Why Do Some Women Veil and Wear Black Gloves in Saudi Arabia?

conservative woman


There are various levels of conservatism in the Kingdom and particularly among the women.  I have posted previously on the distinction of different types of head covering and veiling for women but due to the number of search terms about “niqab, veil, and why some women wear black gloves” I realize it may be prudent to do an updated post on this subject.

  FYI – yes; the platform which I use for hosting my blog provides me with various statistics to include google search terms used which led viewers to my blog.  Repetitive search terms are a useful tool for assisting me in ensuring that I continue to write about topics of interest to readers.


 To begin with, covering the head is a choice in the Kingdom for both muslim and non-muslim women.  However many muslim women will advise you it is not a choice but decreed of their religion.  Given that I know many muslim women from around the world who have chosen not to cover I believe that whether or not to cover is more of cultural mandate that specifically a religious mandate.


 How can they cover?  They can choose to wear a hijab which is basically a head scarf which covers the hair and leaves the face open to view. 

example of hijjab

 They can wear a niqab which covers the hair and the face with the exception of the eyes. 

 example of niqab

 Or a woman can choose to be fully veiled.  Usually in this case she will wear a niqab and then have a sheer black veil overtop that comes down and conceals her eyes from view.  However the material is sheer enough that she can continue to see without her eyes being exposed.


veiled muslim woman


 Before I continue on with the topic of covering and how much is covered, I am writing this in reference to when a woman is out publicly.  This does not apply when she is in the privacy of her own home and surrounded by immediate family (mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt).  How much or how little she chooses to cover when within her own home is her decision. 

  The women who choose to cover more rather than less do so because they believe that no one unrelated to them has the right to see them.  This is comparable to protecting ones chastity and purity. 

 In addition to covering of the hair and the face, one may also see women who will wear black gloves as well.  Again, this goes back to the belief that no one unrelated has the right to see any part of a woman from not within the immediate family.  Therefore, the hands will be gloved as well so no skin is viewed.  And in case you were wondering, these same women who choose to wear the black gloves will also wear thick dark opaque socks and shoes so the ankles are not in view either. 


As I mentioned at the beginning, the muslim women who will choose to cover in this manner are usually among the more conservative.  A lot of these women will come from small rural areas, from the desert and be part of the old traditional beduion tribes.  Another segment of these women will be muslim converts from many different nationalities to include Americans and other Westerners.  It is not unusual for a muslim convert to take both the rules of Islam and suggestions very seriously to demonstrate their commitment to their chosen faith. 


The BBC also has an article from October 2006 which is also an interesting read in regards to Muslim women and their decisions on how much to cover and why:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5411320.stm 


And Apologetics Index which is a site comprised of resources on world religions had the following which is an interesting read as well:  http://www.apologeticsindex.org/504-muslim-veils


57 Responses

  1. Carol,

    Thanks for the info.Iwas surprised to learn from your article that some women just choose the hijab.I thought that the veil was required for all women in Saudi.Guess you learn something new everyday!That’s a great relief to me as wearing the veil is not something I looked forward to at all.Also,speaking of the feet,do women wear open sandals in Saudi?Because of the language barrier I’m not able to speak with my sisters-in-law,step-daughters,or Aunts that live in Saudi so I don’t know what they wear.My only source of info is my husband or “the all reliable” CNN!Of course CNN always pictures the veiled women from head-to-toe and in restaurants trying to manipulate the food over or under the veil!

    Thanks again for the info!

  2. Yes, I also thought that regardless of other interpretations, in KSA you háve to wear the niqab.
    I understand (sort of) that if you want to show yourselve as super modest you’d wear gloves and thick stockings too, but in 45’C??? I mean, women must be dropping left and right of heatstroke!

    Yes, I have noticed some really ugly closed shoes under those abayas on telly. What are the shoe-requirements?

  3. Saudi is very regional. In the Hijaz area you will not see the niqab in the numbers that you see it in places like the Najd, Riyadh, Qassim and those places.

