We really enjoyed our trip to Abu Dhabi this past weekend including visiting the Grand Mosque. We only have a little over 2 weeks left in the UAE at this point so we are trying to get in some last minute daytrips and adventures in.
I wanted to write more about wearing the abeya and hijaab while we visited the mosque. When you come upon the mosque, all women are directed to an area and handed an abeya (black gown) and hijaab (head scarf). Men will be asked to wear a dishdasha (white traditional robe) if they are wearing shorts.
I have to say this was one of highlight of the visit for me. I have been curious as to what it would feel like to wear this traditional dress of the Gulf. I have already had some people mentioned being surprised by me covering knowing what a strong feminist I am. Of course covering for less than a couple hours as a tourist and out of respect is much different than this being part of my life.
Some observations with respect - I enjoyed wearing the hijaab. I find it can be very beautiful when chosen to be worn to show one's faith. I just wish I had pins or a "bonnet" that many women wear underneath to keep it secure and tight as it kept shifting. The abeya on the other hand I did not like as much. Maybe because mine was too long so that was awkward and it wasn't comfortable in the heat. At all.
Eleanor found it interesting at first that I was wearing a "new dress" and wanted to wear one too, but then the newness of it wore off quickly and I just blended into the background. It's just the normal state of things to her at this point to see women covered--maybe you can see none of their face, just their eyes or their face is open. This photo was taken when we first arrived to Al Ain and were at the zoo. From day one Eleanor never showed any interest or apprehension. You might assume that a covered woman might take up a quiet space but here in the UAE, Emirati women take great pride and have great status they wield.
As a feminist when I was younger I used to distain women being covered. And it's not always my favorite thing to see. I realize now that it's hard for me as a Westerner and Christian to fully understand what it means to wear the hijaab. We can only view it from our own cultural lens. I do strongly believe that it should be a choice however and it's upsetting to know in certain countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran) women must be covered and other countries, including the UAE, women cover partly out of social obligation or pressure, even though they will swear up and down it is their choice.
One of the things I have disliked the most in being in this country has been the stares I have received as an uncovered Western woman. The laborers, generally from India and Pakistan, make up the majority of the population here. When I say STARE it's something I have never experienced before. It is blatant and unflinching, often not ending until you are out of sight. I have gotten very angry at times and thought - "didn't your Mama teach you not to stare?!?!" I definitely have dressed more conservatively here that's for sure and learned to ignore it.
They don't stare at the Emirati or Muslim women in the same way, so I have come to see how it has "protected" them in many ways. It's just annoying that the women have had to cover and be responsible in some ways for these men's stares and attention. Michael told me that decades ago you would not have found women covering to this extent, it's just been since foreign labor has been brought into the area.
I mentioned the heat. I will say that while it has been very hot in Al Ain (generally 115-120 degrees lately) we have nothing on Abu Dhabi or Dubai during the summer months as they have high humidity coupled with the high temperatures. It's unbearable. Thanksfully after we wandered outside the mosque and grounds, the inside was wonderfully air conditioned as I was dying underneath the abeya.
Wow, I wrote alot. And I could easily write more. I mention some negative things here but I had a very positive experience covering at the mosque. If you have read this entire post, good for you! I am going to be doing a little giveaway in the next week, so do check back.
Al Ain is the fourth largest city in the United Arab Emirates and is approximately 1.5 hours from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Al Ain (meaning "the spring" in Arabic) is referred to as the "garden city" of the UAE. Approximately 10% of the population in the UAE are Western expats.