Monday, March 2, 2009

My First Taste of Islamic Fashion was Oman

My first taste of Islamic fashion was on a visit to the Sultanate of Oman, where I consquently heard the Adhan the first time (in the Mutrah Souq!). The adhan was what softened my heart to Islam. On this same day, I bought my first abaya, so I always say, I wore hijab before I made my shahada. Of course, I brought home an abaya for a souvenir, never thinking I would wear my Grande Mosque visit essential beyond halloween once I returned home. In Oman, I saw for my first time in remembrance (in my childhood I am sure I recall them but that was too long ago to rely on memory) women in shapless elegance, and on a beach just outside of Muscat, before Al Bustan Palace, as I bathed my feet in a warm sea, a woman wearing a string niqab, and shared a secret smile of comfort with her, as my non-muslim family complained of her circumstance. My sister and I bought soft sheer niqabs and tried them on in the bathroom to peer at ourselves in the mirror, still finding it odd to reconcile the identity before us with our Western prejudice. This could never be me, we thought. Not that we thought it was horrible. Six inch stilletos and skinny jeans digging into the belly are a lot harder to wear than soft-sheer-smooth-like babies'-kisses-fabric. What we did think we would wear ---if we had the occasion---were the Arabic gowns, called jalibyias. I snuck out my mother's home in Muscat in my Souq-abaya and big straw hat and would walk for hours, and even crossed a busy highway, and often went to speak with the local shop keepers, and joked with Omani girls who hardly spoke a word of English, as they dressed me up with every pink jalibiyia and caftan they had on hand, calling a then-blonde me their Barbie. What I learnt in Oman, was that Arab girls dressed up alot more than we Westerners do. They had Western style evening gowns for evening, and these Arabic dresses for visiting or going out (which were too fancy for me to wear at most weddings here in my Western city), and even Western style designer jeans and fitted tees. The most common form of dress we saw in Muscat was a modest black abaya with a very pretty coloured hijab style that covered everything it is supposed to Islamically, including neck, ears, hair, and chest. The next most common type of dress we saw, and it wasn't all that common in the area where we were staying, was the niqab. We also saw the batula/briqa, the stiff gold painted mask of the desert beduoin nad older ladies in the Souq. I tried one on and thought it was incredibly comfy and airy compared to the more elegant black cloth niqab.
This is a model wearing what I had considered the national dress of Oman, and especially the Capital City of Muscat. In the Hajar mountains I saw women and girls dressed in these when climbing, and it reminded me of Pakistani shalwar Kameez, but the pants were more fitted, but the top was looser and longer. The hair was generally covered in all hijab (headscarf) styles.
A woman cab driver in Oman.
Omani girls!!!!! The way I saw them loving and rocking their abayas, I realized not only did girls choose their hijabs, but they loved them. I came to love hijab in Oman because a. I had the freedom to choose it, and b. I had the choice to wear it in the way I felt was right, modest, but not void of my own expression. As I have learnt more and more about Islam, and can generally dicern the blurred lines of culture people infuse with it, I can make an educated expression of my beliefs and my personality. What people have to understand, on both sides of the fence (the religious and the disbelieving) is that a belief doesn't canel out a person (yes Dad, this comment is for you and any non-muslim parent who calls their headscarf wearing children brainwashed) , nor does a unique personality expressed compromise belief, faith, and love of Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala.


Majda said...

Wow these Omani girls are beautiful mashallah. And so is their sense of fasion.

I want to go there one day. It's been a country that has interested me even before I became Muslim and it's one of the places I hope to see before I die. ;)

Pixie said...

Majda: I love the Mutrah souq, Nakl fort, Salalah, and a few oasis and places in the Hajar. Four wheel driving in the mountains is great.

Heidi said...

I really enjoyed reading your insights. I live in Oman and often wear Islamic fashion...and as you said, wearing a headscraf doesn't mean you've been brainwashed. I have really come to appreciate and value being modest.