    As to summer time, people do not go out during the day when they do not have to. Businesses in Saudi stay open rather late from a Western standpoint so much business is done at night when the temps are lower.

  4. Carol,

    This may be another subject for you to write about.I’m curious as to what the women wear under the abaya.Here in America I’ve seen many different things depending on the weather.If it’s cold,many will wear jeans,slacks,or a heavier skirt with a long sleeved shirt or sweater.In the warmer months many will wear a short skirt or light legging with a short sleeved shirt.Also,the women I know from Africa do not wear an abaya but they wear what I call a wrap.They always have beautiful colors and patterns and they are very long and lite in material.They usually wrap them around the waist first,similar to a wrap skirt,and tie them in a knot and then continue to drape them around the chest and arms and finally enough is left to cover the hair.These wraps are not tight as they wrap them very loosely to let in the air and also the material is not heavy at all.I’ve also seen some wear just a sun dress with thin straps under the wrap and also something that looks very much like a long slip with thin straps and very lite material.I’ve tried the wrap myself but I still need some practice! I prefer my slacks or a skirt and a shirt to anything else with a hijab.Anyway,I was just curious.

    Peace & Blessings!

  5. Tina, Aafke, Abu Sinan – Thanks all for your comments.

    In regards to Tina’s question, yes, many women do wear open toed shoes and shoes without socks as well as sandals. One thing to remember about the Kingdom is that it is full of contrasts and contradictions!

    As far as what is worn under the abaya it can vary as well. It depends on the occasion as well as the individual.

    Abu Sinan made a good point how the working hours of various enterprises in the Kingdom adapted to the culture and to the weather. It never has seemed quite fair to me that in 45C heat women would be required to cover whereas men can wear shorts and t-shirts if they so choose!

  6. One teacher in Syria (I think) posted on why she loved her abaya so much: She could go to school in pyjama-pants and a tanktop, and no-one ever knows!!! 🙂 LOL

    Ho, ho, men are also required to dress modestly! it goes both ways! So no t-shirts and shorts! Where are the Muttawa when they’re needed?!?

    So you can wear any sort af shoes?

  7. Hi There:

    Muslim women are commanded by Allah (swt) to cover and He has instructed us whom to cover in front of.

    The Prophet (saw) has said (clarified for us) that what can be seen of a woman is her face and hands.

    Many styles of covering are choice; others are cultural or political interpretations, I think.

    Usually, women who cover a bit more (by choice) than what is required by Islam have a desire for more modesty. Additionally, Muslim women are not supposed to be flashy, i.e., attract attention of the opposite sex, i..e, the issue of scents, jewelry, etc.

    I personally wear gloves because I LOVE rings! For me, it’s just easier to cover them and not make a display. I also LOVE my bangles and am sure to wear close-fitting sleeves in public so they do not jangle.

    Great post!

  8. Salam all,

    “Muslim women are commanded by Allah (swt) to cover and He has instructed us whom to cover in front of”.

    Maybe it is not relevant, , but for my own knowledge, I would appreciate specific verses from the Quran (Allah) which command women to cover and how to cover.

    “The Prophet (saw) has said (clarified for us) that what can be seen of a woman is her face and hands”.

    Yes, by the way, I have read and appreciate the above referenced Hadith, however are you equating Hadith the same as the word of Allah?

    Thank you!

  9. Maybe I should clarify that we have differing opinions regarding this as well as other topics and my intention is only to make this very same point.

    I meant no disrespect to anyone and I appreciate the forum.

    Fe aman Allah

  10. Very Interesting……I enjoy your blog!

  11. Saffiyah, Hasna, Chantal – Thanks for your comments.

    I want to reiterate I’m not an expert on Islam and will post my understandings and that’s why I enjoy the comments, discussions and yes, occasional debates as it helps all of us continue to learn from each other.

    Without meaning any disrespect my view is that if it were very clearly worded in the Quran that a woman must specifically dress such as mandated to cover the head or wear gloves then there would be consistency among female muslims. But knowing so many lovely muslim women from around the world and whom I have no doubt on their sincerity and purity but some whom do not cover the head (except when praying) leads me to believe that there is liberal room for interpretation.

