I’m pretty sure that to outsiders all covered women look the same. But actually how a woman wears an abaya tells a lot about her. Of course this is a cultural issue and as such can be given to many interpretations. Another point before you read on, is that in order to explain culture, I have to generalize but this does not apply to individuals. To make this even clearer, some in the western world would say that mini-skirts are slutty but hopefully you would not assume that every woman you meet with one on is a slut.
After most descriptions, there is a link to a photo that illustrates what I’m trying to explain. This by no means means that I’m passing judgement on the women in the photos or their intentions. It just happens that their photo explains my description.
 If a Saudi woman wears it tent-style over her head with her face uncovered it means that she is Shiaa.

If she wears it tent-style over her head with only her eyes uncovered in  a niqab, it means that she belongs to a conservative Sunni family and most probably she is wearing it this way because of family or work pressuring her to or to raise her chances of being proposed to. Link
Women who wear it on the shoulders with a niqab but have the headscarf on top of the niqab in what reminds me of how nuns wear their headdress, usually come from middle-class families and are both patriotic and religious. Link
Undecorated abayas worn on the shoulder with a niqab mean that the wearer is forced by her spouse to cover and she doesn’t care about outsiders opinions. Link

 An undecorated abaya with the head scarf wrapped or held to cover the nose and mouth mean that the wearer comes from an upper middle-class westernized family and has been asked by her father, brother or spouse to cover for fear of being gossiped about. In the latter case, the more the abaya is decorated, the more likely the wearer is pretending to come from an upper middle-class family. In this case, she’ll get into a lot of trouble if caught by a relative.
Last but not least, a style that has given many children nightmares; tent-like over the head with a thick cover on the face area and one hole for one iris to peek out of. The hands and feet are covered with black gloves and socks. In this case, the wearer is either an ultra wahabi fanatic or a man under disguise, especially if he/she is begging.

If you have photos or have seen photos of any of the above, please send them or the link.


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21 responses to “Abayas

  1. Bushra

    Interesting analysis but I disagree about the classifications. In a lot of your explanations about styles you mentioned, ‘forced’. This is not always the case. Eg, I wear a scarf around my head and then tie a niqab on top, or what you described as, ‘Undecorated abayas worn on the shoulder with a niqab mean that the wearer is forced by her spouse to cover and she doesn’t care about outsiders opinions’. And I, along with tens of my friends, wear it that way because we want to. On the other hand I recently saw a woman who wore it nun-like and it looked really interesting so I started wearing it that way. As far as decorations go… it’s really upto personality and doesn’t denote fear of parents or gossip or anything… you can’t make such a huge assumption as that!

  2. Umm Latifa

    salam alaykum,
    I do disagree with the article. Eman, I do believe that you cannot write about intentions of women who wear different styles of abayas. Take me for example, I am a foreigner, married to Saudi, I love to cover, none is forcing me to do so! I wear abaya on the head, cover my face with niqab with eyes opened. sometimes, I cover my eyes, sometimes you will find me wearing gloves. I cover my feet with shoes. If you ask me if I am crazy wahhabi, I will tell you – “wa Allahi no”. And it would tens of thousands of women here, I belive. What’s more, I know a lot of foreign muslim converts who live in Saudi Arabia, and cover because of their believes not because they live here or their husbands force them to do so. I know Saudi women who cover because they want to, not because they are forced. Pls be v. careful about judging others, and writing about Saudi society, women. A lot of people read your blog, and I believe you should be objective as much as possible, not to say anything that is untrue.

  3. rehab hussain

    I lived in saudi then moved to america. I didn’t do the niqab in saudi but chose to do it after i moved here. My father disapproved me doing niqab and i was a niqabi before i got married. My brothers don’t give two cents about what i do. So i guess i would be a self proclaimed niqabi. Most all my friends are niqabi’s who’ve decided on niqab on their own. No its not a cultural thing, its a religious thing which i along with many ulema think is fardh/ compulsory. No i am not wahhabi or salafi but prescribe to the hanafi school of thought.
    I would say your categorizations are based on certain pressures you feel from family or that you are exposed to only those kinds of people who feel pressure from family.

