Flowing covers…

Salaamu alaikum!

You all know that I’m extremely fascinated by the traditional attire of the worlds Muslim communities and here is another style that I want to share. Actually while it’s a “style”…its far from being homogeneous and makes its appearance in some rather unlikely places and is spread out through a wide swath of the world. I’m talking about the using of a long wide piece of material as ones overgarment. Its the traditional attire from Muslim communities in West Africa, through the Saharah, over to East Africa, throughout the Arabian Gulf (historically in the Eastern Provinces), skipping over to the southern part of Iran and then over again to India where it makes its appearance as the much known Saree.

Wow…such an incredible cloth with such a fascinating history.

Because the societies in which this form of covering is worn is so diverse I really do not know all the names in which this simple form of attire goes by…from Melepha and Melhafa to Thobe (top in slang) to Saree and beyond.

I’m not entirely sure how each culture wears the cloth. I reckon you must take one edge and tie it as a skirt and then use the other bit wrapped up and around the upper body. I’ve seen Mauritanian women wearing it over jeans or a petticoat for example here in my city.

Saharawi women in Western Africa…

Western volunteers in Melepha!

Women in Mauritania..

The urban Sudanese women have made their version, called thobe (aka top in slang) quite high fashion full of embroidery, bling and dripping with embellishments. I remember sometimes staying up late watching the fashion shows on Sudanese TV while we were in Saudi and I was always struck by how gorgeous they looked in their “top” and how many coordinated a perfectly matching Al-Ameera style tube scarf to their top

ohh la la! Very chic.

Interestingly enough this style makes its appearance in Southern Iran amongst the Bandari population along coast. I had thought that the printed attire the women wore was just a house-style chador wrapped around the head and body like say a Pakistani dupatta, but I’m wrong. While maybe some towns do, do that…I have since found that some areas just use a long, wide rectangle of cloth and wrap it in a manner which is strikingly similar to how Sudanese or Mauritanian women do! But, instead of wearing it over a skirt they wear a knee length tunic over very snug fitting, and often embroidered pants and then ofcourse sandles or heels. When we were in Shiraz this past time in Iran we saw a LOT of Bandari Iranians both around the city of Shiraz and ar Perspolis and being incredibly curious that I am, I paid a lot of attention to the women in this attire and even asked a friendly looking lady about it-while we were in the prayer area of a masjid in Shiraz. LOL…yes, I’m cheeky. She showed me that she wraps one edge around the waist as kind of like a loose skirt (with the pants showing) and then drapes the rest over the upper body and head, tucking it in to cover the hair. They look incredibly elegant in it. They call it chador too, but its obviously a different style. Its just a huge rectangle, like the Thobe, Melhafa or Melepha…not rounded like what most people consider a chador.

Given the extreme potpourri of ethnicities and cultures that have melded together to form the people of Southern Iran, I would assume that historical trade, slavery and intermarriage played a role in the transfer of this form of attire to Iran.

Interesting huh…I left out Indian sarees cuz I think we’ve all seen those. I hedge a bet that throughout history the easiest means of covering oneself was simply to wrap a large rectangle of fabric around ones body and voila…your cover and good to go!

One thing I wanted to mention is that in the Eastern part of Saudi, along the Gulf coast the traditional attire of women before the advent of the Bedu inspired abaya was what was called a “ridaah” (I’m not entirely sure of the name, but several women told me this was the name of the garment-it means shawl though in Arabic) and it was just a huge rectangle, wrapped around the body. They said its basically gone and only very old women in some of the island villages off the coast of Qatif still wear it. I believe I have seen it once, I was at the Qatif Thursday morning suq and I saw these very elderly women sitting on the ground, with big baskets of dates and other produce infront of them and several of them had on what looked like a large piece of printed material wrapped around their heads and bodies and not abayaat, they also worn the traditional and in Saudi basically gone, gold “birqa” mask thats more common to UAE nowadays. I assume they wear wearing this now basically defunct traditional ridaah.


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 🙂

Need some eid outfit ideas?

…How about a beautiful diraac?


The sister who owns Diraac Fabulous (a UK based diraac store) has just put up her special party diraacs and they would be the perfect outfit for the upcoming eids! Totally unique and beautiful at the same time.

The first two are my favorite from her party collection.

(party diraac-Camden Royale-diraac.com)

(party diraac-Camden Royale-diraac.com)

(party diraac-Golden Splash-diraac.com)

(party diraac-Golden Splash-diraac.com)

Here are some other equally beautiful ones.

(party diraac-London Lime-diraac.com)

(party diraac-London Lime-diraac.com)

(party diraac-Boho Floral-diraac.com)

(party diraac-Boho Floral-diraac.com)

(party diraac-Sienna-diraac.com)

(party diraac-Sienna-diraac.com)

The party diraacs are made with full length sleeves and the gown has a butterfly cut and ofcourse the set comes with a skirt and matching shawl. Apparently you can also order a matching hijab if needed.

Without a doubt these beautiful creations would be a hit at any eid party!