Review: Al-Athari UK Overhead Abaya

Bismillah ar-rahman ar-raheem

About a month ago Al-Athari in the UK sent me one of their popular batwing style Gulf overhead abaya to review. Unfortunately it arrived while I was out of town and then once I returned I was busy with getting ready for my courses to resume and then got caught up in those!  I finally have a bit of time (in between studying) and wanted to get this review out! mash’Allah!

Al-Athari is a UK based business which specializes in abayaat, niqabs, thobes and other items from the Gulf countries. Most of their products are from Saudi Arabia and UAE and are in line with what is currently popular in those countries. Now, these are not off-the rack garments but are actually designed by Al-Athari for western Muslim tastes.

The abaya which they sent me is a black overhead abaya, batwing cut which is quite traditional in design but slightly updated according to western prefences. In the UK the overhead abaya is called a “Jilbaab”…much like how in France the overhead garment which I always talk about is also called a “jelbab”…this is because according to Islamic texts…the proper term for an overgarment which a Muslim woman is supposed to wear around herself as part of her hejab, is called a “jilbaab“. Hence, they term any garment which covers from head to toe, a jilbaab for this reason. For simplicity and comprehension of my readers in the USA I shall keep the term “overhead abaya”.

Anyway…

About the abaya: The cut is basically the same as what is sold in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries…traditional batwing style, a finger loop and closed front (some overheads in the Gulf now come closed-front)...but, for the western market…it has an attached headband (think, French overhead jilbabs) which is worn tied around the head with a fairly small face opening which lends itself well to niqab. The material used is a very good, everyday black crepe. I believe its called Mustaqbal…its a crepe which is popular in Jeddah (In Khobar everything was Saloona and forsan or internet-in true Gulf fashion). The abaya itself is very light on the head and it has the typical billowy cut which the batwings are famous for…but due to the tie-backs, is more comfortable for those sisters who wish to wear overheads but dont want to wear the traditional kind which rest on the head OR deal with elastic. As far as shipping goes, it took 2 weeks to reach me from the UK to USA via regular Royal Post and came beautifully wrapped up in tissue paper (alas, no pics as my son ripped it open before i could stop him!)

Now, I do have a few cons about the cut of this overhead. All those whom have read my blog for a long time know…I *know* overheads…LOL. I do wear them frequently and in Saudi and when in Iran wear them almost exclusively. I have no qualms with flitting around my city chillin’ in jeans, sneakers, a teeshirt, funky scarf and a black overhead worn on top as my overgarment. I love them…they are so comfortable and modest, mash’Allah. But…I am a bit picky about my overheads…mainly…I prefer them to be snap front or open front (hold shut). I like them to have the regular Gulf overhead cut where it rests on the head-no tiebacks…as one, I put elastic in them and 2…I usually wear a funky, contrasting scarf to freshen things up and to me, it looks odd to have the abaya on, with the tie-backs and then my colored scarf peeping out frm cheeks down. It just doesnt jive. It WOULD jive if I wore black scarves…but I almost never do that! Plus the head opening is very small..compared to the other Gulf overheads I have from Saudi and Kuwait. All have large head openings…even if they are closed front so more of the scarf is seen. So…I dont really find this aspect of the abaya good for my personal tastes. Now…if I wore solely black scarves OR wore niqab…the head opening and tie-backs would rock…as with a niqab you wouldnt need another scarf under it…unless you intend to flip your niqab up a lot in public…or if wearing a black scarf…everything would blend together anyway.

Hence, I have to wear the abaya with the tie-backs flipped UNDER the abaya and tied around my head like they would if it was a regular Gulf overhead with elastic. Also for the moms amongst us…due to it being entirely closed front…sisters who breastfeed may find this style a bit cumbersome to breastfeed under.

Otherwise, those are really my only qualms with this abaya…its overall a good, sturdy, high-quality and lightweight on the head abaya, priced nicely for sisters on a budget! The length they sent me (64inches) fit perfectly, it hit at the top of my feet and the construction is typical of abayaat produced in the Gulf.

