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An Ode to the Abaya

When I first came to Bahrain about 11 years ago, one of the things that really caught my attention –other than the unbearable heat of course – was how the ladies wore black dresses. I had no idea what they were called then, of course it didn’t take me long to be introduced to the famous ABAYA. In this scorching heat, everyone of them seemed comfortable and at ease, even though it was over 40 degrees outside, and we all know the love-hate relationship between the sun and the colour black, which back then was reason enough for me to put the idea of wearing an abaya to the back of my mind. Yet it was very hard to ignore how majestic and attractive those fashionable black dresses looked, I mean how can you ever go wrong with a black dress, right? Even though they were all the same colour, they couldn’t be more different. They were everywhere, in all shapes, sizes and designs. The fancy ones, the casual ones, the ones with pearls and beautiful stones, the plain ones… etc. Every time I would go out, I would see at least one that would make my jaw drop, and I couldn’t help wonder how creative must one be to make this number of glamorous designs out of the same black fabric! Yet, still, I could never bring myself to wear one, and I could never figure out why.

I too come from an Arab country, where women do cover up and seeing women in large dresses and hijab was a very familiar scene. It took me years to realise that those stylish black dresses were more than just a symbol of being a Muslim woman, they were a sign that we were in the Gulf, more specifically: in Bahrain! They were part of a very rich culture, they were a sign of being a BAHRAINI Woman! And that’s exactly why I felt I could never fit into the category of women who can wear an Abaya.

There was another reason that kept me from even trying to wear one, it was a little awkward how some foreigners behaved when dealing with a woman in an abaya, it was almost like they automatically build a wall between them and the woman in black, and act very differently than if the woman was dressed in a Western manner. Maybe out of respect or maybe because they also felt that the abaya is a sign of belonging and that they didin’t fit in that category, or maybe because they simply assumed that the woman in front of them was too traditional to meet their standards.

Years have passed, and somehow I have familiarised myself with the idea of wearing an abaya. My wardrobe now contains some breathtakingly gorgeous ones, that I take pride in wearing. Yes, because Bahrain has this effect on you, it is a place that embraces all its people, and makes them all feel at home. So now I wait for the Holy Month of Ramadan, to do what I once thought was both unthinkable and unbearable. I glide gracefully in my flowing black piece of clothing, that I once thought was not for me, and not only do I feel the magical effect it has on anyone who wears it, I also admire and applaud the women in this part of the world, who stick to their traditions so beautifully and no matter how hot it gets.

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Ramadan Kareem

July 2017: Star Gazing