Qatari Women and Their Wardrobe: A Tutorial
Okay so probably the question I got asked the most before Justin and I moved over here was: sooo...do you have to wear the burka? The thing? The head thing?
The answer is no. I do not have to wear "the thing" but myself and the women I work with (other Americans, Australians and Canadians) choose to dress modestly. We cover our shoulders and our knees and basically just try to keep it culturally respectful. We are in someone else's country, after all. Now that's not to say when it's 110 degrees F outside that I'm not about to die because I really, really am on the border line of incineration at times. However I'll wait till I'm on the private bus/in the car/taxi/my apartment building before I finally start shedding the scarves and cardigans and...pants and things. A quick aside: while it can be brutally hot during the day, at night I find it to be very pleasant. it's been especially windy here lately and it's caused some pretty views (since a lot of the time it's too dusty to see very far off) and a really comforting warm breeze. It almost feels like being at the beach. Oh wait! We are! Well, a desert beach...um..thing.
Okay so back to my tutorial. For your reading pleasure I will break down what the women in the Middle East/Qatar wear if they're Islamic. Also, before I get going you should know that it's different in different counties. Women in Saudi Arabia aren't going to be like the women in the United Arab Emirates. it's all varied.
Here we go:
Hijab: This is the headscarf that is worn over the head. Sometimes many women in Qatar will use patterned headscarves or bright colors and will pair it with modest western clothes. Personally I think this is super beautiful but I'm almost certain I wouldn't be able to pull it off.
Abaya: This is specifically the black outer garment that's worn over the clothes when the woman goes outside. Typically this is paired with a head covering of some sort but some women might choose to wear just the abaya without a head covering. I've seen plain abayas, fancy abayas, sparkly abayas, embroidered abayas. They're all over the place. It's pretty fascinating to see how creative a designer can get with such a seemingly simple garment.
Chador: This is more like a large piece of fabric that is simply wrapped around the head/shoulders. It's not necessarily tailored like the abaya. I haven't seen too many women wear the chador here. I have, however, seen a couple of women here and there wear one. This is mostly worn in Iran and Afghanistan.
Niqab-This is what I see often here in Qater is the niqab (pronounced "knee-cob"). It's a step further into the Muslim women's modest lifestyle as they cover their face and leave just a slit for the eyes. At first I found this to be very different than what I was used to but now I see it all the time. Also, it can be difficult to tell how a women in a niqab is feeling because sometimes you can't see their eyebrows. Who knew that we relied on them so much?
There is also another version of the niqab where the entire face is covered and the woman peers through a thin veil. This is the first time I've ever seen this and it startled me at first but now it's become normal. I just wonder if they ever get very hot.
And finally there is the burka. I have not seen an "official" burka here and that is mainly because they're found in the Afghanistan region but I wonder if you could technically call the above a version of a burka since it's purpose is to cover the whole face.
Burka: Complete coverage. Some women also choose to wear gloves and are able to look out through a mesh screen. I've not seen this in Qatar but women do choose to cover their whole face with a veil.
Now more on the topic of modesty...I've traveled all over the world and I really do attempt to be as culturally sensitive as I can wherever I go. However, before I left for the Middle East I felt like I would have problems with my wardrobe over here because of just how much I live in shorts, tennis shoes, tank tops, etc. Okay so....assimilation is a miraculous thing. Now I've gotten to the point to where if I go out to a western hotel (where shoulders, knees and the like are allowed) I feel nearly naked without something covering me up. It's a strange feeling. We went to a hotel tonight to go to a salsa dancing club and I was so excited to finally be able to wear my tank top and the whole time I was so uncomfortable. I wanted to put something over it, on it, whatever! It's especially strange because I don't have a problem with coverage at home and living here and being surrounded by women who are almost always dressed modestly...it makes you want to do the same. That's not to say that I used to have all my stuff out because I didn't BUT it makes you want to take that extra step. The feminist in me prior to leaving was screaming. I have found a peace with it and a beauty in modesty while living here. The women here don't feel as if they're being forced. It's what they choose to do. The more they're covered, the more devout they're considered.
It's an interesting tangent off of that topic that I've also been meaning to get to is that while here, I've felt so little pressure about body image. It's almost like the American obsession and constant media and visual bombardment of the crusade for the "perfect American body" is finally gone. Women are just women. Big, small, tall, short, wide, narrow. Whatever. I actually really like it. No one really focuses on your thighs or your arms. It just is. They're your thighs and your arms and they work and they pick up things and move you from place to place. Now that's not to say that fitness isn't important here because there are a lot of fitness venues. It's just that people will enjoy their lamb shawarma but they may also choose to go kayaking after enjoying said lamb shawarma.
So, my friends, go eat your shawarma, wear your scarves or don't and then go for a nice kayak or don't. You could always go eat another lamb shawarma.
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