Saudi Arabia: The Family is Growing

I received the image above from Ali Alyami  with the caption “Don’t they all look so much like their mother.”

I have chosen to post this picture, which some will find humorous and others will find revolting, towards stimulating dialogue on why there are such split and polar views on the image.

For a woman who has grown up in an environment that this is the way women dress and is most comfortable shielding her body from curious eyes, she would feel adrift in the sea without a life raft if she were made to change.  On the other hand, there will be some women in Saudi Arabia who may prefer to have the choice to dress and go out at will.

Let’s think about it…IF the Saudi culture were to change in that women no longer had to cover and wear the abaya, how do you think Saudi culture would ultimately be changed?  Would it be for the better or the worse?  Would what some may view as a move forward ultimately become a major step backwards?


55 Responses

  1. If women had a choice, it would be better.

  2. I was shocked of the photo and the stupid comment of its sender. Have some respect to the people in the photo even if they don’t know you. I’m not a fan of abaya or borqu or even Hijab and my wife doesn’t cover up. But this photo is stupid.
    And to the sender of the photo: do you have a permission to publish?
    It is most probably the photo of the sender family, trying to make a joke of.

  3. This reflects the reality of the Saud government’s institutionalized discriminatory policies against Saudi women.

  4. I’m one of those who find the pic to be humorous..but I guess I have a dry sense of humour.

    I think many women would still wear what they do now, but there are those who would maybe like to be more individual in their dress.
    How many Saudi women would go out without abaya even if they could? In Riyadh at least, not that many I would guess..

    I don’t see how giving women freedom of choice is ever a move backwards..

  5. mohd:

    I am sure they are staged to make a point. Next this is a photograph which is a form of art. Art has a way of making statements that get people talking. The problem is that this form of dress has been harmful to a number of women either physically or psychologically as it is forced upon them. Often times even the children (who grow up) or the citizens are not allowed to practice a different faith or to even question that mandated faith. They are thereby mere slaves of the government imprisoned in a system of oppression.

    Calling attention to subjugation or oppression will never take you backwards only forwards as it is the first step toward a recovery from a form of hate.

  6. I too have found myself thinking ethnocentrically. Des this mean deep down inside I am xenophobic? Maybe. This photoshop image is just that, an image. The Saudi abiya is black. It is just a color. Imagine if men respected Saudi women for their piety. Just imagine. The abiya/coat can be described just like the left and right sides of politics. If the abiya/coat did not silence the women and enpower the men on the tail of its coat strings, I see no reason why their culture should change. I see the abiya as something really unconsequencial. We all have seen enough clevage, enough thighs. Maybe the focus could better be put on releasing the Saudi women’s minds to READ and LEARN, PROGRESS, and BE HEARD.

  7. Fogdogs11, the whole purpose of the abaya is to make women invisible and to not have them be heard.
    The Abaya and niqab is not Saudi culture btw. Saudi culture used to be many different kind of dress with color and embroidery. Many Saudi women had their hair out and wore more practical clothes.
    This covering of the sinful women, to make them into black invisible ghosts, is forced upon the Saudi people. The government forced the women to cover like this.

    Saudi Arabia has no culture anymore, it is now an experiment in social engineering.
    I do not see why I should have respect for a disastrous and inhumane experiment in social engineering.

    Looking at this photo reminds me of a comment a friend used to make, about men getting aroused by looking at a black garbage bag. I understand that now. They all four look very sexy.

  8. Actually it is sickening to see a little girl decked out in sexual fetish dress.

  9. I think if women were allowed to choose, KSA would start to look a lot like other countries in the region as far as how women choose to dress when outside the home. In other words, there would be a lot of variation from fully covered to short sleeve shirts and capri pants.

  10. Fogdogs11:

    How do you free a mind when you cannot even allow a person to freely express themselves in a manner that is uniquely them? Instead you have conformity with a narrow range in which to operate. This transcends often times to the endeavors of the human mind and its abilities. You see creativity can only truly be done in an open society thereby allowing for experimentation, analysis and failure and then some successes. That is not to say that it cannot happen in a closed society but often times the mind has been limited by the expression it is allowed.

