An interview with Samiya. An Ethiopian Muslimah.

asalaamu aliakum!!

So in this post I have interviewed a reader of this blog, sister Samiya, shes a Muslimah from Addis Ababa Ethiopia. For those who need a geography refresher. Ethiopia is an East African Country close to Somalia. Its alhamdullah a peaceful country and has absorbed a LOT of Somali refugees (apparently the capital even has an area nicknamed “Little Mogadishu”).

Now, I really havent met too many Ethiopian Muslims in real life. Maybe like 10 years ago I was semi-friends with one (although she moved away too soon after I met her, ah well) and I remember asking her about Muslims in Ethiopia and overall I remember her saying good things about being Muslim in Ethiopia. The style of “hejab” she wore was according to her the norm in her area, basically like a kerchif style scarf tied behind the head covering all the hair but exposing the neck. She normally wore very moder attire, mashallah and was a true hejabi in her behavior and deen.

But anyway, Ethiopia is I believe a predominantly Orthodox Christian country with a large percentage of Jews and something like 50-60% of the population is Muslim. Unfortunately its been hard for be to find authoritatively written up documentation about this, most of it seems to be hearsay or from websites that are promoting their own agenda. Overall it seems like Ethiopians of all faiths tend to respect one another.

So I was thrilled about being able to ask Samiya a few questions, especially because I know she wears overhead garments which, I frankly thought noone really did in Ethiopia and I admit to learning quite a few things from her insightful and thoughtful answers, mashallah! jazakhallakhairoon sis Samiya for your time and effort in taking part!

1) Sister, what is your location and profession?

-Bismillah. I live in Addis Ababa , the capital city of Ethiopia . I was born here and have lived here all my life. I work in foreign purchasing/import and also serve as the assistant to the G.M in a large import company.

2) So as an Ethiopian Muslim, what is your style of hejab like? You wear overheads right? How common is that there and how did you start and why. How long have you worn hejab?

-My personal style of hejab is either the jelbab or overhead and I also wear gloves. In the case of the overheard, I just wear a black cap underneath, top it with a black hijab and wrap the hijab in such a way to cover my chin, that way everything stays in place as I go about my day. As for the jelbab, it’s a tie back so I just use a piece of square cloth underneath and pin it at the back to cover my chin. The overhead is not really as common as the jelbab in Ethiopia, probably due to non-availability in the market, but I’m seeing more sisters wearing it these days especially those who’ve lived in or have visited the KSA or UAE.

I started wearing hjiab in my high school senior year (9 years ago!). I wore long skirts and shaylas for the first year and then graduated  to the jelbab starting from my first year in University.

Before I started wearing hijab, I was always aware of its importance in the life of a muslimah but always figured I would do it when I was ready- it seemed like a thing for the distant future at the time. But alhamdulilah, some time during my late teens I became more interested in seeking Islamic knowledge and understanding the importance of the commands of Allah subhanahu-wa-ta’ala. My older sister also started to observe hijab at that time and I became really close friends with one of my cousins who was going through the transition of non-hijabi to hijabi herself. With their support and my new found conviction and by the Grace of Allah subhanahu-wa-ta’ala, I was able to start observing hijab. It was really hard at first because it was so different from what I was used to, but alhamdulilah, I think I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

In Ethiopia , a jelbab basically means a khimar that goes down to the ankles or knees, usually one piece with a tie-back. It takes a little getting used to because more times than not the fabric is really heavy and since it’s really long and has no slit for your arms, it’s a little tricky to get your arms out for whatever reason you may need to. It is, however, the most common type of over garment in Ethiopia and I believe it was introduced to the Country by Somali refuges and Ethio-Somalis who immigrated to Addis Ababa (the capital) within the past decade or so right around the time that most muslimahs took to covering.

To the best of my knowledge, these are the styles of hjiab seen in Ethiopia :

  1. Jelbab with/without niqab and/or gloves
  2. Ovehead abayas (much less common than above) with/without niqab and/or gloves
  3. Shoulder abayas with shaylas, colorful or otherwise (more common these days)
  4. Long skirts/dresses with any kind of top and shayla OR colorful diracs with shaylas. The shayla may be tied in a bun with one side casually thrown across the shoulder or wrapped around the head in the traditional way
  5. Leggings/Skinny Jeans with long (or short-eek!) tops and shayla either tied in a bun, thrown casually atop the head with sides thrown across each shoulder or wrapped around the head in the traditional way. This type of dress is more prevalent among the youth and seems to be a spreading trend unfortunately. May Allah help us and them to observe proper hijab

3) Ethiopia is a multi-religious country right? how are Muslims treated-in general…and how are you treated by both Muslims and non-Muslims…based on your attire choices?  Are there any problems you encounter or are people quite accepting and interested. What does your family think? What attire do they wear?

– Ethiopia is indeed a multi-religious country with almost half the population being Muslim. The Country is more or less dominated by Orthodox Christian culture and this is evident in most of the innovations that have creeped into the Ethiopian Muslim Ummah. However, there is also a very strong Islamic History dating back to the time of the Prophet’s time (may the peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him).

Presently, the current regime has allowed for freedom of practice of religion unlike past regimes and the vast spread of Islamic knowledge has led to the covering of many Muslim sisters and generally to a more noticeable practice of Islam… much to the chagrin and unease of the non-Muslim society who would like to keep Ethiopia as Christian as possible. Muslims and Christians generally live side by side with relative peace and mutual respect although there have been some tensions bubbling beneath the surface due to the aforementioned reason.

