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Many people use the terms “abaya” and “jilbab” interchangeability and do not realise that they are both different garments.
Essentially, both the jilbab and abaya are a form of covering, known in Arabic as “hijab”- worn by Muslim women. But there are key differences in these two garments.
So what is the difference between these two forms of hijab or covering?
The main difference between a jilbab and an abaya is that a jilbab comprises of some form of head covering that covers the head and neck, while an abaya is a type of cloak that covers the entire body.
Broadly speaking, the jilbab covers the entire body from the top of the head to the feet in a loose-fitting garment.
It can comprise of either one garment like this:
Or two garments which include a khimar and skirt.
Both of these are forms of jilbab because they cover the head and neck.
The jilbab is becoming increasing popular, especially among young women. This is because new jilbab styles are much easier to wear than the traditional jilbab was in the past. Previously, jilbaab were made from lots of fabric and this meant they were heavy on the head. They were secured to the head by the weight of the fabric alone. This made them impractical to wear in everyday life and they were not easily available in the West.
Jilbab are much more practical and very widely available in the West since the popularity of the French Jilbab. This style is a tailored garment made from lighter and less fabric, but still retains the modesty of the jilbab. It is firmly secured to the head with ties or elastic to keep the jilbab in place.
Many jilbab styles also have useful features such pockets or are designed with nursing mothers in mind.
Jilbab are also the most-commonly worn form of hijab for female pilgrims on Hajj and Umrah due to their complete modesty.
The abaya is a full length gown that sits on the shoulder. It is worn over clothing as a modest covering, so it is usually loose-fitting. The abaya is an interpretation of the Islamic Hijab, so it follows the Rules of the Islamic Hijab.
However, the abaya has in recent times become a fashion statement, especially among the younger generation. Endless abaya style are now commonly available, such as wedding and Eid abayas decorated with stonework, nursing or breast-feeding abayas, abayas for young girls, plus-size abayas, and abayas for work.
The abaya is typically worn with a headscarf, sometimes called a hijab to cover the hair.
In the Middle East, the most common colour for the abaya and jilbab is black, but this is mostly due to culture. In other parts of the world, such as Africa, abayas and jilbab are a multitude of different colours.
With the growing awareness and increase in Islam across the world, the popularity of Islamic garments such as the Islamic Jilbab and abaya will only continue to rise.