A Step Further

One of our newest authors, Dreamer, highlights for us the benefits of taking the next step in hijab: the abayya.

A sister once asked me, “How do you feel in that abayya? Is it comfortable? How do people react to it?” Initially, I was surprised by the question. Then I figured that the sister must be considering wearing an abayya, and seeing that I was dressed in one, she simply wanted my opinion.
“It’s wonderful!” I answered her. Truthfully, I loved the way that it flowed around me, as elegantly as a gown. And yes, I told her, I did and often do get stares once in a while. After all, it is so much more common to see everyone in blue jeans rather than a full length dress. They are called by a variety of names. Some call it abayya, others call it jilbab. Some may call it burka. But when I say abayya, I am talking about the long-sleeved, ankle-length dress or gown that is usually worn with a hijab. When I first started wearing the abayya in middle school, I admit I disliked it quite a bit. I was the only girl in my school to be dressed in one and the stares I received from my classmates were embarrassing.
I remember one cold winter morning, my Physical Sciences teacher peered down from her reading glasses to take a good look at me. “You wear pants under that dress?” she asked accusingly, the words slicing me as cold as the winter air. I felt like I had violated a dress conduct. I was young then and I cried afterwards at the humility I had experienced. It was something that I never understood, either. Why did I wear clothes under my abayya if it was supposed to be a dress? “It is like a coat,” my sister explained to me. We want to be comfortable in our clothes, but at the same time we should be modest in our appearance. Just as a coat envelopes the body with warmth and comfort from harsh weather, an abayya disguises the body’s feminine shapes from others’ eyes.
Our attire is what defines us. We walk out in public, whether it is in the mall or at school. It may seem awkward at first to wear an abayya in a society where dressing according to the latest fashion is so deeply entrenched. But this is actually one of the main reasons to start wearing an abayya. How hard is it these days to find loose pants that do not hug your behind and a long loose-fitting top that does not reveal your natural curves? Frankly, skinny jeans are not the most modest form of dress. Though they are fashionable, they define the shape of the legs, which really goes against the whole idea of hijab. By the way, I am talking about hijab in its literal meaning here, which is modesty. Some easily forget that hijab is not defined by a cloth around your head, but rather your entire attire and even your behavior.
It is not hard to quickly assimilate into the latest trend if you are not wearing an abayya. For many of us, the way we dress us is very important, but we must ask ourselves—are we dressing up to please others or to please our Creator? Wearing the abayya ensures consistency, comfort, and modesty. Wearing the hijab, as some of you can attest, is not always enough to drive away stares from males. Just as our hair is an exemplar of our beauty, so is the rest of our body. I am not saying that there are not choices of female clothing out there or that all of them are bad. However, it is best that Muslim women avoid appearing like the opposite gender just like Muslim men must avoid appearing like us. Femininity is more acutely defined by wearing the abayya then by wearing pants, which really is a masculine article of clothing. Also, do not be turned off if you are the fashionable type of girl. The abayya, just like any other form of clothing, has its own line of fashion. No one says you have to wear a dull black abayya every single day. I, for instance, love to swap around and match my abayyas, cardigans or sweaters, and hijabs. I have even be complimented by some non-Muslim women about the elegance of my abayya!
Another common reason why most Muslim women might turn away from the abayya is because of job opportunities. Who wants a saleswoman dressed in a long modest dress, right? In the end, it is only Allah who decrees your destiny and whether you will get a job or not. And if it helps you to know, I know a number of working women who wear the abayya, whether the profession is a preschool teacher or a doctor.
Lastly, there are some really nice advantages to wearing an abayya. For one thing, it saves a tremendous amount of money that you would otherwise spend on a vast amount of name brand clothes. This, in turn, prevents you from being too materialistic when it comes to your clothing possessions. And how many times have we had those mornings where we have slept through our alarms and are rushing to get to work or school on time? Well, no worries with the abayya. You can even keep your pajamas on and just slip on an abayya in a matter of minutes. It is a simple article of clothing, and yet there are so much good deeds and benefits shrouded in it.
Remembering that humiliating day in middle school for me is an unpleasant memory. But, you know what’s more meaningful and sharper in my mind than that? It is also a memory of middle school. I was standing in line outside of class one afternoon and my 5th grade teacher from several years before came up to me. She fingered the navy-colored cloth of my abayya and smiling, she told me how beautiful it was.
More importantly, she told me how beautiful it looked on me.