The more acceptable form of hijab by mainstream society would probably be the d) or e) type because people are less intimidated by it. If you’re an a) or b) type, some Muslims due to improper understanding of the deen will think you are an extremist and will shun you and the Non-Muslims… well who knows what they think, what is evident is they tend to look down on fully covered women for whatever reason.

In the past, over garments were virtually non-existent and the rare showing of a lady in any type of over garment with or without niqab would definitely draw unwanted stares, insults, and general curiosity by both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I’m happy to say that these days, seeing sisters in jelbabs has become a common sight… in most neighborhoods, and people don’t gawk and stare and hurl insults at us like they used to. Even if they do, sticks and stones, right?

My family were a bit hesitant about me wearing jelbab at first but have come to accept it as time progressed. The women in my family wear c) or d) type of hijab.

4) If you work or are a student, how has your choice or attire helped or hindered you? What is the working/academic atmosphere like there for Muslim women and esp fully-covering Muslimaat?

-Alhamdulilah, my attire has not hindered me in any aspect of my life. However, I believe I am the exception and not the rule since my workplace in particular is Muslim-friendly. I do know from other friends that it’s really hard, really close to impossible to find a job when you’re dressed in full Islamic attire (overgarment plus niqab) even though you’re fully qualified for the job. However, we’ve seen many changes during the past decade and I believe that things will get better for covering Muslimaat, InshaAllah. For, “Verily, after hardship comes ease”.

5) Anything else you would like to share? Inspirational words, anecdotes?

It’s very easy to lose sight of the reason you’re wearing hijab, especially when you’re bombarded from left and right with negativity or when it seems people are turning the hijab into some sort of fashion statement. We should try and remember always that we wear hijab, not to please or displease others or to follow our whims and desires, but to obey the command of our Lord, Most High whose Words should be with us always… “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be recognized so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Of-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Surah Al-Ahzab, V. 59)

**Mashallah!!! I love this last statement…EXACTLY!!! en’shallah we should always keep this in the back of our minds…

We asselam alaikum werehmetullahi weberekatu.

Now she was kind enough to share a few pictures, her face is blanked out which I’m 100% OK with…personally I think its better anyway because really, do we even know what happens to our pictures after we post them? No, so atleast blanking out the face is better! Allahu alim.

Samiya in her long khimaar (aka jilbab)

Samiya in her overhead

(samiya, rockin' her overhead 🙂


8 thoughts on “An interview with Samiya. An Ethiopian Muslimah.

  1. Salamz-

    Thanks for another great piece!
    The Ethiopian and Somali sisters that I knew in London usually wore a khimar and skirt- like the three women pictured in one of the photos. I tried the knee-length khimar myself and did find it very heavy, as the weight of it is born by your head instead of your shoulders. But it does cover your *ahem* chest area well- which is always an issue for me!
    It’s sad that so many sisters want to follow the fashion trends of the kuffar, and that being properly Islamically covered is seen as “extreme” ,”backward”, “ugly” or ” dressing like an old woman”- may Allah SWT guide them, and all of us. Halima

    • salams

      yup…exactly…it is really sad that dressing in proper hejab is considered really uncool and extreme. Yah…ugh.
      I feel it here.

      • Totally agree; also, wearing proper hijab doesn’t have to mean looking ugly or frumpy. There are some really great jilbabs, tunics, skirts, khimars, etc. that look nice yet fulfill the rules of hijab just fine. I wear khimars and jilbabs, and while they’re generally simple and practical I would hardly call my style “old-ladyish” or “ugly”. Alhamdulillah, “modest” and “beautiful” don’t have to be contradictory.

      • YUp…exactly, I think actually dressing in real hejab actually looks very elegant and lovely, mashallah and ofcourse modest with an air of piety, which lacks when your strutting in skin-tight pants and a top showing your body. Ya know.

        May Allah swt guide them!

        P.s. when I think of old lady style I think of a large pleated jilbab, like the kind we had in 1998…LOL and a “babushka” style kerchif under the chin. LOL…mashallah. heh

  2. is seen as “extreme” ,”backward”, “ugly” or ” dressing like an old woman”

    That’s almost exactly what I think of such clothes. Unfortunately, it’s how I often have to dress myself (a combination of two restrictive uncomfortable garments – an overhead and a niqab).

    Otherwise, great job Umm Ibrahim. A very interesting interview, thanks for sharing and for the effort.

    • salaams, that makes me kinda sad as I dont view either as restrictive or old fshioned. I personally love overheads and dont find them restrictive at all, neither in Saudi, Iran or here…yes some are made in a poor fashion and can be highly uncomfortable but better made ones I do find quite comfortable. I also know many long-time niqab wearing sistrers who have the funk when it comes to their attitudes and style of dress, they may wear niqab but they have flavor, panache and the attitude to go along with it and they dont find it restrictive either. I guess though if you have to wear something and dont want too then thats another story. Allahu alim.

      • I’m sorry for my negative comment, sis. Please feel free to remove it- I will know it’s nothing personal 🙂 I don’t like others leaving negative comments and avoid doing this myself. Especially that you are trying to show this garment in a good light and encourage women to wear it. It does have some advantages. It’s just so different when one has to dress like that against the will.

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