(abaya worn with the tie-backs UNDER the abaya…tied behind the head)

Here are some designs from their recently released Ramadhan/autumn collection. All garments can be purchased via their Facebook page or their website.

(Ramadhan/Autumn collection from Al-Athari UK // http://al-athari.com/)

(Ramadhan/Autumn collection from Al-Athari UK // http://al-athari.com/)

(Ramadhan/Autumn collection from Al-Athari UK // http://al-athari.com/)

Now, I wanted to get a bit of an interview from the owners of Al-Athari…so, without further ado…

Al-Athari co-founder and owner Maryan Ahmed began selling imported Niqabs from Saudi Arabia to the local sisters of South London around 2009.  More so because sisters would ask for niqabs, rather than as a business. 

The concept of Al-Athari was a fusing of Muslim born sister and Her revert husband’s desire to bring a sheek shopping experience to those in search of quality elegant Islamic clothing primarily within the UK, US and Europe. 

“In Jahaliyah (pre-Islam).. you wanted new garments  (clothes) you’d go west, central, uptown, wherever, you know?.. Have a good selection, look, try on what you want, like it buy it.  Smart, casual, party wear it was all there…  From what I have experienced in South London there aren’t any places like this for the muslim. I have to go a book store or Islamic store, alhamdullilah they’re good, but just a little limited in terms of style and fit.”         – Harun Silvera

In the summer of 2011 Al-Athari was born.  Selling beautifully crafted abayas from Dubai, to sisters of London and later Europe and the US.  

 “Even though there are lot of online business selling Islamic clothing I feel they tend to do the same things and are just a little limited.  I want to bring a wide range, not too expensive but not compromising on quality. Inshaa Allah we are working to our store, starting in London, UK and bi’idhnillah US and Europe.”   – Maryan Ahmed

Al-Athari products are designed and manufactured from Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Syria. At present  Al-Athari is primarily an online fashion retailer and often showcase their products within the UK at road shows, conferences and Islamic events .

“We started by sending some sample abayas to a family friend and dress maker in Dubai, she replicated the look we wanted and made up about 40 pieces…  From the go the simple but beautiful designs were an instant hit with sisters. At that time and still now, one of the biggest favourites was the abaya with stone and crystal designs on the sleeves.”

Here in the UK there is definitely a market for overhead abayas and jilbab. Alhamdulillah there are lot of niqabi sisters and the over head style is loved by them.  Walking through South London, East London and places like Birmingham you will see sisters in overhead jilbabs masha Allah tabarak Allah.  For Al-Athari the overhead Jilbab is a constant seller, maybe not as popular as some of the abayas we have but yes there is a nice size market for the overhead abaya here in the UK.  

Because Al-ATHARI online store, the most common questions are about the Fabric, Sizes, Shipping and the stocking of different styles of Overhead.

We are are always looking for bright designers to work with to bring new and beautiful styles to muslims around the world. Currently Al-Athari are working with designers based in Dubai, UK and Canada.

 

Alhamdulillah Al-Athari is growing and able to provide muslims around the world with some elegant and modest styles.

All Thanks and praise to goes to Allah subhana wa t’ala, Ar Razaq, the one free from all imperfections. Alhamdulillah for the blessing of Islam, Alhamdulillah for the blessing of the sunah and Alhamdulillah for being blessed with modesty.  Peace, prayers and blessing be upon our Rassol, His family, companions and all those who follow His way Ameen.

Thank you to all of customers barak Allhu fikum, without you guys there would be no Al-Athari

May Allah bless and guide us All and unite us with the truthfull, patient and anbiyah in His presence in the Jannah. Allahuma Ameen..

Jazakh’Allah’Khair to the sister behind Al-Athari for giving me the opportunity to review their popular overhead abaya style. May Allah subhana Wa Ta’al grant you much success in your endevours and I hope to see Al-Athari grow!

