Saudi Arabia: Danger of the Abaya

Most Saudi women seem to choose to wear what I like to refer to as the “trailing abaya.”  This is an abaya which is so long that the hem trails on the ground behind them as they walk.  Most of the Saudi women who choose a trailing abaya are more conservative and wish to ensure that their ankles remain obscured.  These same women are more likely to wear a full niqab and face veil as well.

I learned to respect the choices of Saudi women and how they feel most comfortable in covering when out in public.  However I also want to point out observations I have seen with women who have chosen the trailing abaya.  First and foremost, the trailing abaya picks up all the dust, dirt and germs which are in its path.  Even if the woman washes her abaya each day, she is likely bringing a lot of the dust, dirt and germs into her own home.  What if she is wearing such an abaya and chooses to visit a sick relative or friend in a hospital?  It is very unlikely she would be removing her abaya so the dust, dirt and germs is also carried into a sick patients room.

There are additional safety hazards to the woman and others caused by wearing a trailing abaya.  I have not only personally observed a trailing abaya getting caught in an escalator but know one woman very well to whom this happened.  She did not want to remove her abaya even though she was aware it was caught in the stairs of the escalator.  She was not happy but to avoid an even more serious accident, the abaya had to be torn from the back in order to release her.  In the meantime, others on the escalator were starting to fall over each other because of the incident.

I have also seen trailing abayas get caught up in the wheels of shopping carts at the grocery stores.  Women have stumbled and fallen down stairs due to their trailing abayas and especially when someone else has been behind them and accidentally steps on the abaya.  The trailing abayas have been a danger at airports too where many of the planes still require passengers to go up or down stairs to get in or out of the aircraft.  I’ve felt sympathy for the Saudi woman in the trailing abaya with veil who is trying to manage carry on luggage, a small child or two and safely manipulate the stairs.

In my own view, it is far more safer and practical to have an abaya which comes down to the ankles.  After all, a woman can wear dark shoes and socks which shield her ankles from view and protects her from a serious accident.

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44 Responses

  1. Carol said:
    “In my own view, it is far more safer and practical to have an abaya which comes down to the ankles. After all, a woman can wear dark shoes and socks which shield her ankles from view and protects her from a serious accident.”

    That’s just crazy talk. If women did that everyone would know that women have ankles and feet! What would that do to men with foot fetishes? It would create all kinds of fitnah. I suppose if the shoes were loose enough and hid the shape of the foot/ankle it might be ok…….

  2. Sandy…

    HaHaHaHa!!! Too darn funny!

  3. Isn’t this modesty fetish going to far in this day and age?

  4. Sandy’s comment rules :) had a great laugh!

    Don’t get me wrong but even though I know why they choose to cover etc etc for some reason when I see a picture as attached to this post, it always makes me sad.

    Great post Carol :) i knew that some Muslim ladies wear gloves but i didn’t know that feet are to be disguised as well. i learned sth new today! :)

  5. Okay, I’m going to say something a bit controversial on here, so bear with me please. I understand that it is best to dress modestly for the society one is in as doing otherwise can give guys the wrong idea and attract unwanted attention.

    My personal opinion is that the human body is a work of art. It’s God’s creation. I don’t see a problem with people appreciating other people’s body as works of art. This probably stems from my love of medicine, dancing, and fashion (and practically anything else related to the human body…LOL). The problem comes in when people start to view each other solely as sexual objects and start dressing accordingly for a given society. It doesn’t matter how much fabric is involved, when people start viewing each other only as sexual objects, they will act accordingly. This is when problems come in.

    As for these abayas, I think if I tried to wear one, I’d feel obligated to hold up the hem while walking so I wouldn’t trip, and then that would be worse than even feet showing, of course, ’cause my legs would show. :D

  6. @Sandy,

    So, having cankles might be considered a blessing in Saudi? :-)

  7. Safety considerations are not nearly as important as keeping everything covered up. As for germs and dust, so what? There is no sin in bringing the filth of the street into one’s home, but consider the sin involved if a woman were to lift the abaya and show the shape of her lower extremities!

    I remember being chastised in the mosques of Riyadh for not wearing black gloves, but that was many years ago. I suppose by now, black mittens are more appropriate, especially for the hands of women shoppers who cannot keep the ends of their abayas clutched underneath their fingers..

