I decided to write a series of posts about Arabic culture, and specifically Saudi culture. Since – being a Saudi woman living in Dubai – I frequently get asked many questions about my country and culture.
These questions range from cultural, to social, to religious, or simply personal ones. I noticed how almost every person I meet – from every walk of life – is intrigued once they find out my nationality. And they always start asking endless questions, which shows just how much people from across the world are interested to learn about my country and culture, and the lifestyle in Saudi.
Of course, the first element that draws a surprised and even shocked expression on everyone’s face is the obvious fact that I’m not wearing an Abayah. Being dressed in normal Western clothes is the first thing that they notice, and also the first that gets their attention and ultimate disbelief!
That’s why, in this post, I chose to explain to my readers this:
Why I Don’t Wear a Head Scarf or Abayah Like the Rest of the Country’s Population.
There are a couple of things to take into account when explaining this. First, I’m not living in Saudi anymore. That’s why the rules of the country don’t apply to me. Those rules (obligatory wearing of a scarf and Abayah) only apply to women who are living in the country. No matter what nationality you’re from, it’s a must to wear a scarf and black Abayah at all times. As long as you’re outside of the house.
Having said that, I used to wear the black Abayah and head scarf (without covering my face) when I was living in Saudi. I can talk about when I had to cover my face in another post. But for now, to keep things simple, the rule applies to everyone. Whether you are Muslim, Christian, Catholic, Hindu, or even Buddhist, as a woman living in Saudi, you are required to wear the Abayah and head scarf at all times.
Now to the second point;
Why Am I Not Wearing the Head Scarf in Dubai?
Saudi Arabia is a big country, with an estimated population of 30,770,375 (2014 estimate). This means that the population is highly diverse, with people from different regions speaking in distinct dialects. This diversity impacts the degree of religious observation as well. So while the majority of the population is highly conservative, and practice a strict version of Sunni Islam, there are other Saudi nationals who observe the religion differently.
There’s a group of nationals who are on the opposite extreme of the conservative Saudis. They are called the liberals. They might be few compared to the conservatives, but they do exist. And, I can honestly declare that I don’t belong to that group.
I can explain to you more about my parents and background in other posts. But I will give you a brief idea in this post.
My Background (an Overview)
I belong to a very rare and small category in the Saudi society – the moderates. You must understand that we are a minority in the Saudi population. There aren’t many of us around! I like to describe myself to be very similar to Western expats in the way that they observe religion moderately and they take it on a normal level. Not too extreme and not too light.
As a moderate Muslim woman, I wasn’t raised to pray five times a day (which isn’t something to brag about). I’m just doing my best to explain to you readers the difference between us moderates and the practicing Muslims.
Also, I wore the Hijab (head scarf) when I was in Saudi mainly because I had to observe the country’s laws and regulations. While, here in Dubai, as in other Gulf countries, there is more freedom in that area. And I can choose whether to wear the head scarf or not. I chose not to wear it because I didn’t have a religious upbringing (again, not something to be proud of).
So as you can see, people from Saudi Arabia practice Islam in various levels. The same concept applies to other Arab Muslim nationals. It’s just that for people who are from Saudi, this concept is not very common. Since the majority of the country’s population practice the strict Sunni version of Islam.
Despite attending an Arabic-curriculum school and studying the strict religious teachings, I choose not to practice those teachings. Because my home environment wasn’t on the same level of religion observation.
I can talk about my education in Saudi in future posts. I hope that this article helped clarify things about the Abayah and head scarf.
Stay tuned for more posts about Arabic culture, in the rest of this week.
You have mixed up religion and culture. U are not clear about religious requirements for men and women and are mixing up cultural requirements with religious ones..and in doing so u have chosen a lifestyle and dress code which is not compatible to religion or culture you belong to.
Thank you for your feedback. I doubt that someone who attended an Arabic-curriculum school with intensive religious teachings is not clear about the religious requirements for men and women. I am fully aware that women in Islam are required to wear a head scarf, and to cover their hair. And I never said that my lifestyle and dress code are compatible with my religion or culture! I was explaining why I’m different than the rest of my country’s population. I think you might need to re-read my post to understand it better. Either that, or maybe try to top up on your English language skills.
Dear Saudi Diva
Thank you for the insightful post. It’s interesting to read about the conservatives, liberals and moderates. I didn’t realise that the culture worked in this way. I suspect that the conservatives are in the majority when I think of my visits to KSA.
It’s also interesting to hear the reasons why you don’t follow the strict abaya and scarf dress code here in UAE.
Thank you for your insights. I look forward to reading your forthcoming blogs.
Thank you for your continuous support Kevin! A new culture post will be published later today. I look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts on it 🙂
It was interesting to know this.
In fact, when I saw “saudi” in your blog name, and no Abayah on you, I had the same question in my mind. It’s got clarified now.
Also, nice to learn that you belong to those ‘minority’ moderates 🙂
Would also like to know about that time when you were forced to cover your face.
Actually there are so many stories that I still would like to share with my readers about life in Saudi and the different challenges associated with living there. I plan to write more cultural posts soon. So stay tuned to this blog. You can also follow my Facebook Page: Saudi Diva to get updated whenever I publish a new blog post.