    I know the Quran states a woman must dress modestly but that can be interpreted in so many ways. A woman may feel modest in loose slacks or long skirt and long sleeves whereas another woman may feel modest more fully covered.

    And the same views apply in how much a woman covers such as hijjab, niqqab, veil as well as gloves and socks.

    The main intent of my post though is to help better inform those who may not even be aware of the distinctions or falsely believe that in Saudi Arabia it is a law for a women to be covered fully from top to bottom if out in public.

    Please keep the comments coming!


  12. Carol
    As a christain in UK concerned about multi-faith and integration, I could not possibly comment on a Muslim woman’s attire except to say that in the last five years or so, I see more and more women in UK wearing the Niqaab or Hijab.

    I sense a certain degree of empowerment for these women. For that, I am pleased because they are second or third generation Brits finding their own identity.

    If I may quote from another site I came across yesterday on the same subject.

    Q. I was always curious to ask if you are a hijabi woman? What are the challenges facing you as a veiled/unveiled Muslimah in the west?

    A. No, I don’t wear hijab. I wore it for seven years and then realised it is not a personal choice at all. It is a religious choice. When a woman decides (through her own personal study and not the understanding of ‘others’) that it is required by God then there is no question of personal choice left for her. She must cover her head (or even her face if she thinks niqaab is compulsory) just like she must pray five times a day.

  13. Winslie — as always, thank you for your contribution!

  14. Carol
    Understanding another persons way of life hopefully will help us be better people.

    Thanks for doing a good job of describing life from you perspective.

  15. Thanks Winslie!!

  16. Hasna:

    Quran 24:31

    “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent and to draw their veils all over juyubihinna and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their Muslim women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of feminine sex …”

    In one hadith reported by Aisha (ra), she said that Asmaa bint Abu Bakr entered the quarters of the Messenger of Allah (saw) wearing thin clothes. The Messenger (saw) turned his face away and said, “Oh Asmaa, if the woman reaches puberty, it is not allowed to be seen from her except this and this”, and he pointed to his face and hands.

    Due to these and other proofs, many Muslim women view covering as a religious obligation.

    The question here is what TYPE of covering and to that there is variation in culture, politics, etc.

    Some Muslim women also view the niqab as a religious obligation.

    Hasna; Muslims look to Quran and Sunnah. Of course, Quran is first and then Sunnah.

    Allah (swt) has told us Muslims in the Quran, 59:7, “And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain from it.”

    Since this is not blog by/for Muslims specifically, I neglected to give sources. Sorry. Insha Allah this helps to clarify my comment.

  17. I enjoy learning about life in the Kingdom from your perspective. There is so much misunderstanding based on assumptions, film, and inadequate journalism that your posts are important.

    Thanks again.

  18. Thank you Onedia and hope you will comment more.

  19. Yes, I will and I shall include your site the next time I do a roundup of recommended blogs for my small global neighborhood.

  20. Thank you very much! I’m glad to see you back.

  21. I do not agree with you that based upon the obseravtion that many muslim women from around the world have chosen not to cover Iyou believe that whether or not to cover is more of cultural mandate that specifically a religious mandate. It is a religious mandate to cover yourself in front of men not related to you. Whether or not many women cover or do not cover depends on their information reagrding this mandate in the Quran, their understanding or their interpretation of it.. People who cover here in Saudi Arabia beong to two categories- one who do it out of the reigious ordain and the other who do it out of cultural and obligatory pressure. If the law would permit there are scores of women who would give up their abaya.

  22. Thanks for your comment Sabah. This has always been a controversial topic in regards to the interpretation of whether or not to cover. Those who believe it is a religious mandate believe this strongly and those who believe it is cultural have a differing interpretation on the wording.

    When you think about it though, there are many women around the world who simply cover either for practicality or as a fashion statement. My two grandmothers were both from Eastern Europe who always covered their heads with a head scarf, not wrapped the same way as a hijjab but covered nevertheless. And no, they were not muslim either.

