UAE Caravan

UAE Caravan

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Foreigners in Traditional Costumes!

Salam All!

I hope you are all doing GREAT ^_^

I have received an e-mail from a lady asking me this question on behalf of her friends:

Hi Sarah,

Some foreigners love Emirati clothes and want to wear it, but they are shy and think that maybe this will offend Emiratis.
Do Emiratis consider it disrespectful to their culture if foreign men and women want to wear abayas or shailas, kanduras, ghutras, eqals or even niqab or burqa?

Here is the answer to the question from my point of view:

First of all, it is our pleasure as Emiratis to know that foreigners love our clothes and would like to wear it. And personally I don't think that it will or may offend us as locals unless a foreigner disrespected our traditional costumes.

I don't think any Emirati will or might get offended by seeing a foreigner wearing the traditional UAE costumes wether it was a man or a woman. On the contrary, we respect who respect us, our traditions and costumes and we are a very friendly and welcoming nation.

Some of us might get offended IF a person uses the UAE traditional costume in a wrong way and ON PURPOSE. For example, wearing the Abaya above DISRESPECTFUL clothes just to attract men "as many women do" or to make fun of Arab culture or traditions.

Last week, I was shopping in Dubai, and while I was inside one of the shops a foreign couples entered the shop. The lady was wearing a short skirt and a lovely shirt, and the man was wearing a Kandura (Dishdasha), Ghutra and eqal! at first I was surprised because he was very confident and acted as if he was a real local, but his blue eyes and his yellow hair that I could see from under the ghutra made me know for sure that he is a foreigner who loves our traditional kandura.

I smiled to him, he smiled back and I felt that he was so happy that I liked what I saw.

So, everybody feel free to wear our costumes but make sure to respect it, and I am sure you will.


  1. Hi, interesting to you have posted...i am a foreigner and a muslim, and to be honest, i found that most khaleeji women don't like the fact that i wear shaila, let alone abaya.
    I think its nice to see that some locals don't mind foreigners wearing shaila or abaya.. however, the truth is that most dislike it.
    From what my close local friends have told me, its mostly because some locals think that women wear it just to get the local guys attention. For me, i personally was very disturbed when this idea was pointed out to me, and shocked to find out that this is what khaleeji women think. I know that not all think the same, and that im fortunate to have such lovely and sweet emirati friends who always keep me update don the latest fashion trends in abaya's and shailas.
    However, the reality is that most women from the gulf dislike it, and instead of beating myself up about it like i used to, i've learnt to not care about what they think anymore!
    I wear what i like, and i'm thankful to be a muslim. I believe that its very silly and think that instead of being upset about foreigners covering up in abaya, i believe you guys should be more happy and relieved to see less boobs and butts being exposed! - coz, thats what will attract guys! So, be proud that your beautiful traditional attire is covering up other muslim women! (Peace)

  2. Salamualaikum!!
    I'm so glad i got direct to this blog! (Khaleejia directed me to you)

    I asked her a question on her blog, and i was wondering the same thing. i want to be a full time munaqaba, and i really love the emerati traditional burqas (the gold) and i have a friend who visited the emirates and he brought me a few back. i didnt want to wear them until i knew for sure that emeratis wouldnt get offended. as i dont intend on disrespecting your culture but i love it and what it represents (Tradition and love for your culture) and i love all different cultures. i wear shaylah and abaya because i'm muslim, not because of any culture, but i wear bangles like the indians, and i wear the henna like the east, and i wear the gold like i see most sudani's wear, i just love all cultures (including my own which is american)

    how do you feel about this? please inform me, i don't want to disrespect any one.

    i have a lot of friends from Saudi, and they love the fact that we wear abayat, but i think most people get confused as to why i wear it in america, and when i explain its because i am muslim, and not to be like other cultures they have a whole new level of respect for me Mashaallah!

    Jazakaallahu khair in advanced!!

  3. Salam Alaikom 'Life's Balance Beam',

    First of all, welcome to my blog and it is my pleasure to have you here and answer all of your questions. (Thank you 'Khalijiya' for directing this lovely lady to my blog ^_^).

    Second, we live in a totally free world, and you can wear whatever you want as long as by what you wear you respect yourself, your body and other cultures.

    I am so proud that you love wearing the Abaya and Niqab especially in America and I don't mind anyone wearing them as long as they respect them.

    An anonymous person left a comment on the same topic and she was not very happy with the fact that some Emirati women get offended when they see foreigners wearing Abaya and Sheila, and I must say that some of them are right because some foreigners really use the Abayas for bad intentions, and not to cover their bodies for the sake of Allah and Islam.

    After all we are different, and only Allah knows what are our intentions.

    One more thing I would like to add, I would suggest you wear the niqab anytime you want to, but the burqa (The golden one) I think you need an Emirati woman to show you how to wear it correctly with the whole traditional costume, for even here in the UAE only married women wear Burqa and not all of them do.

    If I was in America I could have showed you everything about UAE costumes and Burqa ^_^ maybe I'll consider the USA for my next trip to the Western World, as my first trip is to Germany this coming October "inshallah".

    So, welcome again to my blog, and do not hesitate to ask any questions.


  4. Salaam siso's :)

    In reply to my previous post, i'd like to clarify to you that im not upset about khaleeji women not liking foreigners wearing abaya and shaila (as you stated in your above post), i was just merely pointing out the truth!


  5. Assalam alaikum

    Thank you for this post and for your encouraging attitude.

    Personally I think that it's a very good thing- if foreigners like Emirati national clothes and even want to wear it. Isn't it better that at least few foreigners will learn something and love about Emirati culture, instead of MANY Emirati men and women learning from Foreign culture- preferring jeans and t-shirts, western designers to their national clothes.

