A modern abaya.

The abaya (colloquially and more commonly, Arabic: عباية ʿabāyah, especially in Literary Arabic: عباءة ʿabā'ah; plural عبايات ʿabāyāt, عباءات ʿabā'āt), sometimes also called an aba, is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some women in the Muslim world including most of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of the Horn of Africa.[1] Traditional abayas are usually black and may either be a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders or head or a long kaftan. The abaya covers the whole body except the head (sometimes), feet, and hands. It can be worn with the niqāb, a face veil covering all but the eyes. Some women also wear long black gloves, so their hands are covered as well. It is common that the abaya be worn on special occasions, such as mosque visits, Islamic holiday celebrations for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and also during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.


The rationale for the abaya is often attributed to the Quranic quote, "O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, to cover themselves with a loose garment. They will thus be recognised and no harm will come to them" (Qur'an 33:59, translated by Ahmed Ali). This quotation is often given as the argument for wearing the abaya.


Outside some Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, UAE, and Qatar, the abaya is not widely worn by Muslim women. Abaya also refers to different garments in different countries. In Arab states of the Persian Gulf, they tend to be black in color.

Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, women were required to cover in public.[2] However, in March 2018, the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman claimed that women could choose what to wear in public, provided it met certain standards, when he stated, "The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear".[3][4]

Foreign servicewomen in Saudi Arabia

American military pilot Martha McSally was represented by The Rutherford Institute in McSally v. Rumsfeld, a successful 2001 lawsuit against the United States Department of Defense, challenging the military policy that required U.S. and U.K. servicewomen stationed in Saudi Arabia to wear the abaya when traveling off base in the country.[5][6][7]

In 2002, General Tommy Franks, then commander of the United States Central Command, announced that U.S. military servicewomen would no longer be required to wear the abaya, although they would be "encouraged" to do so as a show of respect for local customs. Commenting on the change, Central Command spokesman Colonel Rick Thomas said it was not made because of McSally's lawsuit but had already been "under review" before the lawsuit was filed. McSally had been working to change the policy for several years and had filed the lawsuit after she had been threatened with a court martial if she did not comply.[8][9]

Also in 2002, the U.S. Congress passed legislation prohibiting anyone in the military from "requiring or encouraging servicewomen to put on abayas in Saudi Arabia or to use taxpayers' money to buy them."[10][11]

United Arab Emirates

Abayas are commonly worn in the United Arab Emirates. They often are made with fabrics such as crêpe, georgette, and chiffon that are suited to the country’s climate.


The abaya in Indonesia takes on a unique style called the "jilbab." It is paired with a headscarf and is often brightly colored or patterned, reflecting the vibrant Indonesian culture.

Abayas are known by various names but serve the same purpose, which is to cover. Contemporary models are usually caftans, cut from light, flowing fabrics like crepe, georgette, and chiffon. Other known styles are front open and front closed abaya. Styles differ from region to region: some abayas have embroidery on black fabric while others are brightly colored and have different forms of artwork across them.

Abaya ban in French schools

In August 2023, French education minister, Gabriel Attal, said that abayas would be banned in state schools as they breached the "principle of secularism".[12] On 4 September, the first day of the new academic year, French schools sent 67 girls home for refusing to remove their abayas.[13]

Influence of Western Fashion in Abaya Designs

In the mid-20th century, the influence of Western fashion began to permeate the Arab world. This led to a significant transformation in abaya design. While the basic silhouette remained the same, new fabrics like silk, chiffon, and lace were introduced. Designers began experimenting with colors, cuts, and styles, blending traditional elements with contemporary fashion trends.

See also


  1. ^ Yarwood, Doreen (1978). The Encyclopedia of World Costume. New York: Bonanza Books. p. 9. ISBN 0-517-61943-1.
  2. ^ Sanders, Eli. Interpreting veils: Meanings have changed with politics, history. Archived December 3, 2009, at the Wayback Machine The Seattle Times. 27 May 2003. Web. 30 Oct. 2009.
  3. ^ Kalin, S. Saudi women should be able to choose whether to wear head cover or black abaya in public, says Crown Prince. Retrieved 19.03.2018
  4. ^ "Saudi women should have choice whether to wear abaya robe: crown..." U.S. Reuters Editorial. Retrieved 2018-03-22.
  5. ^ Vojdik, Valorie (Summer 2002). "The Invisibility of Gender in War". Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy. 9: 261–270. Archived from the original on March 6, 2011.
  6. ^ Mulligan, John E. (December 5, 2001). "Female pilot sues US, alleging bias". Providence Journal Bulletin. p. A01.
  7. ^ Zhou, Li (2018-08-29). "Martha McSally is the rare Republican woman putting gender at the forefront of her campaign". Vox. Archived from the original on January 4, 2020. Retrieved 2020-01-04.
  8. ^ Whitehead, John W. (2002). "No Abaya for McSally". Liberty Magazine. Archived from the original on July 14, 2020. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  9. ^ Pound, Edward T. (April 24, 2001). "Saudi rule looser than Pentagon's". USA Today. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  10. ^ "H.R.4546 - Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003". United States Congress. December 2, 2002. Archived from the original on January 8, 2020. Retrieved 12 May 2020.
  11. ^ De Wind, Dorian (February 21, 2011). "Should our Servicewomen in Afghanistan Have to Wear Headscarves?". The Moderate Voice. Archived from the original on April 29, 2011. Retrieved July 16, 2011.
  12. ^ Chrisafis, Angelique (2023-08-28). "France to ban girls from wearing abayas in state schools". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-09-06.
  13. ^ AFP (2023-09-05). "French schools send home dozens of girls wearing Muslim abayas". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-09-06.