Saudi Arabia follows the Islamic Sharia Law in all its policies and rules. This includes preferences in food, clothes, social gatherings etc. According to this, women in Saudi Arabia are supposed to always wear the traditional Abaya and a scarf covering their heads and bodies. Women living in separate Western compounds are much more liberated in their choices as compared to women living in separate villas or apartments amidst the city. The Abaya is a long cloak like attire that covers one from their head to toe. A scarf is worn along with this Abaya to cover one’s head. The reason for this is so that the woman is not seen by a non-related male, which is what the Islamic law dictates.
There are many varieties of this dress available. It comes in different colors, material and even has different kinds of work done on it that makes it more festive than casual. When attending a wedding, some women prefer this Abaya and some wear formal clothes underneath the Abaya. Hence as soon as they reach the wedding venue and are securely inside a segregated and enclosed space free from unrelated men, they remove their Abayas and wear their formal clothes throughout the time that they spend at the wedding.
However, those who wish to adorn the Abaya may do so as well. At some weddings, the women are provided with an option to have the staff of the venue keep their Abayas safely with them and return it to the women when they leave the venue. For this purpose, the women are given tokens as proof of their property. Weddings in Saudi Arabia are usually extravagant and have many traditional events in them. The women’s side of the celebration and festivities usually goes on for a much longer period of time as compared to the men. Sometimes weddings even go on till 8 in the morning!
Women in the Kingdom wear their Abayas with pride as it gives a feeling of protection from evil eyes as well as the power to them. They are free to move around as they wish without having the fear of being noticed and harassed by men. This is a great advantage of this dress. Islam has presented its rules and laws keeping into consideration the safety, well-being, and empowerment of women.
Although the dress and certain other rules and regulations of Islam may feel like barriers in the development of women to Westerners, it is, in fact, the opposite. It is a way of giving more freedom to the women and keeping them safe from others’ ill-intentioned gaze.