The other day my colleague Shadia had something dangling from her abaya.
‘Oh, Shadia,’ I said, ‘you’ve got something stuck to your abaya. Here, let, me take it off for you.’
‘No, no,’ she said, ‘it’s a designer label. It’s supposed to be there.’
It was actually a little shiny metal disc with a designer’s name engraved on it … a bit like a dog tag. It’s all the rage apparently. Soon I suppose they’ll be sticking them on those awful face masks … designer face masks. When I told this story to a friend back home, she was a trifle confused.
‘What’s an abaya?’ she said.
Well … it’s a sort of long black cloak or gown worn by Muslim women, which is designed to hide the female figure. It should be plain and very sack-like but, in reality, all that has changed. The average UAE abaya looks extremely alluring and is elaborately embroidered around the cuffs or neck, or it is decorated with gold or silver braid or sparkling diamantes.
All of this, of course, tends to attract one’s eye to the female form the abaya purports to hide. Added to this is the fact that abayas, as worn by the younger generation, are becoming increasingly figure hugging. When they are not tightly fashioned around the wearer, they hang open to reveal the leanest of jeans or the slinkiest of low cut t-shirts.
Some young women – predominantly ‘ex-pat’ Arabs have dispensed altogether with abaya. They dilligently cover their heads whilst wiggling about provocatively in very tight denims. Surely they must understand what kind of mixed messages that is sending out to whoever sees them.
Writing in The National, Rym Ghazal makes another far more important point about abayas. It would seem they are highly flammable. So while Shadia’s abaya boasts a designer label, it carries no tag to say what it is made of and no warning to the wearer to steer clear of naked flames. Now as we enter the holy month of Ramadan, lots of Iftar meals will be served up in huge tents or marquees, some of them set up in the grounds of luxury hotels.
I’ve had my fair share of Iftars and wedding celebrations in tents, but now – after the horrific Kuwait wedding fire – no more. They are a major fire hazard. All it takes is a spark from a cup of burning incense or a short-circuited air-conditioning unit and a selection of flammable abayas. To make matters worse the exits to the women’s tents are often closed to prevent men from walking in on the women’s partying. And this brings me on to another story. Wedding tents are not the only areas reserved exclusively for women. Many gyms are also for ‘women-only’. That being the case, you can be forgiven for getting ratty if you (female) show up at your all-women gym and find a bunch of Indian or Pakistani workmen lying about on the sofas in the club foyer. OK, so they are in their break and they are doing maintenance work on the premises, but that doesn’t mean they can ogle the women as they walk past in their work-out kit.
I brought this fact – politely – to the attention of the (male) gym receptionist.
‘Yes, you are right,’ he said, ‘but you see today they are working on preparations for Ramadan. That is why they are here outside the female gym.’ Seeing my evident irritation, he added, ‘If you like … if you are uncomfortable, I can lock you inside the gym … and then when you are finished you can call me on your mobile and I will come and unlock the door and let you out.’
Mmm … and what if my phone doesn’t work? And what if there’s a fire ..?