    Then ask yourself why is it only women must conform to such a strict, extreme and unyeilding attire? It is the means in which to control make no mistake about that. In is the means in which to restrict and ensure a message is sent to you everyday, make no mistake about that.

  11. Would anyone who wasn’t forced for brainwashed wear an abaya and face covering? It certainly isn’t a practical way of dressing. One cannot drive a car. It has nothing to do with real modesty. It is about the sexual obsession of Saudi society. It should be done away with. If any women really feel comfortable this way they should examine their beliefs and learn to be independent adults.

  12. If I’m in the hot, hot desert, I might wear an Abaya to shield me from the heat. Black would prevent me from burning more than wearing white would…just a thought…

  13. Strange one, then why do we see Bedouin women uncovered, wearing loose brown or beige looking dresses on old pictures? Not to mention the many beautiful embroidered dresses Saudi women used to wear? They still exist you know, to bear witness to the real culture of what is now Saudi Arabia. These women actually worked in the fields and tended livestock and they did not think it more suitable or comfortable to wear a black garbage bag.

  14. This picture does look staged with the garbage bags. But what I found revolting was the child in the full deal. She is just a little girl and is innocent.

  15. The photo is clearly Photoshopped.

    Linda, she can be sold, or ”married” off, she’s ready for sex, come on, she must be at least 6 years old! Of course she has to be covered. By covering her up all men now know she is a sexual object. She has to be kept from sight, except for the man who’s property she is.

  16. Okay,

    Is Abaya a Dress Code strictly to be followed to satisfy certain principle!? or merely a choice of garment free to suit each individual !?

    If the choice of covering is a dictated uniform then there will be debates regarding its suitability to meet everyone’s demand.
    However, if garment had evolved from the local culture, certainly there would be many verities to satisfy old and young; at least for instant.

    Is that simple – said the Meerkat

  17. If it’s really photoshopped and staged than it takes the humour out of it and it becomes ridiculous to me..

    Re the traditional Saudi dress, I think certainly today what is considered the “national costume” was not so 100 yrs or more back.
    I can attest to this from the various museums I went to around Saudi. Although there were black abaya and niqab wearing women (even among the desert roaming bedouin), they were of different styles and the main point is, seems like there was much variability between women and regions. Most of the colorful stuff was used in the South and west

  18. sheerazy and Laylah, the black abaya+ niqab was not the norm as short a time as 30/40 years ago. This is is in living memory, I have heard people who are older saying that ”men from Riyad came and forced the women to wear the abaya”.
    So tell the Meerkat that whatever the abaya is, it is not the natural ”local” culture of the majority of Saudi Arabia.

    The complete covering of women was only part of the culture of the poor struggling deep desert tribes, and the government forced that repressive culture upon the rest of the country.
    There was a much greater richness of culture in the rest of KSA in the Eastern province and the hijaz, than in the sparse, sterile, primitive, stunted nothingness of the desert, and the people were starting to develop in the seventies and eighties and KSA was on its way to become part of the civilized world, instead these cultures are now utterly destroyed, and are now apparently forgotten by the new generations.

  19. Dear American Bedu
    In my opinion, this photo by all means is offensive to a big portion of Muslims community who choose deliberately to wear Abayea. if i were you, I would have little respect to all “parties” by not distracting the main discussion and let the debate proceed.

  20. Although i agree the image is rather gruesome and on the extreme side(little girls forced to veil), i find the remark attached rude. However,what are your thoughts on these

    I find it disgusting,vile and shocking to say the least. As a mother to a girl,it sends shivers .

  21. Somewhat sorta related to this topic (or maybe not) is an AMAZING news item that I read couple of years ago in an arabic newspaper, and bookmarked it for future posterity under “oddities” ….

    It was about a saudi husband who, despite having numerous children with his wife of ten years, had not ever never seen his wife’s face. There was also the story of another saudi husband, who could not identify his wife who was killed in a road crash until her veil was put back on her face.

    Incredulous to read such stuff in the 21st century! More incredulous is the fact that, while such habits have nothing to do with islam, a few saudi tribes still “defy the winds of change” and stick to their ancestors’ cultural traditions. Why is not muttawa on top of all this to “promote islamic virtues”, since the practice is blatantly unislamic?