  23. Yes, I do believe it is a religious mandate. If you look in the Quran in Surah Nisaa, you will find it. I am sure many also believe but do not necessarily practise it. Even I had a tough time coming to actually doing it because I wanted to look hip and fashionable like the rest but once i understood the real importance and the actual obligation, it was easy for me. I do feel different when I am around women who don’t cover mainly because of the stereotypes sorrounding women who cover- they are uneducated, supressed, old- fashioned, without a voice- all of which I am not. As for practicality or for making fashion statements- certainly, I mean the head covered partially with colorful stoles looks sophisticated. And even though I have no idea why your grandmothers covered their heads, I do recall one of my Christian friend once mentioning to me that there is something in Christianity also about women being required to cover their heads. I do belive it is since I see the nuns in churches and elsewhere covering their heads.

  24. Carol
    May I have your permission to use your picture in a related article, Please?

  25. Sabah, Thanks for sharing your views. I was too young at the time to question why my grandmother’s chose to wear headscarves. I’m confident it was not due to a religious belief. Yes; nuns are expected to cover out of modesty. You raise the right point though, to cover or not to cover has to be a decision made for the right reasons for each individual.

    Winslie — What picture?! Of the ones in this thread? Sure, I have no problem with that.

  26. Yes Carol!
    The first photo of the woman in Abbaya on this article.
    Thank you!

    I didn’t think it was very polite to take other people’s photograps without permission and for some unknown reason couldn’t get the Flickr images to be up-loaded.

  27. […] Over at American Bedu, Carol describes her life in the Kingdom of Saudi, in particular she has an article to the issue of “Why Do Some Women Veil and Wear Black Gloves?” […]

  28. I want to know the cost of living in Saudi Arabia pls..I am going to work there soon as a hairdresser..

  29. Hi Chona,

    I’m afraid one cannot give a “blanket” answer to your question. It depends on where you will be working, what is your complete package as well of course of your needs and obligations. Now that being said, if you do searches within my blog, I have covered the various aspects of living in the Kingdom from rent and housing options, to cost of groceries, gas, drivers, etc.

    If you give more specific questions I and other readers I’m sure will be happy to respond.


  30. Why do fully covered muslim “batwomen” bother to wear any make up, jewellery, fancy clothing etc under their coverings? Is its only purpose to make them feel good about themselves wearing it rather than individualising themselves to the rest of the world?

    Regarding maintaining purity and chastity, if one is covered head to toe to maintain these things, do impure and sexual thoughts (if they even exist) ruin it?

  31. Ryan, good questions! I suppose that a fully covered woman may choose to wear make up and jewelry and fancy clothing for her own self esteem and desires? It’s a tough one. I know women who do believe noone unrelated should see them so they cover fully, as a “batwoman” as you described but yet at the same time, they do have their own desires on how they wish to be viewed by those who are “allowed” to see them.

    In regards to part two of your question, I am guessing that if one does think impure, sexual thoughts, then that would equate to being unpure….I mean if one is supposed to remain pure and project an image of chasity and pureness but at the same time has contradicting thoughts in the head, then how can that person truly be pure?

  32. My best friend use to be a hardcore niqabi…couldnt see a thing on her and everything in her life was forbidden. No music, no tv, no pictures, no laughter…basically no color(meaning that enjoying life adds color to it) and she was a sad and depressed person. She quite often got into arguments with others trying to make them understand Islam the same way she did…so she didnt have many friends either. She started working in a gyno office out of necessity…to pay for college and help with her aging mother. She said her eyes were opened to the human being and all our frailities…..

