During the past 16 days many people have asked why I am not covering my hair when I am wearing the abaya and the veil. I thought it might be interesting to bring in an expert: the wonderful Saudi woman who is mentoring me in during the abaya project.
In Saudi Arabia, in the past 2-3 years, women do not have to cover their hair. In fact in the cities women can wear the veil around their shoulder. exposing their necks and hair–and it’s OK. But they still have to wear the abaya. The abaya is not optional.
“In some small towns and villages it’s my understanding that the women still cover their faces and cover their hair. In some places they even wear black gloves when they go out of the house.” Wafaa said. The clothing is tribal, traditional and they haven’t changed like in the cities.”
She said some women who are part of very religious families will cover their hair. “Even in the cities. Families–particularly the men–will ask girls to cover their hair when they go out.” But everywhere in SA wearing abaya is the law. “No one would think to go out without one.”
In the other Arab Gulf States (Bahrain, Iraq,Kuwait,Oman, Qatar, UAE) it is not obligatory for women to wear an abaya or a veil. “In cities in those countries you can see women walking around wearing what we call ‘American‘ clothes–jeans and t-shirts.”
She told me that in Iran (not an Arab country) many women cover their hair and will wear a first layer of covering under the veil that cover their forehead and chin.(I asked Wafaa about Afghanistan and she did not know the situation there.)
In a country like Indonesia, women are not obliged to wear a garment to cover their bodies or hair but many women choose to do so. The women who choose to wear the head covering are usually very religious women.
“So what do you think people are thinking when they see me, a blonde woman wearing the veil. “First, they probably think you are an American Muslim who has converted–or, second, they think you are Lebanese. You could be Lebanese. There are women in Lebanon with fair skin and hair, like you.”