    Go figure!

  22. This photo is very offensive and reflects the limited view of many people toward islam and sharia. We don’t have those many incidents so to speak of sexual harassment like in the west, in our society those incidents are counted on fingers while in the west there are thousands daily. In fact it is becoming a dilemma in many working places. We love our Abaya, and it is here to remain cause it is a good way to protect our jewels.

  23. I can attest that during the heat of summer wearing white is much more comfortable than black.

    I’m curious…how many American Bedu readers would be willing to experiment wearing an abaya, hijjab and niqab for a day and then share their experience and the reactions received?

    I have a book written by Awatif Al Qnaibet which is all about the traditional dresses worn in Saudi Arabia during the 50’s and 60’s. It also has many photographs. It’s true – many Saudi women did not cover their faces then and a proportion also did not cover their hair.

  24. Strange One … I can assure you that the black abaya is hot and does not keep you more cool than white. White reflects some of the heat away. Black absorbs the heat.

    I see many Saudi expat women here in Vancouver wearing long skirts and t-shirts with colourful hijabs and “sad to see the thing at all” colourful niqabs. I’m sure I also see lots who are not covered at all but I’d not be able to pick them out from the regular crowd.

    It is true that 30/40 years ago women did not have to cover up like that. I’ve seen pictures of family that clearly prove this true.

  25. Mohsen, we (the women) are not jewels, we are human beings not objects to be posessed so have a little respect, not only for us but for your female relatives, on the other side, it is funny how in blogs regarding the middle east, plenty of women complain about being followed or harassed by random men, muslims are always bragging about how rare are the cases of rape and sexual abuse in their countries, but they never recognize that in middle eastern cultures women rarely tell the police when this events happen out of shame or in order to protect the family honour, my advise to you is to check your facts and be more respectful next time, thank you…

  26. Bedu, I’m game, I have a real Saudi niqab after all!

    How can it be offensive? If you choose to walk around dressed up as a black garbage bag you cannot be offended at people making fun of you.
    What is really offensive, to all free women of the world, is having these ultimate symbols of oppression, subjugation and enslavement of women pushed into our faces and streets.

  27. Moshen, was that a joke? Saudi men are notorious for their never ending, continuous, merciless harassment of all women! Not even a nine months pregnant women can they leave in peace, they are like rabid dogs the moment something big and black passes by.
    While I, in the civilized part of the world, can cycle freely wherever I want to go, walk my dog at night, lounge in a bikini by the lake and without ever getting harassed by anybody.
    Get your information straight! You’ve got it the wrong way around!

    And you made two BIG mistakes in your comment: here’s some important information:
    1- Women are not ”jewels” they are sentient beings, moreover they are humans, and probably a lot more intelligent than you.
    2- Women are not ”yours” You don’t ”own” any woman. Women are not property. Women are not your slaves. Women are sentient beings, they belong to themselves and nobody else. You have no right to order any woman about. You do not possess women.

    If you love the abaya so much, why don’t you go out and about for a week in a abaya and niqab? You can then find out for yourself how ”comfortable” the black polyester abaya, and how ”perfectly breathable” the niqab are.
    And you wil find out first hand how no man will pass you by without harassing you.
    And at the end of the week you can come back here and tell us all how great and protected you felt as a ”Jewel”.

    But I know you won’t. You are undoubtedly far too big of a coward to try it.

  28. fondue, harassment, rape and incest increase as respect for and freedom of, women decrease.
    I have no doubt the real actual rape, incest and murder statistics in KSA would be shocking beyond belief if they existed.

  29. fondue, on May 30, 2012 at 6:06 pm said: “…. we (the women) are not jewels, we are human beings not objects to be posessed so have a little respect, not only for us but for your female relatives ….”.

    wow, yugo gurl! what a powerful statement. you are definitely NOT meek :)- i couldn’t have said it any better. my thoughts and sentiments exactly.

    MrsBawazir, on May 30, 2012 at 4:47 pm said: “Although i agree the image is rather gruesome and on the extreme side(little girls forced to veil), i find the remark attached rude.”

