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What Is an Islamic Abaya?

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  • Written By: J.E. Holloway
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
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  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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An Islamic abaya is a type of long garment, often black, worn by women in some Muslim countries. The abaya covers the entire body, leaving only the face, hands, and feet visible. The Islamic abaya is one of a number of different garments worn as a result of Islamic rules relating to female dress.

The name "abaya" derives from an Arabic word meaning "cloak." The plural is abayat. There are several different types of Islamic abayat. Some are simple, loose garments draped over the body from the top of the head, while others are long hooded coats with sleeves.

Although the popular image of a woman wearing an Islamic abaya includes a veil covering the face, the veil is not technically part of the abaya itself. It is a separate garment called a niqab. Some women wear the abaya with a niqab, others without.

Abayat are usually made from light fabrics. This allows them to be worn over other clothes in hot climates. Although some are plain black, it is also common to see abayat decorated with embroidery or other contrasting images.

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The Qur'an, Islam's holy book, enjoins the wives of the Prophet Muhammad and other women to cover themselves when in public or around men to whom they are not related. The Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet, also contain passages relating to the requirement for women to wear garments which cover their bodies. The exact extent of the awrah, or area which must be covered, is the subject of some debate among Islamic scholars, with different communities ascribing to different views.

Muslim cultures around the world have responded to this requirement in a number of different ways. The Islamic abaya is only one of these various forms of female dress. Other common elements of dress for Muslim women include head scarves to cover the hair as well as long, loose garments. Some Muslim women do not choose to adhere to strict rules of dress; again, this tends to vary between countries.

The Islamic abaya is most common in countries such as Saudi Arabia, and is less common in Islamic communities in Asia Minor or the Far East. This type of garment is known by many names. In Iran, the term for a garment which covers the whole body is chador, while a similar garment is called a burqa in the Muslim communities of South Asian countries such as Afghanistan.

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