Garb of the Middle East

Muslims are required by the Koran to maintain modesty through their clothing…

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And 0 you believers! Turn all toward Allah that you may attain bliss."

Surat-un-Nur (24) 30-31

Muslim Clothing for Women


The word hijab is derived from the Arabic root hajaba, which means to hide from view or to conceal. Hijab includes a variety of long, loose-fitting clothing that conceals a woman’s figure. The definitions listed here primarily focus on the types of garments worn by Muslim men and women in Saudi Arabia. There are many more permutations of dress throughout the Muslim world than are described here. A more comprehensive listing and description of Muslim dress can be found at


(uh-buy-uh) The loose, floor-length robe worn for modesty in Saudi Arabia. The abaya goes over regular clothing and is buttoned or zipped up the front. Women basically can wear whatever they want beneath their abaya. In fact, European couture is sometimes what is concealed beneath the abaya. Most abayas in Saudi Arabia are black, but may be made of lightweight cotton or the finest silk and may be plain or decorated with embroidery, beading, sequins, ribbons, or lace. Foreign women visiting Saudi Arabia are strongly advised to wear the abaya, but may do so without the face covering.


A head scarf worn with the abaya to cover the hair.









A length of fabric used as a veil that fastens around the back of the head and covers the eyes. A boshiya is used by Saudi women to cover their faces in public. Certain styles may be lifted to expose only the eyes or the entire face. This veil is also called a yashmak.






Loose-fitting garments worn by women in Afghanistan and Pakistan and similar to the abaya, although colors other than black may be worn. This covers the entire body, including the face, with lattice grill openings in front for sight and breathing.


An outer garment worn by women in some parts of the Middle East, particularly Iran and Iraq, the chador provides coverage from head to toe. It is floor-length and hangs from the top of the head, flowing over the clothing underneath in order to hide the shape or curve of a woman's body. The chador is often black, and is sometimes worn with a scarf underneath which covers the hair.




An outer garment that serves the purpose of maintaining modesty and can look like a coatdress. Some claim that the jilbab is a late-20th century invention that originated in Egypt and, therefore, not clothing dictated for women in the Koran.




Purdah or Parda

A concept rather than an item of clothing, purdah literally means "curtain." Purdah is the practice of preventing men from seeing women and is accomplished either through physical segregation of the sexes or through the concealing clothing worn by women.

Purdah exists in various forms in the Islamic world and in India. Physical segregation within a building can be done with walls, curtains, and screens. A woman's withdrawal into purdah restricts her personal, social and economic activities outside her home. The usual purdah garment worn is a burqa, which may or may not include a yashmak, a veil to conceal the face. The eyes may or may not be exposed.

Purdah was rigorously observed under the Taliban in Afghanistan, where women had to observe complete purdah at all times when they were in public. Only close male family members and other women were allowed to see them out of purdah. In other societies, purdah is often only practiced during certain times of religious significance. In historically Islamic Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, purdah is a custom with cultural rather than religious basis. Even in the United Arab Emirates, where women can wear skirts and similar modest garments, Arab women often observe purdah. It is important to differentiate between purdah and hijab. Hijab is an Islamic tradition that is based on physical and psychological morality, while purdah does not necessarily conform to Islamic teachings.


Similar to the boshiya, the niqab is a face veil that is worn over the hijab and fastened around the back of the head, either with Velcro or ties. The fabric is cotton or light polyester, although tribal women sometimes wear a leather niqab decorated with gold coins or shells. There may be a flap on the niqab that can be dropped down to cover the eyes.


A floor-length garment worn by men and women that pulls over the head and has no buttons or zippers. The women's robe is also known as a dishdash and is called a caftan in North Africa. Palestinian women's thobes are famous for their hand embroidery.



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Muslim Clothing for Men


Traditional Moroccan dress that pulls over the head and is worn by both men and women. Djellaba fabric ranges from cotton or wool to expensive silks and brocades. Typically, this garment has a long hood in back and side slits for reaching into pockets.




A thick, double, black cord that is worn on the top of the ghutra to hold it in place.




This loose-fitting garment is the same as a Saudi abayah for men or an ankle-length Egyptian shirt with short sleeves.


A ghutra is a square cotton or silk scarf that is folded in a triangle and worn over a skull cap, or tagiyah. It is either all white or red and white checked. There is no significance placed on which color of ghutra a man wears.


A tagiyah is a white knitted skull cap that men wear under a headscarf known as a ghutra.




Also called a dishdasha, the thobe is a loose, long-sleeved, ankle-length garment worn by men in Saudi Arabia. Summer thobes are made of white cotton while winter thobes can be darker and made of wool. The thobe is perceived as an equalizer among men, according to verses in the Koran which state that a man should be judged by his deeds and not on his appearance.

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