    Although the commentator found the remark/tagline attached to the pic as “rude”, I strongly disagree. Sometimes one has to use “shock and awe” to make one’s point effectively, exactly as what dr. alyami did. i have no ideas what religion Mrs is, but generally, i have found muslims getting their feels hurt so easily.

    I see and hear and read a lot of “stuff” that goes on in muslim countries that makes me cringe and send shivers up the spine. The thing is that here in the west, everything is open for critique and criticism and subject to public opinion, such as with the “young girls lingerie” topic that the commentator brought up, as a counterpoint punch to “veiling”. On the other hand, such topics are avoided and shoved under the carpet in muslim countries, either out of shame or to present a more “modern” and “humane” face to the rest of the world.

    I remember watching ahmenjad from iran last year publicly stating that “we don’t have any gays in iran”. Only to hear and read about him arresting and beheading or stoning to death over a dozen gays and lesbians, couple of weeks later. sorry to say this but i find muslims and their leaders as a pure bunch of crybabies and hypocrites.


    thx for the most interesting read regarding saudi husbands, from a few tribes, who despite having numerous children with their wives had not ever never seen their always-veiled wives’ faces. after i got out of shock and awe, i wondered out loud whether they petroglyphed their own version of kema soodra in order to have kids :)-

    i watched a national geographic special once which portrayed certain tribes in africa and south america who are still hunters and gatherers and still use stone-age tools. united nations has designated them as world heritage sites and have asked the governments to ensure their preservation “as is”.

    interesting stuff that one comes across nowadays …..

  30. For the posters claiming that rape and harassment is rare in Muslim-majority countries: I hope you read this account from an Egyptian woman, The Reality of Sexual Harassment in Egypt:

  31. The problem is that we are assigning a value to clothing (mere cloth) that now stands for the value of humanity. Clothing has no value unless we give it a value. A person who is nude is as good as a person who is covered head to toe. However, the value of the clothing is now what apparently defines the person in other words, a person has no more value than the clothes he wears. The cloth is what is actually giving us value. I

    How very sad that we cannot understand that this arbitrary assigned value particular codified assigned value now becomes more valuable than the person.

    This is the biggest reason I object to this dresswear as it has a strong negative value on women by a religious codification.

    I have also be uniformed in black as well as beige in extreme heat. I will tell you I would pick beige everytime as black is seering. I actually had to wear pantyhose under my pants so the black pants did not burn my skin as that is what happened without the panty hose. I never had that type of problem with beige.

  32. Lest we forget sexual assault on Lara Logan (60-Minutes Reporter) at the same protest rally at Tahrir Square, similar to “Organica” experience.

  33. I would love to do such an experiment in my area. It has very few Muslims. I don’t have abaya, hijjab or niqab, however.


  34. Without being obliged to cover, I think the health of Saudi women would improve. there are so many problems related to lack of vitamin D.

  35. @X-Moozlum how about sons and daughters who never saw the face of their mothers? How strange is that!

  36. Hi Laylah,

    Thx for the link to your blog. I have bookmarked your VERY informative website and will come back to it often.

    Yup, it is amazing (and sad) that kids never get to see their mom’s face. I have had second thoughts and hope that they get to keep their unique culture and traditions and rites that go with it. After all, they are not harming anyone.

    Thanks again ….

  37. I am not sure which is more comfortable in the heat as far as black and white goes. There would be a lot of factors in play such as the material, dye, looseness of clothing, weave/knit chosen, etc. What I can tell you is that UV rays penetrate light colors more easily than dark colors. I would imagine that natural fibres would feel more comfortable than synthetic ones overall. Also, that loose, flowing clothing would be more comfortable in the heat than skin-tight clothing. What kind of clothing is worn in other countries in similar weather outside in the heat and sun?

    I also agree that it is a bit sad that some of the culture of KSA has been lost.

  38. I m Muslim Louise,and its nothing to do about religion to make me ‘hurt’ as u stated,its comparing PEOPLE to garbage. If i were to do tht to a Westerner,i would probably be labelled rude or an oppressor. Frankly speaking,i gv the link to show te other side of oversexualization tht nobody seems to care since its not ‘Islam’.thats te hypocrisy tht lies in tye western society.