10 thoughts on “Review: Al-Athari UK Overhead Abaya

  1. JazakAllaahKhayran for the review. A lot of Somali sisters love this style of overhead but I am personally not a fan, mainly for the reasons you have stated. There was a store in East London getting very similar abayaat made for them in Dubai; again its not a traditional Emirati style but they were getting them made with the preferences of London Somalis in mind. I altered quite a lot about that one, making the face hole considerably bigger etc, and even still it wasn’t as ideal as some other styles I went on to try. Just one thing from my understanding the original internet crepe is identical to mustaqbal, some tailors and so on in Saudi are calling various fabrics ‘internet’ now (maybe they think it has kudos like a lot of fabric stores in Saudi put tape around their windows saying ‘we sell digital prints’) but the original internet crepe was the typical Emirati abaya crepe and so called because the Dubai based brand ‘internet’ made most of their abayaat from it, mustaqbal was just the Saudi name for it. In general I’m not a big fan of that fabric for jilbaabs but I own a couple of exceptions; one is the yemeni closed overhead with tieback and narrow cuffs, which is made in an incredibly thin, soft variety of internet crepe that somehow isn’t sticky or clingy and drapes incredibly well, and the other is a traditional batwing open overhead made by a tailoring company in Jeddah for a now defunct bookstore in East London.

    • ooo can you tell me the name of the shop that sells the overhead abayas in east london. cant find nice plain ones😦

      • Theres a shop on plashet road or grove? I get them mixed up, off Green St anyway called Inkpot to the Grave, it’s a bookshop but they do quite a few decent overheads in. There’s also a shop called Arabian Luxuries in Tottenham so not strictly East London, they do the Yemeni overheads I have mentioned before as well as several other styles. There’s a shop called Marwa opposite manor park station they do several plain styles too. The place I got one from several years ago where the shop owners got them made in Dubai is called Al Amaan it’s in Stepney about 3/4 of a mile from white chapel market. However I’ve not been in there since 2009 so not sure if they still sell those.

      • Oops replied to that with my blog log-in never mind🙂 Anyway sis the bookstore I originally got the abaya from I really liked; is now closed, that’s what ‘defunct’ means. The Inkpot to the Grave shop does sometimes have the same brand though as they have continued to sell the stock from the shop that has closed. There are a lot of places that sell decent overhead abayas/jilbaabs in London you just have to think outside the box. One of my friends got a particularly nice one from a Somali shop that otherwise only sells food, for example. They also have stalls selling them at most conferences and lectures these days particularly those organised by the Al-Athariyyah people (no relation to the company mentioned above) or those in East London mosque.

  2. Yay jazakallah khair for the review i have been eyeing this overhead abaya for a while now wondering what it was like. I have never worn overhead before and i don’t wear niqab but in terms of correct hijab i think the overhead provides lots of coverage and this al athari one might be a good first overhead abaya to start with cos..its closed at the front so no unnecessary falling flat on my face due to slipping on long fabric lol..i don’t know how those saudi women do it mashallah. Just a question..i don’t like the tie back look..could i pin the material of the overhead abaya around my face instead?

    • asalaamu alaikum…I hope I dont come off as harsh…but lemme be realistic. Never…ever…ever…ever pin an overhead to your scarf! That is the quickest way to end up not just with a yanked neck but also a ripped overgarment!!! If ou really have never worn an overhead abaya before and would like to try them…but dont know how to wear one, I would suggest…in your situation to buy a French overhead jilbaab…esp. a 2 piece one…like from Bismillah Boutique or Al-Moultazimoun because you get the feel and coverage of an overhead abaya but the 2 piece ones are more user friendly…they have sleeves, so there isnt tooo much material, they cover all, around the face…so no worries about a scarf under the garment…and they hit around the knees and are worn over a skirt…so even if your getting up or sitting down quickly and havent mastered how to move in an overhead properly…you wont yank your head off your neck (grin) orrr…ripped the thing.😉. Ok? Also, women who come from families where overhead overgarments are the norm…like Saudi, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, bahrain, etc are raised wearing them…they are a part of them…they instinctively know how to walk, sit and move in one…much like how you know how to wear shoes…right? So if your around women who always wear them, you can eaisly mimick them and learn how to wear one elegantly…also each area handles an overhead differently…like Bahraini women wear an overhead abaya in a fashion which I found quite similar to how Iranian women wear a chador…but not really like how Saudi women or Kuwaiti women wear an overhead…and even the way Saudi women from the Gulf region in Khobar, Dammam and Qatif wear an overhead is not the same as how women in Jeddah wear them…so there are differences. Hence…id hate for you to buy the thing, find it cumbersome, rip it or yank your neck…so until you kinda get with them more, maybe try a French overhead…you may find them very comfortable and more newbie friendly.🙂

