Saudi Arabia: Abaya Wedding Etiquette

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A Saudi wedding is always a unique experience and I think more so for the female attendees.  This earlier post, written in 2007, provides details about the wedding from start to finish.  Today, I have chosen to write specifically on abaya wedding etiquette when attending a Saudi wedding.  abaya 2

Some women may choose an elaborate and “formal” abaya to wear at the Saudi wedding in lieu of other formal dress.  These women will wear the abaya throughout the time they are at the wedding. However, for the women who have worn formal dress will remove their abayas once they are securely inside the women only reception hall.  At many weddings abayas are checked by a banquet or hotel staff member and the owner of the abaya is given a ticket which she is to use to reclaim her abaya later.  At some weddings a female guest may choose to drape her abaya over her chair so it is easily at hand.

At the majority of Saudi weddings there will be a time when the lights will dim or flash on and off to warn uncovered women that the groom and maybe a few other men will be entering the room.  In accordance with the Saudi culture, this allows women the opportunity to don their abaya, hijab and veil so they are not seen by an unknown and/or unrelated male.

Susie, who blogs at Susie’s Big Adventure, recently attended a wedding and found that

when she was getting ready to leave, her abaya was missing!  Fortunately she was able to get it back two days later but was put in a position of having to leave the wedding hall sans abaya.

abaya 3  She was one of two individuals impacted by the rash actions of one woman who did not follow abaya etiquette.  Woman number one who started the chain of events panicked when it was nearing time for the groom to make an appearance.  The attendant was not around when she went to claim her abaya so she helped herself to one.  When she realized it was not hers, instead of returning it back to the abaya check in station, she just left it on her chair.

In turn, when woman number two who was the owner of the abaya absconded by woman number one was unable to find her abaya, the woman was told to simply take another abaya.  Woman number two happened to select Susie’s abaya.

Around four in the morning Susie was ready to depart and went to retrieve her abaya.  Like Woman number two, she learned it was missing.  Although she was also told to just select another, Susie did not want the breach of abaya etiquette to compound any further and instead chose to exit the room in her wedding finery.

Fortunately with the lateness of the hour there were few individuals (read unknown men) around and Susie’s husband was waiting to collect her.  She was able to get to their car and return home without incident.

Thankfully the bride’s sister works with woman number two and that is how Susie was able to get her abaya returned to her.  And woman number one, who started the breach of etiquette, she was able to retrieve and wear her own abaya when she departed the wedding.  abaya 4

For many women, an abaya is a very personal matter.  It can be a woman’s personality statement, fashion statement, religious statement, power suit as well as many times tied to the first impression a woman makes when someone meets her for the first time.

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5 Responses

  1. Perhaps women should have an emergency abaya with them much like the mylar blankets camper keep with them for emergencies. (Not silvery in color of course.)

  2. Hey, Jerry, you might have come across a new market niche! Would be helpful too for those who land from abroad to an airport in Saudi only to realize to her dismay that her abaya is in her checked luggage.

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  4. At one wedding I attended all the women had ‘abaya bags’ … small pretty bags that the abaya was folded into and the women kept these bags with them at the table. Much easier than checking them with an attendant and safer than drapping them over a chair. Of course I did not bother to put mine on when the men came in. There were a few non-Muslim women attending who didn’t bother to cover either. Nobody cared. I never covered my head when in KSA either.

  5. I was at a Kuwaiti wedding recently where a foreign (Romanian) muhajaba took off her hejab and left it on her chair. A Kuwaiti woman came in without hejab. when the groom’s party entered, the Kuwaiti woman grabbed the hejab and covered her hair. The Romanian woman turned to her and said, “Do you think wearing hejab is a joke? Give it back!” I had to laugh at the irony. But really – if you are going to follow etiquette, bring your own, wear your own, leave with your own. Anything else is theft.

    Wendy – I like the idea of the abaya bags. Maybe that’s a market trend for Kuwait.

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