    Kandoora is worn by some men in other countries (not only in the Khaleej), so it's their national dress as well.

    As for abaya is not only the UAE national dress. Abaya , headscarf, shayla, niqab have actually become international. Muslim women of every background wear it- in Europe, America, Australia, Middle East or Russia. It is better if a foreign woman is covered well in a beautiful abaya instead of a foreign woman in tight jeans and low neck shirt.

  6. Hi Sarah,
    I am an American woman, who converted to Islam several years ago. My husband, whom I met in the U.S., is emirati, and his family lives in UAE. We are both moving to UAE shortly and I need advice on how I should dress.
    On a visit to UAE last year, my wonderful and kind mother in law, and sister in laws, purchased me a beautiful abaya and sheila, which I wore while I was there. I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and very pale skin. I experienced so many stares from other emirati women when they would see me out wearing the abaya. So many women would stare at me, that it made me feel embarrassed, as if I were doing something wrong. And I wore the abaya was a closed abaya. I even had a emirate man working at the airport ask me why i was wearing an abaya, which embarrassed me and made me feel very uncomfortable and I wanted to cry. He had asked me in such a way as to suggest that I should not be wearing it, and was wrong in doing so.
    My husband has suggested that when we move there I not wear the abaya, and instead, simply dress modestly and cover my hair. He also does not want other emirati women to think that I am trying to "be like them". But not wearing the abaya may cause concern with his family..I am not sure yet.
    While living in the U.S. I enjoy dressing modestly, but do not cover my hair, as this usually attracts MORE looks and attention from people.
    My question is.. is it really OK for me to wear the abaya and sheila? I do not mind wearing it, and enjoy it because I do not have to worry about what clothes to wear etc. I feel comfortable in it..except when i am being stared at, or asked why i'm wearing it. I am worried that emiratis will secretly be laughing at me, thinking I am trying to be "one of them".
    Please help me with my decision. I really do need help with this problem.
    Thank you so very much,

  7. Hello again, I also have thought of another option... would it be appropriate if i were to wear different colored abayas and sheilas, and not wear the traditional black? That way i can still wear an abaya that is comfortable to me..but will not look like I'm trying to look "local". Or would that look silly too? I'm not sure what muslim women like me usually do when moving there.
    thanks again for your help!

  8. Salam Alaikom "Jennifer",

    You asked me a question that many other non-Emirati ladies asked me before,, "Is it ok for me to wear the Abaya and Sheila?" and my answer is YES.

    There is no rule in the UAE that says non-Emirati women are not allowed to wear the Abaya or the Sheila.

    Besides, you are married to an Emirati man and he doesn't seem to have a problem with it. Also, his mother and sister purchased you a beautiful Abaya and Sheila that you loved and wore, so just do what you feel is best for you and your husband.

    People may sometimes stare at you not because in their deep thoughts they are thinking "Why is this American Woman trying to be one of us!!" but maybe because they think "Wow, it is nice to see an American Woman loving our culture and costumes".

    Even the Emirati man at the airport, maybe he did not mean to hurt your feelings or make you feel bad. Maybe he just wanted to tell you that you Don't Have to Wear the Abaya and Sheila just because you are visiting the UAE, because in other muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, you must wear the Abaya and Sheila or cover your whole body and hair by any kind of modest dress no matter what religion you are embrasing.

    So, congratulations for becoming a muslim, and congratulations on your wedding. I really wish you a very happy life. And as an advice, always follow your heart and do what you feel is right. And be 100% sure that Emirati people will love you and welcome you and they sure love to see that their culture and traditional customs are embrassed and loved by people from different backgrounds.

    You don't have to think of other options or changing the color of your Abaya and Sheila.

    Hope my reply will help you.

    best regards,


  9. Sarah,
    Salam Alaikom,
    Thank you so much for your kind words, and advice. You really have helped me, and I feel much better about wearing an abaya. When I go to UAE I will wear my abayas with confidence and pride, and not worry about any looks I receive. I will do what feels right for myself, my husband, and my family. Thank you again for your help. I truly do appreciate it.
    All the best,

  10. Hi Sarah,

    I by chance came to your blog. I was searching something about Dubai if foreigners can wear Kandura without being stared. Actually I have lived in dubai for a year. And now I have got another offer.

    I like Kandura very much. It looks so light, clean, and traditional . I agree that nobody should disrespect anyone attire or cultural sensibilities. What I liked much about the Emirity society is that in being a developed and modern nation, they have not forgot their tradition.

    Whenever I see an Emiriti man wearing Kandura wearing expensive glasses and driving an expensive car, I am forced to appreciate that inspite of enjoying the riches, they are still stuck to their roots which always give me a reason to smile.

    I forgot to tell you that I am an Indian Hindu and yes my cousin's name is Sarah. :)

    I will keep visiting this place.

  11. Hi Sarah,

    I wanted to ask you something. I love wearing the kandura from time to time. Someone told me that wearing the ghutra with the black cord on the top( i think its called agal) is not allowed for foreigners but only locals, and that one could get into trouble for doing so. I was born and have lived my whole life here and I love the uae and I have great respect for the culture and tradition as I am half arab myself. Is there any official rule and is it punishable to wear the agal for foreigners ? Also would it be offensive to a local gentleman if I wear it and I am not local myself. Thank you for your time.

  12. Hi Sarah!

    This is exactly what I wanted to ask from you. I am a European born Canadian guy and I would love to wear the kandora together with the ghutra and egal. Is it possible and is it legal for foreign men like myself? I love it so much and respect it so much and would love to try wearing it in Dubai anywhere together with my Emirati friend who wears the same.

  13. Outstanding post for me.Thanks for sharing whit us