  4. muslimah

    Your post is really funny actually,I don’t know where to put you, are you a jew?a christian maybe?well if you call yourself Muslim you are a really funny one.What’s with the ‘she is forced to wear it’, by some male of course,thing about?I live in London and I wear niqab,head abaya,shoulder abaya,khimar,gloves,socks….the lot…so WHO is forcing me in England?I dream to go to Saudi where all women are covered and not naked like here where it’s basically intolerable especially in the summer,even the brothers complain so imagine!Also I have a lot of Saudi friends who live here now and none of them removed their hijabs or said they were forced to wear it in Saudi.Your vision of things is really closed and you have to understand and accept that we Muslim women wear our hijab because we want to please our Lord, we love our hijab it’s a blessing from ALLAH we feel and look beautiful and we don’t want anybody to interfere in our business please, so if you don’t understand it fair enough that’s your problem but don’t tell us why or what we should wear.

    • Mai

      “Are you a Jew? A christian, maybe” – smooth.
      Bigotry 1 – Cultural Sensitivity 0.

    • Alexandra

      ” WHO is forcing me in England?I dream to go to Saudi where all women are covered and not naked like here where it’s basically intolerable especially in the summer,even the brothers complain so imagine!”

      You insult European women by saying about us this way. Mind, we are not sluts even if we wear mini. If you feel uncomfortable go back to your homeland. Shame on you! You sound spiteful. My daughter-in -law wears a mini-skirt. When I was a girl I wear a mini-skirt too. It’s in our culture as abayas in yours. I strongly recommend you not to be so judgemental.

  5. Y Q

    “forced by the lord” it should be.

    Its okay people, excuse her for using terms which are offending to you. I myself, think that women should cover their faces. But I also have to agree that some men go up to some weird extents enforcing their spouses/sisters/daughters to cover and similar issues for the sake of their reputation in society and use “Islam” as the reasoning behind it, to avoid arguments of course.
    These are the people the writer is probably speaking of.

    On the other hand we have women who cover in such a way that even if they’re pressured by their families, they wouldn’t take the niqab off no matter what. I have heard a few cases where some were beaten for that. Well basically I guess because they covered as asked by our religion and not what the society demands (ie. covered a little more than the basic requirements of the society).

    If we cannot understand someone because they do not think like us or are a step or 2 or a thousand ahead of us in terms of religion then that does not mean we label them as “forced into so & so”.

  6. Hind

    What about that ?

  7. Maryam Cape Town

    Wow how interesting, I am a South African woman, only 23 years old and have been a niqabi for years. I am an IT specialist, went to varsity, work in a huge corporate and yet I am a self proclaimed niqabi. No one told me, forced me or even gave me the option. I thought being in niqab is a personal choice to humble yourself and thus doing it for the pleasure of Allah. May Allah give us the hidayat to leave the dunya behind and live for aaghirah Inshallah

  8. Leana

    Abayas, chadors, burqas, hijab, jilbab or whatever sort of Islamic gear have NO place in free, democratic societies. Women who want to wear them should live in Islamic countries!

    Personally I think that men should cover themselves with veils and put blinders on so that they are not tempted by women. Naturally, this only applies to Muslim men, since non-Muslims seem to manage.

    • Alexandra

      “Personally I think that men should cover themselves with veils and put blinders on so that they are not tempted by women.”

      The unprecedented experiment of this kind seems to have been started in one the Middle Eastern countries:))

      • samarworld

        freedom of wearing whatever should be respected. I believe that covered woman or the one who wear hijab is free to wear whatever like naked ones!.

  9. Martine

    Well, I just wonder why you took this choice? Wearing a niqab i mean?
    When I asked one of my muslim friends wearing a hijab why she was covering her beautiful hair, she said it was her own choice. When I asked her why she took this choice then, she said everyone had told her she was a bad muslim and going to hell if she didn’t. When you sincerely believe in heaven and hell, I don’t think that sort of choice can be considered a free choice.

  10. samarworld

    I cannot agree with you because I feel it is not always true that Saudi women are “forced” to wear s certain style.

  11. Mujahida

    who the hell do you think you are? “tent like, fanatic wahabi”???? are you a Kafir or you call yourself a Muslim???I am looking for some abaya styles designs and I end up here on this useless blogg full of haters. To the Disbeiliving women here YOU get out of our countrys, I mean I live in UAE and it’s HELL here, they are all naked walking around like cheap meat and we are FED UP, khaleeji women are fed up, Muslim expats are fed up!! it’s utterly gross and discusting they are displaying their Haram meat everywhere and we don’t feel like we are in a Muslim country anymore! they come here because of jobs, to take our money and bring their unhealthy morals with them, just remember those nasty britons who were making up on the beach not long ago!!! and when a policeman tried to stop them the drunk cheap tart start screaming at him??? I mean what is this, OH Muslims wake up! they are taking over your countries insulting you and you are all sleeping, you think you can ‘debate’ with them go and read your Kitab and see what ALLAh tells you about them!

