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We recently had the pleasure of traveling to Abu Dhabi, UAE. Shopping is something of a national pastime in the Emirates, and even visitors feel somewhat compelled to indulge in a bit of the “when in Rome” mentality. So, obviously, I got my shopping on!

Being a hijabi, and more specifically, someone who has recently taken to wearing abaya, I was very keen to see the selections of modest women’s attire. To say that I was simply not disappointed would be an understatement. I was absolutely blown away by the amazing abayas and shaylas there!

My mind is still doing somersaults, and my heart is still doing happy dances at not only the availability of abayas, but also the ease of shopping for them. Just the very thought that I could walk into a mall that was very typical to what you’d find in the USA, and with Starbucks caramel macchiato in hand, I could buy an abaya was just more than I could have ever imagined. Malls with stores like H&M, and Gap, and eateries like Applebee’s, and Burger King are also malls where a hijabi can very easily shop till she drops, filling her arms with bags of gorgeous abayas.

And oh the quality! And professionalism! I saw and bought abayas that I’ve never seen such high quality for sale in America. And the shops were very professional, many of them being chain stores. What a concept! An abaya shop that is not some overcrowded little dirty place, with racks upon racks of the same, dull abayas, but rather something more akin to a fashion boutique! One shop even had their Fall and Winter 2012 Collection catalogue available (of course I grabbed one!).

That’s right, in the UAE, you don’t just buy an abaya in spring and wear it every single season till it falls apart. In the UAE, abayas actually have styles based on the seasons! Very much like “proper clothes” do, because guess what? In the UAE, abaya is considered “proper clothes!” In the UAE, abaya is not for the woman who has given up on ever looking decent again (that would be me, prior to my out-of-America-shopping-experience!), or some auntie who just doesn’t care anymore (that would have been me in a few short years!), or the woman who has decided that since there seems to be only two options: trendy or ethnic, she chose ethnic because trendy didn’t cover her properly (yup, that was also totally me!). In the UAE, abaya is high fashion.

Prices are very reasonable, in my opinion, given the fact that the quality far surpasses that which is commonly found in America. About $52 US (200 AED) will buy you a plain, black abaya, suitable for everyday wear. That same simple abaya can be mixed and matched with multiple shaylas, though (some of which could end up costing more than the abaya, due to how much work is on them). I indulged a bit and did buy some abayas that were “expensive” according to my more conservative spending habits, costing around $150 to $250 US. At first, this was due to my having absolutely no understanding of the Emirati dirham, and what the exchange rate is with the US dollar (3.63 dirham to 1 US dollar). What fun it can be, not having any clue how much cash you just shoveled over! Haha!

Now, I know that the average Muslimah reading this may have a certain image about “khaleeji style,” so I would like to step away from the to-drool-for abayas for just a moment, and address this. I, too, had a misconception about khaleeji styles, and khaleejis in general. I had heard all sorts of things about Emirati women, and their particular style of hijab. Many, if not most, are familiar with the term “camel hump hijab,” and a good number of us have even seen this ridiculous style in person. And, of course, we have read the misused and misquoted hadiths that try to label this style as being one of the wort offenses, and even a sign of the end of days. I just want to give a big sigh right now, and start a new paragraph, filled with attempts to counter the slurs.

First and foremost, I would like to say this about the Emirati people: everyone that we encountered was warm, friendly, and hospitable. People who seemed to have a genuine fondness especially for children, they smiled easily at our daughter and son. Many even asked for their names. One man even insisted that his photo be taken with our daughter. Another lady, while visiting Shaykh Zayed Grand Masjid, asked to take photos of our kids, and spoke with us with great ease. Never did we feel unwelcome in their country, nor did we feel as though we were being looked down upon. We were not visiting in a capacity as anyone special, so I do feel quite strongly that what we experienced was authentic. People are nice in Abu Dhabi. Truly nice.

Now, about that “camel hump hijab.” Guess what? It’s fallen out of fashion. So, the next time someone hurls that Hadith at you, tell them that they are not only a day late and a dollar short, but absolutely clueless. Oh, and that it’s not very Islamic to go around judging others.

I did notice that a lot of young women are fond of showing the front of their hair, but I also noticed that this was a trend mostly found among teenagers and young college aged women. I didn’t see anyone my age doing this, nor did I see any married ladies with children showing their hair. It baffles me why people are so judgmental about this style, when at the same time, they say very little about Muslim women who either just wear a loose dupatta, or nothing at all. I don’t think that the teens and young women who wear this style even consider themselves to be fully hijabis. I really do think that they are doing nothing more that expressing their cultural traditions. Later, they embrace hijab fully.

I do apologize for the serious tone that I’ve taken here, but I just really felt a need to address these issues. Our Khaleeji sisters (from the UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, etc) are being judged, and it is wrong. They are beautiful Muslimahs, and many exude graceful modesty, with a touch of trendy class. I, for one, learned a lot from being among them and observing them.

And, my wardrobe got the refresher that it desperately needed!

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