  8. I usually resist the urge to be facetious, but the picture here reminds me of the Ghost of Christmas Future in the famous movie A Christmas Carol.

  9. Hi Carol,
    I have a couple of different abayas (my 1st was the trailing one) and the other is one that I would call the Western abaya that you just zip up the front. I also bought several of the headscarves and face covers. Of course, I’ve never worn any of them; I just thought they would be neat to bring home. All of my things from Saudi mean an awful lot to me.
    Though I wore my western clothes all of the time; I dressed very conservatively. All of my skirts or dresses were mid length between my knees and ankles and I wore socks with my tennis shoes or if in winter I wore one of my many pair of boots. All of this became “my style” of dress and to this day though back in the US since 2004; I still pretty much dress that way.
    I do know that the abayas can be deadly for women; one time my husband saw two women nearly drown as they were trying to swim in the ocean with their full abaya, head and face covers. Not a wise thing to do. But of course; it was not my country and not my business. My business was to show respect for their customs while living in their country.
    Hope you are well,
    Donna

  10. My own Saudi SIL had her abaya caught in an escalator. To this day she will not use an escalator nor will she change her style of abaya.

  11. I was terrified of tripping over my abaya when I was in Saudi. I certainly held it up high when going up and down stairs and on escalators. Depending upon my shoes it either touched ground or was at my ankles. I hated the thing but it does have one good point … you can wear whatever you want underneath so no stress about having to dash out for a shopping marathon and worrying about what you’re going to wear! :)

  12. People everywhere wear their shoes into and around their homes and into hospital rooms to visit the sick. Certainly shoes pick up the same dust, dirt, and germs.

    Escalator safety is just common sense. They are quite dangerous and while the hem of an abayah seems like an obvious danger, a shoelace can be too. Lesson learned? Be careful on escalators whether you wear an abash with a long hem or shoes with laces. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/02/17/earlyshow/living/ConsumerWatch/main674650.shtml

    Shopping carts wheels? True, it is easy to get the hem of your abayah caught in them. But the only way to avoid that is to have a mid calf abayah length. Anything longer would get caught at the top of the wheel.

    An abayah to the ankles will still create a problem on stairs because without lifting her abayah from the back she allow it to drag over the steps as she descends. Again, seems like one of those common sense things, not only for the abayah wearer but those walking behind her too.

    Those airplane steps are just incredibly awful for most anyone with hand luggage and a small child. It really does take some skill in carrying an abayah just right so you can step safely. I think most of us have acquired that over the years but I’d request assistance from the airline staff if I needed it.

    Abayahs don’t cause accidents. People do. ;)

  13. Holding onto your abaya, lifting it etc out of harms way…is not always easy when your hands might be full of other things…shopping…a toddler etc. Women who wear those sorts of abayas are essentially using one hand to do everything…and that is where the danger lies…when you need two hands usually.

    I disagree..abayas do cause accidents…by their very shape and form and length…billowing cloth…trailing cloth…in an instance can be caught in a car door…in an escalator…stepped on causing you to jerk back.

    These are not accidents when you know it can happen..and wear it anyways. Thats like not wearing a helmet when you ride your motorcycle…then call it an unfortunate accident when your head cracks on the street when you crash.

  14. *Abayahs don’t cause accidents. People do*

    No, that’s wrong. Wearing sensible clothes will prevent mishaps which non-sensible clothes make happen.
    The abaya is an insensible garment and invites accidents.

  15. Ok you are both right. “It is people that cause accidents by wearing abbayas”

  16. I agree with the sentiment…’Abayahs don’t cause accidents. People do’. What I believe is that a woman who knows how to carry oneself in any form of clothing will avoid accidents. Walk lady like. You don’t have to be wearing an Abayah to have a misstep,one can just fall flat on her face wearing skinny jeans. If you are going to walk clumsly without a care in the world, and expect to stand straight…I mean how crazy is that. Taking cautions steps and keeping your trailing fabric closer will most definitely avoid accidents. I guess the women whose abayas get caught in lifts and what not, just assumed the fabric was geez….i don’t know… maybe…mindful…

  17. As for multitasking, even for women wearing ‘normal’ clothes its just as hard. I propose doing one thing at a time,or better yet bring a sister, friend, husband someone for crying out loud. And oh by the BTW, maxi dresses are a must this season as was last season, so I guess for vertically challeged women who are slaves to fashion will be trailing their dresses, I hope for their sakes they have mastered the walk of this garments,I wouldn’t want to be lending my hand to women with bleeding noses from the floor. ;)

  18. OMG! Of course Abayas are dangerous for multi-tasking. Even when walking “ladylike”. They are a menace on staircases if you have to carry anything. FAR more dangerous than wearing jeans as anyone who has done both would know. And exiting aiplane stairs on a windy day with hand luggage and a toddler?? Pullleeeese. “walking ladylike” solves nothing.

  19. Abayas are a menace to survival.
    I consider them a portable prison for women.
    That will be why the religious men like them, and scold you if you wear short abaya.
    It also makes men horny.

    @Kitty2010.
    I suggest you buy a real over-the-head trailing saudi abaya on internet.
    You wear it EVERYWHERE you go and during WHATEVER activity you engage in.
    For a month.
    And then you can come back and explain how to deal with abaya.

  20. Nope…., thats were I disagree, I guess if the Abayas were as ‘dangerous’ to the women’s life and children as claimed to be, Im pretty sure the state will have intervened. I would rather use ‘inconvenience’ as opposed to danger, exactly how many death have been reported, how many children have been injured? Statistics of such injuries, would sway my viewpoints, as for now I find ‘dangerous’ too harsh a word to apply. Some garments are voluminous and need extra cautions when walking in them….assuming you are extra careful person.

  21. The state would have intervened? Are you serious?

  22. The state would intervene????? Seriously????

    This is planet earth…which planet are you on just now. Apparently the oxygen content is rather low up there.

  23. i don’t know about dangerous , i havn’t worn it trailing, however i kno it’s NOT clean, it tracks in dirt and dust and tracked it right thru my nice clean home, a few freind wore it and they got the part about taking off shoes , but didn’t get the don’t drag dirt in with your abaya part :-)

    o well some get it some don’t…

  24. Exactly….you heard me loud and clear ladies and gentlemen!!!, aren’t these garments sactioned by the state, to begin with. Look up save the women’s post it says so. I guess the women wear these garments because of fear and also because they are required to, as opposed to wanting to. Im sure if the women were dying left and right, surely the governments will have taken measures and loosened the stringent laws. Is that hard to comprehend?

    For now little mishaps as Abayas getting caught on shopping carts….and someone accidently stepping on your dress…give me a break.

  25. Woehahahahahaaaaaa!!!!!!
    Chocked on my dinner here!!!
    *a woman who knows how to carry oneself in any form of clothing will avoid accidents. *
    *Walk lady like*
    *and expect to stand straight*
    *Taking cautions steps and keeping your trailing fabric closer will most definitely avoid accidents*
    *As for multitasking, even for women wearing ‘normal’ clothes its just as hard*
    *I hope for their sakes they have mastered the walk of this garments*
    *the state will have intervened.

    Ok, I have rumbled Kitty2010:
    He an Arab male trolling bedu trying to get a rise out of concerned women.
    Look at the stupidity of the comments: Which woman would tell other women they cannot multi task?
    Or tell women to ”walk like a lady” and ”keep straight”.
    Which woman would make the stupid remark that ”maxi is in fashion”? Well really all the remarks are dumb and look like the male brain made them up.

    And who but an Saudi male would put the blame on women for having trouble with an insanely nonsensical over garment like the abaya???

    And look at the grotty grammar:
    *Taking cautions steps and keeping your trailing fabric closer will most definitely avoid accidents*
    Well every sentence really…
    That’s not English grammar, that smells like a non-English person! That smells like an Arab speaking person who hasn’t really grasped English syntax and grammar.
    I have Arab friends, I talk and chat with, and these mistakes are typical.

    Kitty2010 is an Arab male troll, and I strongly advise everybody to ignore him completely!

    Don’t feed the trolls!!!

  26. *Exactly….you heard me loud and clear ladies and gentlemen!!!, aren’t these garments sactioned by the state, to begin with.*

    Oh yeah, male Arab Troll.

    I rest my case!

    Don’t feed the trolls!!!

  27. @Kitty
    You are very naive. The state could care less and ‘sanctioned by the state’? Oh dear girl!!!

    Women don’t die left and right but they have accidents and they get in trouble from the religious police if they are holding them up and some nutter muttawa decides he’s seen too much body. They are HOT, they deprive women of natural Vit. D, they get stepped on by others, they can be very dangerous. I only had to wear one for a month but that was long enough. I suppose one gets more adept at wearing an abaya as time goes on but I can tell you they are not particularly nice.

  28. Since you are a blessing and a gift to womanhood, why don’t you put yourselve in the forefront and speak up to relevant authorities about these ‘ dangerous’, abayas i’m sure the religious leaders have been waiting for a voice of reason from ya, now run along, ranting on a blog and chocking on your dinner won’t slove nada. These women are still required to wear these garments, hate or love it.

    You can climb atop mountain and shout to the world nothing will change. The women for now will have to survive the ‘portable prison for women’, while you choke on your dinner. They might as well use the little they have.

    Oh year honey I’m ALL woman, born one. Atleast unlike you im not an angry bitter troll, who takes comfort in bashing other posters. Well… as for my English you got the message loud and clear, even the real English speakers do make ‘ grotty grammar’. But if I were you I wouldn’t be laughing at someone’s english, look behind you ;)

  29. Don’t feed the troll, ignore Kitty2010, he’s a fake!

  30. This for the benefit of readers.
    The “religous” solution is that women should be staying home! Why are you out? If it isn’t safe to wear the required clothes stay home! Don’t exercise, don’t go out, don’t get sunlight.

    Oh and at many places- including the Haram the women have to take the stairs because the escalaters are too dangerous due to clothing. But the men can use them. It is THAT bad.

    And yes- there are clearly documented health issues related to all these things in Saudi. And you know what? They don’t care. Stay covered, don’t do much or STAY HOME. If your sick your husband can chose (but isn’t required) to take you to a dr.

    However- it is starting to change- in places like Jeddah. Some women even refuse to cover their heads- and good for them.

    Aafke- you may be right.

  31. @ Wendy…Im not naive…call me anything but, unless you don’t understand sactioned. You see…unlike the US, you cannot separate state from religion, in the M.E, from the bits and pieces of info I have been getting. So yes these religious police are government employees at the end of the day.

    It’s obvious the garments are hot and sweaty, and yes mishaps happens,but unless a major catastrophe occurs, they will have to leave with it, but ofcourse I wish otherwise…my heart goes out to them.

  32. @Kitty – didn’t you say at the beginning of your post on your Saudi man that you didn’t even know about Saudi Arabia until just recently ……..
    What is your country or origin again????

  33. It’s probably KSA, Kitty 2010 is a troll, don’t respond to him

    Don’t feed the troll!

  34. “Oh and at many places- including the Haram the women have to take the stairs because the escalaters are too dangerous due to clothing. But the men can use them. It is THAT bad.”

    Seriously? Do you stand at the escalators and stairs and ask women why they are taking one or the other? And I guess the men who take the stairs do so because they are wearing dangerous trailing thobes?

    Whether it be a trailing thobe or abayah, a dangling shoelace, or high heels, safety still falls back to the individual having common sense and being careful.

  35. @Cynthia,
    Yes I, and other women at the Haram have been stopped by security at the excalators and made to take the stairs. Exactly right!

  36. @Sandy,

    I meant escalators in general as that is what you seemed to say in your post, not exclusively the escalators at the Haram. But I am curious. Did security guards at the Haram tell you that you are not allowed to use the escalator because your abayah is a danger? Thanks! :)

  37. @Cynthia-
    I’m pretty sure that’s what it was-= but it’s been awhile. I was in a group. I do remember a couple of women near the front managed to get on anyway. And no, I didn’t mean escalators in general- though it happens occasionally. I’m sure it varies with security guard as well. Things are rarely consistant.

    Men tend to wear their thobes shorter than women’s abaya’s.

  38. @Marahm:

    “Safety considerations are not nearly as important as keeping everything covered up. ”

    “but consider the sin involved if a woman were to lift the abaya and show the shape of her lower extremities!”