    Her beliefs about niqab changed over time….this is what she now believes. That hiding ourselves away from the public….from man etc…is putting up a false front. We are trying to lessen our impact on the world by becoming invisible to it. We are trying to limit our burden of life by removing ourselves from it. God tells us dont become like the monks of old…hiding away in a cave and avoiding life…meaning that, for sure you will not sin…but your not living either. Your not even being tempted to sin and winning that war by overcoming the temptation. She said not only do we avoid life by hiding from it…we basically live in a cave because we are removing ourselves from temptation and giving up the right to fight against it and win. Wearing niqab removes temptation from men….so your not helping them at all as its a war of temptation they should be made to fight and win. Also, it stops women from winning the war of being tempting while outside…by covering in a tent(so to speak) you have only covered the problem(the female body) (but you havent removed it from the battlefield…men will still bother you…women will still act immoral)….she hides herself thus removes herself from the battlefield…so to speak.

    Anyhow…she only wears hijab now…and is a much happier person…she says she now feels lke she is living life…not acting as an invisible bystander to it…..but thats just her….cant speak for anyone else.

  33. I don’t want to get off topic but I still think to a degree the women all veiling, covering in black and the men in their white thobes leads to a kind of conformity which also minimizes seeing people as individuals. That is very interesting to hear how your friend did change her views over time.

  34. Thats an interesting theory delhicat….I find that many issues in Islam are seen by Muslims to be black and white(thobe and abaya)….when there arent too many issues in life that are black and white…but many shades of gray…understand? We are often times told something “just is” without too much explaining as to why…no discussion…no argument…no allowance for opinions other than the “agreed upon” consensus….this makes everything seem black and white….decided upon and presented without room for questioning. If life were so simple….sin wouldnt be something we had to fight against…just my opinion.

  35. oh yes…I agree with your words, coolred. I remember when growing up Catholic and asking the nuns why I had to go through a priest to confess my sins and not speak directly to God. She rapped my fingers with the ruler and told me “because that’s the way it is and stop asking silly questions.” I think that was the moment I started drifting from the Catholic church.

  36. ah yes…to ask is to “question God”…the human concept of religion is a sheep like existence…follow the flock and dont stray…stray sheep get killed and eaten.

    Meanwhile…Islam throws that theory out the window and teaches us that God is right in front of us…with nothing between you and God except your concious…or something like that. I much prefer a personal God rather than one only obtained through the “mercy” of a go between….but thats just me.

  37. My theory is the more spiritual you become the less you focus on what people are wearing, saying, or doing. When your mind becomes more pure, you naturally think more purely, alleviating the thoughts that others are impure.

    You are what you eat, or you put out what you put in mentality.

    Coolred, you struck me with your comments. I can recall arrving in the middle east long ago, and the airport terminal looked like a sea of black and white shrouded figures. Of course, now I know to look for other identity traits such as jewelery or shoes to know differences, but back then I can distinctly remember thinking ”they’re all generic” and uniform looking.

    As for the gloves, you forgot a good reason to wear them, it literally saves your hands from sun damage in the extreme heat, especially while driving a car, or walking outside. Ditto for niqabs. Niqabis usually have very nice skin from covering. Fabric sunscreen. 🙂

  38. From a practical standpoint (the heat) I can see the point of covering one’s body to shield it from the sun. That said, I think it’s tragic that men walk around in white natural fibers during the summer months, whilst women are wearing synthetic black material. The colour and material of the average abaya is like the “high heels” of the Gulf States-crippling. One could still maintain modesty in beige cotton garments, no?

  39. Viking Daughter…you made me laugh remembering when I first came here.My sis in law would take me out and as soon as she turned her back I was lost in a sea of black…i would be left virtually in a panic thinking I was lost in a foreign country…so would be desperately searching for her…it took some time for me to realize that no matter how much black they were wearing ….they all had different shoes on. After that I would make it a point to see what shoes she was wearing before we got out…then whenever i “got lost” i would start staring at the ground looking at shoes…until I found hers. Most of the time….she was right next to me…just turned around or something. Lol….thanks for the chuckle.

  40. Some or my earlier posts are about identifying my husband among the “sea of white” while attempting to remain modest and not look all these strange men in the eye!

    And another one of my pet peeves — the fact that during the intense summer months the culture remains for the women to wear the enveloping black while at least the men have lightweight white cotton.