      • @umm ibrahim..thanks for the pointers sounds like you know a lot about overheads mashallah🙂..might practise a little before going for the full overhead. Its so intriguing when you mentioned the women from all the different areas in the gulf and iran handling their overhead differently. Anyway jazakallah khair for the advice.

      • I agree with UmmIbi, overhead abayas no matter how they are made have a bit of a steep learning curve to them. Also in terms of the gulf overheads I personally would advise going for one you can buy in person first; so you can try different ones on and work out which is the best size and style for you. When I first started wearing overhead abayas over 10 years ago now I ordered them online or from a sister who did mail order over the phone and it was a nightmare, I now know those styles were either badly designed or just not right for me personally. I do occasionally buy overheads online now as I know exactly the size/length I should be getting and the styles that work for me, but its still hit and miss, I’ve ordered a few over the years that I’ve had to give away as they weren’t right when I got them so in general I try to avoid buying online. I personally started off seriously, by wearing a regular shoulder abaya with a long khimar (what Somalis call Jilbab, the semi-circular slip on top piece), it was a lot easier than jumping into wearing an overhead abaya every day. Some of the Khimars I have are traditional Syrian style; they are open a little at the neck so require another thin scarf under, and have a tie-back, these are really comfortable and have the look of an overhead around the face. I still sometimes wear an abaya and long khimar, in some situations and weather conditions wearing a gulf overhead in this country just isn’t at all practical, i.e. excessively windy and rainy conditions.

  3. Salam sis..Wow thanks for the tips..i wear the same as you abaya and what they call “somali hijab” but i thought wearing the overhead would be nicer seeing its only one piece where as the long khimar is two pieces but now that you told me i will def wait to buy one in person..i am quite tall so it wouldn’t be a good look if i ordered one online and it ended up being super short lol. Thanks again for the advice and i really love your blog mashallah.

    • It’s UmmIbi’s blog not mine may Allaah preserve her. Some scholars such as Shaykh Albanee Rahimahullaah have said that a 2-piece version is a perfectly acceptable substitute for the jilbaab, what matters when it comes to those scholars who believe jilbaab is obligatory is that it is worn from the head and not the shoulders (though if wearing an abaya under the top piece it is perfectly ok if that is a shoulder abaya). I know several very knowledgable sisters who wear the 2-piece MashaAllaah and if it was somehow lesser to wear it neither they or their husbands would be happy with the 2-piece. On some sisters a two piece can appear more modest because it has that extra layer, also if its the top piece made out of a massive semi circle of fabric then it has more of a volume of fabric in it than even a batwing gulf overhead so if you’re larger chested et al it can provide a lot more in the way of coverage.

      I do know some sisters who started wearing the overhead one day all of a sudden and most of them stopped because it was such a huge difference in the way you have to walk and move around and in a couple of cases the sister had a nasty fall in the overhead and was put off it totally😦. There are also like I mentioned practical considerations, I have young children and no matter how careful you are most overhead abayas will get trapped and caught in pushchairs, strollers and shopping trolleys, and more dangerously, escalators, train and bus doors, etc. When you’re out with the kids and don’t have a hand free, there is all the more risk of such happening. So on days when I know I will be using a lot of public transport and am with the kids I wear two pieces, similarly when it’s very windy or rainy I either wear two pieces or a very thin overhead over a shoulder abaya, an overhead alone is far more clingy if rained on or in a strong wind even if its made in quite a thick fabric.

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