This article is very old (2006), but it might be of interest to those of you that didn’t read it yet.
The abaya is a symbol of so many things; of the rejection of Western values, of liberation from unwanted male advances, and of submission to God’s will. And it’s here to stay. For the time being, at least.
When the Prophet Mohammed said: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze. And guard their modesty; that they must draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty…,” Islam’s modesty rule for woman’s dress was born. (Qur’an 24:30-31)
One thousand four hundred and twenty seven years later, “drawing their veils over their bosoms”, regarded as a metaphor for modest dressing, is a command still obeyed by millions of Muslim women across the globe. But what exactly “modesty” means, is like asking for a definition of beauty. Some say a hijab (headscarf) suffices, while others, like the Saudi religious establishment and their followers across the world, insist every bit of the woman’s body should be swathed in plain black, including a thin veil over the eyes and gloves on the hands. Incidentally, the term “hijab” comes from the Arabic word “hajaba,” means “to conceal” or “to shield” and is used generally to refer to modesty, and more specifically, to mean headscarves and formless gowns. In Saudi, hijab is used to describe the head covering; the abaya the black overdress; niqab the veil pulled over the face, revealing only the eyes, and khimar the full face covering.
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