    But in regards to original posting, some women will continue as their choice and be comfortable with their choice to veil completely and wear black gloves.

  41. “But in regards to original posting, some women will continue as their choice and be comfortable with their choice to veil completely and wear black gloves.”
    But wearing the black abaya and shayla is less about choice. I don’t mean to say that these women would not chose to veil or even wear niqab, given the option. It’s just that the black synthetic apparel is the expected norm. If there truly was a choice and social pressure was alleviated, would women not choose lighter colours and cooler fabrics? If they had their choice, would it always be black? Would they not opt for a more varied application of the hejab as the Egyptians do?

  42. If given a true choice, I do agree that most women would probably be less likely to choose black. I say that because I think of other places such as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, etc., where muslim born muslim women are wearing something other than black yet being fully compliant in their desire for modesty and conservatism.

  43. salam
    i veil modestly mashAllah but i dont see any point in wearing black gloves or socks.that is extreme i guess and the more you hide, the more curious people would get.

  44. Thanks for the information. I remember seeing a woman like this at an airport in Bali. Freaked the S*** out of me. I ma not used to seeing women so covered up.

  45. You’re welcome Mellie and welcome to the blog. I can understand that the first time seeing someone dressed as such can be surprising.

  46. 8qThank’s.4f I compleatly disagree with last post . dnf
    паркет и ламинат 0g

  47. salam everybody,
    I’m a muslim from Malaysia,and currently I’m staying in Minnesota,USA for student exchange program. I will put on my hijab everytime I go out of the house. It’s kind of tough for at first,when everybody keep on staring at you,and at some point people will try to keep their distance from me,but after a few times going on public with my scarf on,I gradually feeling comfortable wearing my scarf. At school all my friends were all in wonders.Why am I covering my hair? I like to talk about wearing my scarf to my friends. I like the attention when I don’t have to revaled any part of my body to catch their attention. Wearing scarf has been part of me,I feel akward when I don’t wear one. From what I know,covering mouth is not necessary aren’t they? I mean for other muslim that lives in other country,because as far as I know muslim women have o cover all parts of body except for hands and face……Well,there is a few women who covers their mouth and nose and wear gloves in Malaysia but it was their choice no force that is put into it…..ok then!bye

  48. thank you sharing nash and I hope you continue to have a positive experience as an exchange student.

  49. I believe this aspect is growing everywhere as business owners learn what it is. For example, Phoenix is much more sophisticated in this regards than here in Tucson. I average small business owner is still way behind in their understanding such incidents.
    RHT Seamed Stockings

  50. My wife completely close with a veil

  51. @ tina
    whatu wear beneath ur abaya is ur choice, there is no ristrictions in islam as to how u dress-up. besides covering the ankle is a must for muslim women. so is her hands right upto her wrist, and her face.
    in QURAN, it is written in clear words that cover yourself in a way so that no one can recognize you and this most definitely includes ur head, ur face as well as ur eyes

  52. Welcome Sabika and Thank you for your comment.

  53. I’m 16, school girl. I wear full black veil, black sun glass, black gloves and ankle boots even in 40 C. I sweat a lot but I still love to wear as I fear ALLAH.
    besides religious point of view, I do this to protect my skin from sunburn. I wear veil by choic while my sister doesn’t. my skin tone is much fairer then her. I have equal skin color all over my body.

  54. Welcome Ayesha and thanks for commenting. I’m glad you shared your view. My only comment is that I don’t understand why so many say the FEAR Allah. I would say I wish to do this or that because I LOVE Allah.

  55. […] Saudi way which a traditional woman is expected to cover is to wear an abaya, hijjab (for the hair) and a niqab for the face, thereby […]

  56. […] and wish to ensure that their ankles remain obscured.  These same women are more likely to wear a full niqab and face veil as […]

  57. You always ask why do muslim women cover their hair their body
    Have you ever asked your self why do American women don’t cover why is it soo free to be normal nude show their body’s to all
    Then at the end they scream n yell for being looked at as a sex symbol or to be treated low

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: