa go around to the jewellery shops and confiscate all the 20000 riyal watches that the men adorn themselves with? Thought not.

  37. Dana

    I am shocked that this actually happened since I had been living in Riyadh for seven years from the age of three to nine. Those muttawas have no right or say in how people should dress, the dress code implicated by the law and the police is more than enough, but to have men obsessing over what a woman should wear is ridiculous and perverted!
    I think muttawa’s are just pompous brutes who think they are above the law.

  38. Alexandra

    “The raid was official and not just a thing a muttawa did on a whim.”
    I hope to see the mullahs where they belong – in the mosques. When mullahs intervene in politics, when religion is mixed with politics, disaster follows.

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