    • bigstick1


      You are part of the problem as you have just equated a human to a piece of meat. Clothing obvious doesn’t make a quality person as evident by your statement. There are many who find the tent like items equally appalling and a symbol of hate to women soaked in the blood of women and female children.

      However, I doubt you would understand that as you are worried about judging other women and keeping them caged in a societal system that equally exploits them. After all, you are nothing more than covered meat now go hide your external sex organ self.

      Oh wait that is right you are female so you are deficient in intelligence and religion. You must have not read that you are almost in entirety an awrah (an external sex organ).

      You have a good day now in you limited capacity as covered meat.

      • Faith

        Educate yourself on what Awrah means. It has nothing to do with sex, and Hijab has nothing to do with men–unlike popular opinion. Why do we wear hijab? Simple, because Allah commanded us to. Allah didn’t say “Cover yourself so that men can have it easy” He says so that we won’t be harassed in the street. Also, Being deficient in intellect= Women are more emotional beings and men are more Logical. It doesn’t mean “Stupid” Like Most non-muslim westerners LIKE to interpret. And if you can argue with that… you’re obviously hopeless. Deficient in Religion= Women have PERIODS, you know that blood that leaks from out vaginas monthly? Well that blood is impure, Meaning we can not make our regular salaat, only du’a and other acts of worship. Men have no excuse to miss prayer, but we do. This deficiency is also a Mercy, we get breaks.

        Please stop watching television, and reading books written by Non-Muslims and people who proclaim islam, but push to change it. You want to learn about islam? Open the Qur’an, get a book of Tafsir (The explanation) and READ. I don’t expect that you will like everything you read– and quite frankly I dont care, Islam is NOT a religion based on desires. Qur’an is not for anyone to interpret the way they see fit, as with the bible and torah, it just doesn’t work that way. So have several seats, with the books i recommended, turn off fox news and educate yourself before you start trolling online.


      • bigstick1

        The Quran is a book of fairytales just like the bible. The caliphate of the time Abd al-Malik initiated this and it took a life of it’s own by individuals with equal political motivations. The fact is you hadith tell a different story and I am most aware of what is in both the quran, sira, fiqh, and sunna.

        Just because I differ in my assessment of your religion does not make me a troll just someone who you disagree with.

  12. babakarmamadou

    Well said mujahida!!! at least someone is standing up against the invasion of those naked parasites!!! like they say to us “Go back to your countries”!!

  13. yara

    I live in London. I grow up here, go to girl only school, but mix of girls, not all Muslim. I got lots of family pressure to cover, Father mainly. In the end was easier to cover to make home OK. Now i am very restricted. So yes some forced. If i am alkoeed out of house, niqab, abaya, gloves, plain black. Accompanied by Father , Brother. NOT much fun

  14. Just me

    Hey Yara I’m sorry for your difficult circumstances. I live in London and often wonder at the girls who wear the abaya. A decade ago they were a rare sight on London’s streets, now they are quite common, and it makes me immensely sad that in Islam spirituality is so equated with the control of female sexuality.
    To me the abaya represents the evidence of everyday muslim cruelty to females. What are they being deprived of? The fundamentals of life on our beautiful planet!
    Apart from anaerobic bacteria that live in the dark, every living being requires these elements! To breathe your own stale breath through a polyester veil, instead of directly inhaling fresh air, never to feel the wind through your hair, never to experience the sun on your skin, or the cooling breeze when it’s warm! it’s inhumane and I wonder what sad petty perception of an almighty Creator muslim women have in their minds if they truly believe this is what’s required of them.

    Aren’t muslims aware that the sun is the major supplier of vitamin D, and the darker your skin, the more of it needs to be exposed (or for a longer time) in order to get an adequate dose……

    Also, there is a reason why people wear far fewer clothes in the summer; it is for comfort, to allow our bodies to function as well as possible.
    It always makes me particularly angry in the summer, to see the poor women or even little girls trussed up like roasting turkeys, while their men-folk strut alongside in T-shirts and sometimes even shorts.

    Anyway I’m no longer a muslim. I find Islam inadequate on every level, and seeing the women in their abayas and niqabs makes me so glad I was free and awake enough to make that choice.

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