Islamic Clothing Definition: Abaya

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An abaya is an outer garment worn by women in some parts of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf region. It is long-sleeved, floor-length, and traditionally black. The abaya is worn over street clothes when a woman leaves her home and is designed to be loose and flowing, hiding the "curves" of the body. The abaya may slip over the head but usually opens in the front, closing with snaps, a zipper, or overlapping layers. The sleeves are formed from the same piece of fabric; they are not stitched on separately. The abaya may be worn with other pieces of Islamic clothing, such as a scarf which covers the hair (hijab or tarha), and perhaps a veil which covers the face ( niqab or shayla).


The abaya comes in two main styles: they can be worn from the shoulder or from the top of the head. While abayas seem simple and plain at first glance, there is actually a variety of designs. Traditional abayas are simple and unadorned, but in recent years it has become more common to find them with embroidery, colored embellishments, and tailored cuts. The ornamentation is often found along the sleeve cuffs, necklines, or down the front or back. Beads, sequins, colored thread, ribbon, crystals, lace, etc. are used to add flair and color. Design houses such as Yves Saint Laurent and Versace have even made haute couture abayas, and local designers in UAE and other Gulf countries have quite a following among young women. Black is still the traditional and most common base color, but abayas can also be found in other colors such as dark blue, brown, green, and purple.


In the Arabian Peninsula, women have been wearing an abaya-type garment for hundreds of years. Before Islam, it was often worn by women of status in urban centers, who did not need to work outdoors. It was later adopted for religious reasons as a sign of modesty and privacy. For many, the abaya represents a proud tradition and deeply-respected culture. In the past, they were often made of wool or silk and came in one flowing size. Bedouin women often wore various types of lightweight shawls and wraps, not necessarily the black abaya as it is now known. In the past two decades, fabrics have been updated to include cotton knits, chiffon, linen, and others. Ornamentation is often added, and has become more elaborate, sparking a debate about religious modesty vs cultural "fashion." In the Arabian Gulf region, the abaya is often worn by both older and younger people to demonstrate a connection to their culture, although the younger women often include design embellishments. In Saudi Arabia, all women must wear the abaya in public as a matter of law.



Also Known As

In some countries, a similar garment is known as a chador or burka, but they are designed and worn slightly differently. The jilbab of some countries is also similar but is a more structured garment.


When Layla left the house, she wore an abaya over her jeans and blouse.

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Huda. "Islamic Clothing Definition: Abaya." Learn Religions, Sep. 16, 2021, Huda. (2021, September 16). Islamic Clothing Definition: Abaya. Retrieved from Huda. "Islamic Clothing Definition: Abaya." Learn Religions. (accessed June 2, 2023).