  39. Its extreme,yes,i wont deny to see this kind of clothing (all black head to toe,face included) especially on a child but why stop there? Why not be honest and look at the oversexualization on mere kids in the west,mostly done by parents(since i cant imagine a 6yr old hving a credit card to buy te latest padded bra). This is tje unfortunate current trend we read in the news and frankly,this is q form of oppression on innocent kids who no doubt,dont even know what is sexy.but u see toddlers n tiaras.u see ambercombie n fitch making thongs for little girls,u see parents dolling up their 7yr old n buying her high heels to match her hot pants.before u lament this is done by huge companies looking for mere profits,bear in mind the demand n supply chain.oversexualization especialy on children is an epidemic in the western society,so i prefer my islamic ‘garbage’ attire (i cant imagine normal loose clothings with lovely hijab being garbage,but hey) and seeing my baby girl wear nice dresses rather than what the link i provided try to advertise what is appropriate for little girls.

  40. StrangeOne … you may not be sure about black or white clothes but you have been advised by myself and Carol that black is indeed a killer to wear in the summer. Black ABSORBS the heat, white reflects.

    One thing that is also true is that covered skin in loose flowing garments is much more comfortable than skin covered tightly or skimpily. My preferred summer attire is a loose long sleeve cotton shirt or top and a long skirt or loose cotton pants.

  41. Thts what i wear Wendy,the loose cotton clothing.if i were to suddenly go crazy n wear qtube top i would be burnt by the hot sun in Malaysia,skin cancer skin is very sensitive so when the noon sun touches me,I’d get freckles,pimples etc.vitamin d deficiency has never been heard here with all the hijabis.

  42. Talking about hot sun,my husband’s hair always smells like its been barbecued when he arrives home from walking due to our harsh sun rays.he solves this by wearing a hat,while my hair is always safely tucked under a scarf.i would say there are merits f wearing hijab besides a religious requirement , in my case anyway.

  43. I’d like to say that Mohsen is a personal friend of mine and I know that he did not mean any disrespect by his choice of words. I also know that women in his family are cherished and well-taken care of.

  44. Mrs. B … you get vitamin D deficiency from lack of sun exposure, not from being covered! Women who are entirely covered outside all of the time will definitely be vitamin D deficient. If they have a walled home they could go outside for 10 or 15 minutes a day without the abaya and get their much needed sun vitamin D OR take supplements orally. We are only learning in recent years how much harm is done to women in respect to lack of Vitamin D who spend their lives totally covered. In fact there is new knowledge coming out every day regarding the importance of vitamin D to the body and it is critical for sure!

  45. It’s good to know that the female part of Moshen’s family is well, and well taken care off.
    Although no woman should need to be taken care off. Women are quite capable of taking care of themselves. And they never ever belong to men.

    Strange one, I wear a lot of black. Trust me, black is a lot hotter than white. Linen is best in hot weather, it is cool and is the most moisture absorbent fabric.

  46. I agree Saudi culture of the past woman dressed beautifully and colorful. Today’s’ Saudi culture is more about oppression. I believe due to all the covering women become more objects to men because men are interested in seeing what is behind the (black drapes) black abaya/niqab wearing women. Let’s face it, men are visual and even though they cannot see the woman behind the abaya/niquab their minds will wonder and the Saudi police cannot control that. Second point, God knows and sees all things so a woman covering he has already seen her/him naked for he is the creator of all things including people. God also knows the mind of man. So, while men are pretending that they are not lusting after a woman visually they are doing it in the mind. Final point, full covering abaya/niquab will not prevent hate crimes like rape against a woman nor will it reduce such crimes if someone is really interested in bringing harm to a woman.

