Saudi Arabia: So Many Niqabs to Choose From!


I must first preface this post by stating that I rarely covered my head let alone wore a niqab while I was in Saudi Arabia.  There were only a few occasions when it was appropriate for me to wear a niqab.  I wore one but have to confess I did not like the feeling or what to me felt like obscured vision due to the niqab.  The reason that I am writing this particular post is in response to several queries I have had lately about the differing type of niqabs women may choose to wear in Saudi Arabia.  I am not an expert on the subject but will address it to the best of my ability.  I am really counting on those American Bedu readers who do wear the niqab to provide their comments on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

The niqab is the accessory which some Muslim women and many women within Saudi Arabia will choose to wear so that their entire face is covered from view with the exception of the eyes.

saudi niqab


The most common style of niqab in Saudi Arabia and the one I wore when necessary is the niqab which covers the face and has a slit in the center for the eyes to show through.  This style of niqab did not necessarily come in a wide variety of sizes and as a result, the one I had fit poorly.  My eyelids and eyelashes would brush or rub against the eye slit and in turn irritated my eyes.  The niqab would either tie in the back around the hijab or in some cases you could secure it with Velcro strips.

newer niqab style



Another niqab which was rising in popularity prior to my 2009 departure from Saudi Arabia was the niqab which was worn from the nose down.  This particular niqab left the eyes unimpeded.  Some Saudi women will not wear this type of niqab seeing it as too progressive.  However, younger Saudi women and more open-minded Saudi women who still choose to wear a niqab prefer this version as it is more aesthetically pleasing and comfortable.

beudion niqab

Some women and particularly Saudi beudoin women may prefer the niqab that has a fabric line which separates the eyes.  Needless to say, this niqab would need to fit well for it could be quite annoying if the eye divider did not fall as it should centered between the eyes.

While the traditional niqabs are black, some women are starting to wear niqabs that are in a different color or have some type of decoration or appliqué on them.

But as I stated in the beginning of this post, I need to rely on the experiences of American Bedu readers to share with others on why they wear a niqab, what style they have chosen and why, as well as how easy it is for them to see while wearing the niqab.

Saudi Arabia: Living in Saudi Arabia Requires a Tougher Skin

tough skin required


Whether one is an expatriate in Saudi Arabia or a foreigner married to a Saudi, to Saudis you are viewed as a guest in their country.  The majority of Saudis will go out of their way to be hospitable, kind and helpful to the guests.

I had multiple experiences of both Saudi men and women approaching me in grocery stores or department stores wanting to be helpful or simply practice their English.  I had approaches by both men and women and none in an inappropriate manner.  Saudi women were especially kind if I were in an abaya store or in a women’s formal store searching for a gown to wear to a wedding.   They wanted to assist in helping me find the perfect abaya or gown!

However, I also had a few of my own experiences which were not as welcoming.  One experience featured two women who were determined to jump ahead of me in the queue at a shoe store.  These women though were not aware I was not in the shoe store alone.  I was with Mama Moudy, my Saudi mother-in-law.  She let them know in no uncertain terms there actions were rude and uncalled for.  Both the women were quickly apologizing to me!

The bottom line though is both the good and bad experiences between expatriates and Saudis can go both ways.  Rather than risk a public altercation, it’s better to have thick skin and pay no mind when someone does something less than socially acceptable.  Expatriates are each individual Ambassadors of their respective countries and Saudis are also representatives of their country too.  We each choose what kind of impression we want to leave with one another.

Of course, if either an expatriate or a Saudi has taken an action that goes beyond just mere rudeness or sarcasm, the wronged party should seek restitution through the proper channels.  While doing so, an expatriate should also remember that Saudis have WASTA, meaning the ability to use influence or contacts.  That does not mean an expatriate who has been wronged can’t seek restitution, but the manner in which it is done must be in conformity with the culture.

If an expatriate chooses to go public about an incident and sites places, names, and individuals where a Saudi was in the wrong, that Saudi and/or its institution will lose face.  A point will have been made but maybe at the jeopardy of the expatriate, especially if the Saudi has WASTA.

If an expatriate goes public and states facts without identifying specific individuals or organizations but at the same time letting it be known that more specifics are available, this does give an opportunity of face saving and also setting things right in a more amicable and satisfactory fashion.

All expatriates in the Kingdom are sponsored by either an individual Saudi or a Saudi organization.  As a result, there is much more pressure on the expatriates to abide by the customs and traditions of the Kingdom.  And don’t forget, the expatriate is also the guest…but guests can be asked to leave.

Saudi Arabia: Will Women Really be able to Ride Bikes?

bike riding


It’s making all the local (and some international) headlines that the Ministry for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (aka Muttawa or Religious Police) may lift the existing ban which prohibits women from riding motorcycles or bikes.  However, don’t hold your breath for there are a lot of caveats with the lifting of the ban.  Women could only ride a bike or motorcycle for “recreational purposes” and only in restricted recreational areas.  They must not ride the transport where they could cross the path of young men who would try to harass them.

So while the headlines may sound like a milestone in actually this is what has been in existence for quite some time; any female who rides a bike or motorcycle only does so in a restricted area.

Let’s think about it…how could a woman ride a bike or motorcycle in any kind of a public area wearing a long abaya?  That would be foolhardy.  It is sad that a ban could not be lifted that truly benefits a woman and allows her a form of conveyance (without the fear of harassment by a man) that she could utilize for transportation rather than pay for a driver or depend on a male family member.

What do you think?  Is this a milestone or a big to do about nothing?

Saudi Arabia: The Story of a Saudi Bi-Cultural Woman

It’s a pleasure for American Bedu to have the opportunity to interview Sahar and have her perspectives as a Saudi female growing up in the Kingdom.


Thanks, Sahar, for allowing me to interview you and taking the time to answer these questions!


Let’s begin with a little bit about yourself.  I understand that you are a Saudi national, but what is your family’s background?  Are both your mother and father Saudi citizens?

Am a first born of Thai-Saudi couple , my father is a Saudi nation and my mother is a Thai national 

What has it been like for you growing up in Saudi Arabia but with a non-Saudi mother?  Have you ever felt at any time that you were not viewed as a Saudi?  Were you ever treated or received differently by your Saudi peers?

Yeas sometime when I was young since I used to be really weak at Arabic language and some of the life style are very different in my family than other one and (am sorry to say that) but when I was child I was trying to avoid any topic about my mom side , now as people are more open minded and more educated it became much more better   

Can you share with readers what a usual week is like for you.  Would you describe your life as a typical traditional Saudi life?  Why or why not?

It actually hard to say but I would say it not typical traditional Saudi life but it have a lot of traditional aspects since we live with my grandmother , as I said before the live style was so different from other , any one live in a multicultural family would understand that beginning from the perspective family to the food style are in way or other are different , sometime I view something as obvious and normally but others view it as strange or rather unique.

Where in the Kingdom is home for you?  Do you live with your parents or are you married?  riyadh houses

Riyadh is the home that embraced my memory , yeah I live with my mom and my grandmother ( from father side ) since my father passed away 

Speaking of marriage, if you are married, was your marriage arranged through your family?  If you are not married, do you expect or want your family to arrange your marriage?  Why or why not?

I think an arrange marriage is the obvious choice I see right now but I prefer if it was one I choose who have the same experience that I had

Do you consider yourself 100 per cent Saudi?


Do you travel often to Thailand to spend time with your Thai side of the family?

I was born and raised until the age of 5 after that we come to live with my father in Saudi since that we didn’t go back until recently and we are planning on doing regular visits  

People who never have the chance to hear from a Saudi woman often have many questions about them.  I’d like to ask you a few of the most common…


What do you like to do for fun and entertainment?

Gathering with family or friends, going out for shopping or restaurant sometime going camping in the winter

What kind of fashions do you like?  Do you listen to music?  If so, what kind?

I like more of cute or classic fashion and mostly I go with my own fashion – something that make feel comfortable- , in term of music I like soft rock or anything that have guitar in it 

traditional dress     How do you dress when you are out in public?  Ie, abaya, hijab and /or niqab?  Do you choose to dress differently if you are out of the Kingdom?  Why or why not?

abaya, hijab would be what I go with usually but when am with my father’s family they always ask me to go with niqab and I do so  , out of the kingdom I choose not to wear hijab but I dress modestly .

What are your views on Saudi women now being part of the Shura council?

It’s a good thing to make women part of that as everything need to even part to work well and I hope it lead us to better future .

What do you think are the most important issues for a Saudi woman and why?

That they are so dependent on men in most of the thing , they need to have more power in decision making .

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest priority, how important is it for women to drive in Saudi Arabia?  Please explain your answer.

7 , some women doesn’t have a male that could drive them around and other have different way to go that one male can’t drive then all in so in the end they need to use a driver with much of people can’t afford  , why it is the 7 and not higher ?! because there is other face that are part of the problem and could solve the problem which is the lack of good or at all public transportation . 

Are you in favor of the mahrem system?  Is it in the woman’s best interest that she have a male mahrem?

In some case a think it is good thing but mostly people here misuse this system to have overall control of the women

Do you think many Saudi women who are not married have contact with men to whom they are not related?  Why or why not?  If so, how?

yeah there is , as for why not really sure but most of the case I have acquaintance with are teenage and want to try love as any other teenage in the world or it is just out of curiosity toward the other sex .

What are the top five places and things to do you think an expatriate or any visitor to Saudi Arabia should do?

makkah     if they are Muslim I would say the two holy city , if not there in some historical place in different part of Saudi most of them are in north and south but we have national museum in Riyadh and Old al-drayah when you can see the traditional old house of Saudi , the following link of some good site I have passed by I hope it come to help :


In your view, do you think there is a wide gulf of understanding between East and West?  Why or why not?

Yeas the lack of information or I must say the correct information from both side and the way that the media present the other mislead a lot of people who do not try to look more and understand more about the other side

How can people of differing faiths, customs and way of life build better bridges of understanding with Saudis?

In my humble opinion if we want to understand other we should not view them in subjective way nether view them in our prospective we should view them in an abstract way  , we should ask more and try harder to go to their cultural root and understand it as culture make deep effect in people behavior and action .

Are there any additional questions or comments you’d like to add?

That was really good and interesting

I hope to read more of your good article and looking forward to read something about multicultural or multinational family of Saudi  

Thank you, Sahar.  It’s been a pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to ask you these questions.

It have been honor for me too to be a part of your site and if you need any further information in the future don’t hesitate to email me 

Saudi Arabia: Harmony of Life

I received the following from a long time reader of American Bedu…

harmony of life saudi2

Okay, I have BREAKING NEWS….. (from your anonymous eyes on the ground)  the FIRST time it happened, I couldn’t believe my eyes and now I have seen it TWICE.

There is a show on Channel KSA 2 called something like “Harmony of Life” and it’s usually a male and female host interviewing some kind of doctor about something medical.

TWICE the hostess has worn STREET REGULAR CLOTHES AND NO ABAYA!   Yesterday she wore a BRIGHT RED SWEATER, pants and BOOTS!  The other day she had a long-sleeved top with vest, SKINNY BLUE JEANS and had her LEGS crossed like you would cross them sitting at a bar wanting people to look at your legs if you were wearing a skirt, seemed so provocative!   I had to blink to see if I was seeing things!   I ALMOST had to go for the smelling salts!

Isn’t this a government channel?  On all the other shows (English shows on KSA 2), there are usually two hostesses and they have bright colorful hijabs but always abayas (blinged out abayas, but still abayas).

I don’t know if this is a topic for your blog, but this was breaking news to me!  Does this signal the winds of change?  Hmmmmm

ksa 2

American Bedu certainly sees this development as a signal of the winds of change.  When I worked for Saudi Channel 2 I was required to always wear a loose cover over my head.  Due to the programs in which I was involved, I always wore Saudi dress or an abaya.  Initially recordings of my program were done without my covering my head, but Channel 2 senior management said that those programs had to be reshot with my head covered.  That in spite of my being an American national they expected female employees to abide by the traditions in the Kingdom and their regulations of covering the head when on the air.  However, a foreign female guest who would be on the air was not required to cover her head.

In closing, the show, Harmony of Life, also has its own twitter account:

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Men Making a New Fashion Statement

saudi_undies  (photo:  Hadath)


An interesting article published in Al Bawaba discusses a new trend among young Saudi men choosing to go out publicly in what is viewed as their underwear.  Yes; you read that sentence correctly.

The traditional dress of the Saudi male is a long shirt/robe which is called a thobe.  The most common thobe is all white although depending on the season and weather, thobes are sold in different colors and types of fabric.

long pants under the thobe  All men generally wear traditional undergarments underneath their thobes and especially when wearing a white thobe which can be easily seen through.  The traditional undergarments are usually made of white cotton and consist of elastic waisted pants from the waist to the ankles; a white cotton t-shirt which may be either short sleeved or sleevless; and white briefs.  The briefs are usually boxer style and can be fitted or loose.

It’s very common for Saudi men, young and old, to relax in the comfort and privacy of their homes wearing only the traditional undergarments.  But to wear them out in public is similar to a Saudi woman going out in public without an abaya.  Therefore, it is not surprising that this new trend of young men going out publicly in only their traditional undergarments is raising eyebrows and sparking mixed reactions.

It is evident that this is a type of rebellion and a new trend carried out by the young Saudis.  For unlike the Saudi woman, the Saudi male has multiple choices on what is viewed as “acceptable” wear when out in public.  He is not expected to cover from head to toe in black.  He can wear Western clothes.  He can wear shorts (down to the knees) when the heat is overbearing.  No one will blink an eye at such attire.

I agree with the assessment in the article that the young Saudi men have too much time on their hands and not enough choice of activities.  As a result, they want to test their boundaries and now that is publicly appearing in their traditional underwear.

Thus far there has not been an official ban or directive from Saudi’s religious and moral police (Haia) against the young men’s choice of wearing their traditional underwear in public.  However, I would not be surprised if that changes if enough complaints are received that the sheerness of the material allows onlookers to see beyond the coverings of the underwear.  Some of the fabric can be very transparent, even when the Saudi is wearing his thobe over his traditional undergarments.

Saudi Arabia: The Saudi Women in Focus

saudi women in time magazine


This link connects to a photo collage by TIME magazine of Saudi women in the Kingdom.  The purpose of the photos is to depict that not all (although most) Saudi women are shrouded from head to toe in black.  In some professional work places, women do have choices on whether they wish to cover or interact with male colleagues.  The photos further illustrate too that men and woman can interact professionally without the need for the woman to be covered from head to toe.

Although cultural in nature, it should ultimate be the choice of the women to how much she wishes to cover.  Islam places an emphasis on modesty but a woman can remain modest without having to go as far as covering her hair and face if she does not wish to do so.


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