What Is the Abaya? The Significance of the Abaya in the Modern World

What is the abaya? We have all noticed women from around the world dressed from head to toe in a loose black cloak, or variations of this modest dress. I’m sure we are all now familiar with this dress as a form of religious covering, for either Muslims, orthodox Hasidic Jews or Christian nuns, the outfit is basically the same; a loose garment that hides the shape of the body.

One culture that has adopted this dress to the fullest is the Muslim community. It is not unusual to see Muslim women wearing some form of the hijab – either the full-length burqa (pictured), or the more liberal abaya (a loose garment that is worn on the shoulders) – across the entire Muslim world.

Black Saudi Dubai Jilbab long gown

The hijab is a key pillar of Islam for both Muslim men and women (showing modesty and lowering the gaze), and Muslims believe that it is a direct command from God, as it is written in the Qur’an. so the abaya is not something new for them. Over the generations, this garment has evolved from a simple piece of cloth that is draped from head to toe, to something easier to wear. There are now so many different variations of this garment and many different ways to wear it, that more and more women are embracing it.

Maroon chiffon kaftan abaya, Eid abaya, party abaya

Many outsiders wrongly assume that women are forced to wear the hijab by men, but speaking from first-hand experience, this is certainly not the case. The overwhelming majority of women see the hijab and abaya as a symbol of their faith and modesty. Many women cite that wearing this garment makes men treat them as people, valued for their opinions, character and values, not merely for their looks. Women from the Islamic world feel that women in Western countries are the ones that are repressed, forced to dress to please men and become slaves to the latest fashions and trends. Muslim women want to be treated as individuals, not merely as objects on display.

Abaya styles change over the seasons and years, and vary country to country. The innovative use of fabrics, trims like lace and beads, and hints of colours all help to personalise the abaya. This appears to suggest that the hijab and abaya also follow fashion trends. But unlike Western fashion, the abaya always returns to its origin as a simple covering in a handful of basic styles which are timeless and classic.    

Umm Abdullah
Umm Abdullah

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