  47. Salaam alaikhoum. I found the image bothstrange and different. I have just started wearing niqab,so Carols point of readers volunteering to dress like in the picture and then posting comments would be interesting for me to read also. However it would be interesting to read a mutawat’s comment on the whole thing. They are there to promote virtue (such as women covering completely!), what do they themselves think about it? Because of his position I presume his wife and daughters would cover properly, but if he was with them when they went to buy an outfit (women have to be accompanied by a mahram male!!) would he suggest that such and such an outfit was not concealing enough even though it did cover the female completely, but was perhaps not opaque enough?! Maasalaama

  48. What do you mean with ”covering properly”? If you read your Quran, which I doubt, considering your comment, you would know that covering the body from the breasts down to the knees would be ”covering properly”.
    At least according to Allah the invisible sky daddy.

    being covered head to toe is an ancient Jewish custom for elite women.
    In covering wearing the niqab you are imitating the kuffaar and committing a sin.

  49. Well,,,I think if women didnt have to cover any more, we would first see some ladies from liberal families starting to walk without abaya, slowly others would follow.

    On the short run, there would be some turmoil, but after all would relax.

    I think it is important that men take responsibility for their actions, rather than assuming that all is on the woman- she is the alluring one- and thus has to cover not to ‘ entice men’.

    This is my objection. Otherwise if we take the abaya/niqab to be simply a piece of clothing, without any connotations, I dont mind the slightest.

    Anyone can dress as they wish.

  50. One oft repeated comment is government institutionalized social engineering: well what are governments, most often they are some faces who have the job of managing a country’s affairs which is quite tough; further they are risk averse which makes them to stick to popular issues, because they may loose their power over masses if they resort to unpopular moves, Iran’s shah risked that and lost every thing; so after observing 1979 which muslim country’s ruler would dare to make unpopular moves like those? I remember attack on a minister’s home by gun wielding youth reported in Arab news after he openly supported gender mixing in the country, even though some royal family members openly supported driving rights there were reports of some men threatening to resort to violence. Drastic changes such as allowing freedom to chose their attire, keeping shops open during prayer times etc cannot be implemented by governments by making laws-it has to come from members of society, because if you do not stand up to your own needs no one will give it on platter. The sheikhs yield so much power over all issues concerning day to day lives of people, either they need to understand the need for change or else common man should protest and get it to be resolved. Even India has Hindu patriarchs calling shots and condemning certain issues like marriage outside a clan etc which is a problem even though constitutionally they have no right to involve in private lives of people; they purge the people involved and their family members from their village -why does it happen because even governments do not have courage to implement law of land lest they loose their vote banks.
    So the ball is in the court of the common man (who is busy marrying many times and feels happy in make believe paradise!!!)

  51. Salaam alaikhoum. I would like to say in response to Aafke-art that I am aware that covering completely i.e. the face and hands is not in the quran so one has to go to the hadiths for clarification, but here too there are differences,it is something that the scholars are always discussing. However it does appear that especially with regard to local women, the Mutawat adopt a hard-line stance regarding how they (the women) cover themselves. This was my point. Are the actual mutawat personell adopting this stance or are they officially instructed to do so? How much do personal preferences (and understanding-either cultural or religious); come into it – especially regarding their own wives and daughters? Maasalaama

  52. when the women in the church wear the cover thats mean nothing to you , but when they are doing the same thing in other country u start making fun of them
    where is the freedome , they chose to do that , so its non of your business

  53. Yay:

    Actually it does mean something especially when you determine that the interpretation which is discriminatory, offensive, subjugating, detrimental, etc, to many and needs to be applied to the citizenry either by societal pressure or indoctrination then it needs to be assessed and scrutinized. I find religion under scrutiny fails as it is cherry picked, re-written, or interpreted in a manner to which has a winner or loser. That includes the Koran, Bible etc. It has a psychologically damaging effect on many in which there will be no support for it other than a text written by individuals intended to control, subjugate, belittle and destroy.

    Religion is an evil doctrine to which supports murder, apartheid, destruction etc.

  54. This is offensive, to show pic like this!. Doesn’t matter our opinions about Abaya, we should respect those who wear it. It’s strange to find this in a web site that claims to bridge gaps between cultures!.

  55. Abdul:

    Going to be hard to bridge gaps between cultures when you stick you head in the sand on what many especially women view as oppression and offensive and a symbol (black abaya) as a hate message to gender. In addition many men find it the same and consider it an insult that their wives have to be subjected to such outward symbolisms of hate toward their wives gender.

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