    Are you serious?

    I can picture this now: I’m out shopping and approaching stairs but rather than halt up my abayah (for fear of sinning) I fall flat on my face. All eyes are now on me. Those same eyes that I didn’t want to see my leg for all of 10seconds during the halting. But be damned now my entire abayah is lifted and they can see my arse! But never mind because my face is still covered! :roll:

    I’m in a playful mood so don’t be offended. But honestly I don’t understand how lifting your abayah in order not to fall down or otherwise protect yourself would be considered sinful if a bit of leg showed momentarily?

    I don’t know the hadith verbatim but the Prophet told us to “tie our camels” which I believe means to “do our part and take precautions”.

    Common sense would tell us that our personal safety is more important than showing our silly legs!

    Personally speaking, I have no problems at all showing my leg if that means I can prevent myself from being harmed. And I do not feel as if I have sinned. In fact I feel damned blessed I didn’t break my neck!

    I performed my Hajj years ago before the new design. I was fortunate enough to be advised (by a Saudi woman no less) to wrap the end of my abayah around my neck while making tawaf and while stoning at jamarat. And I am so very glad I followed that advice. I can’t imagine what would have happened had I tripped in that crowd. So I preformed these two rites with my entire lower half of my body exposed but did I feel sinful? No. Under my abayah I was dressed in a wide, plain qamees, extremely modest. I felt a bit shy maybe but most definitely not sinful. Allah knew my intentions, that was enough for me.

  39. @Coolred – ‘These are not accidents when you know it can happen..and wear it anyways. Thats like not wearing a helmet when you ride your motorcycle…then call it an unfortunate accident when your head cracks on the street when you crash’

    That is exactly what I was thinking when I read Carol say that she had sympathy for these women, Sorry, but I don’t. These women are choosing this – no need to tell me about ‘laws’ or ‘customs’ these things ARE changable if they want it bad enough.

  40. As a fashion major (though I haven’t kept up with recent trends as well as I should have), maxi dresses ARE in this season. I cut about 3 inches off the bottom of mine, as it’s a knit dress, to keep it from trailing on the floor so I won’t trip. ;) I still pick up the side of it when I walk up stairs and the like, showing a bit of leg (which might be shocking in some places). Sometimes, I even hold it up while walking down the street because I have a tendency to step on it/stumble over it. Luckily, I rarely fall down, though. :D I don’t wear it too often as it draws a lot of (particularly male) attention when I wear it, which is something I typically try to avoid.

    I imagine wearing an abaya does take some getting used to. I prefer to wear semi-fitted clothing (that is close to the body but not form fitting; I don’t want THAT kind of attention…LOL) because it is what is comfortable and easy for me to move in. However, I also know of plenty of people that prefer to wear loose clothing and feel it is much easier to move in baggy, loose clothing than even semi-fitted clothing. So I imagine some of this is cultural and how easy it is for you to move in it depends on what you are used to.

    When it comes to trailing abayas, however, I think it may be better to choose a slightly shorter abaya so one doesn’t have to worry about getting it caught in things or trailing dust, etc. around quite so much.

    I believe in dressing in a manner that suits your personality, views on modesty, etc. and so if someone else is set on wearing a trailing abaya, whatever works for them! I don’t understand people wearing mini skirts in winter when it’s below freezing, either, but I’ve seen plenty of people do it, and I imagine there are health risks to be considered for this, too. I am not sure how either extreme is easy to move in. ??? The thought of moving around in either makes me uncomfortable and stiff just thinking about it!

    Wearing jewelry can become dangerous, too, depending on what one is doing.

  41. It’s funny…men get chastised if their thobes are too long and women are chastised if their abayas are too short!

  42. Well …. they wouldn’t want the men tripping or getting injured somehow would they!!! :)

  43. I love them, I wear them around the house as housecoats, wish I had a girl that actually wore them too :))

  44. Wearing a trailing abaya takes practice, just like wearing heels does. I’m no good at either and wear my abayas ankle length, or even an inch or two above that, and my shoes flat.

    Personally, I’m more likely to hurt myself wearing heels than a trailing abaya. You can always lift your abaya going up stairs, but taking off shoes is a different matter. Neither of them are ‘sensible’ dress.

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