Saudi university bans colored abayas on campus

A student said last week supervisors and security guards at the university initiated a campaign to restrict the abaya color to black

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The University of Dammam’s women’s campus has banned its students from wearing colored abayas.

The university caught two of its students wearing colored abayas recently and said the colors were not suitable for an educational institution.

A student said last week supervisors and security guards at the university initiated a campaign to restrict the abaya color to black.

Student Nour Abdulhadi said the only black abayas rule is being enforced by the university across all of its campuses. Violating it is a serious offense that is recorded in the student’s disciplinary record.

Supervisors at the university disapprove of the market’s influence in selling beige, brown, grey and other colored abayas. The Humanities College is enforcing the rule among its students to prevent them from having any violations recorded on their disciplinary records.

Moreover, workers at stores selling abayas said official directorates inspected stores recently and slapped fines on stores selling colored abayas. Designers also said they received warnings to only make black abayas. Store owners said the new violations were issued by the Ministry of Labor in cooperation with the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (the Haia).

The aim is to make sure all designs being sold in the Saudi market conform to the Kingdom’s Islamic dress code.

Users on social media websites were divided on the new regulations. Many sympathized with shop owners for their financial losses but supported the ministry’s regulations.

A hash tag on the subject was created and some supported the decision saying that non-black abayas were a mockery of Islamic dress while others said colored abayas are a personal freedom.

Sociologist Mohammad Al-Zahrani said the abaya has been a subject of dispute for two decades now. He said the General Presidency of Scholarly Research and Ifta said 14 years ago that the correct Islamic code of dress for females should be designed to cover their bodies.

“In my opinion, the regulations in the women’s university are not oppressive. On the contrary, they ensure women are conforming to their religion’s modest way of dressing,” al-Zahrani said. There are a number of features that must be in every abaya in order for it to qualify as an Islamic dress.

The abaya must be made of thick fabric, not be transparent, it must be loose-fitting and cover the entire body, the sleeves must not be too wide, there must not be any attractive embroidery on it and it must not be similar to men’s clothing nor clothing normally worn by Westerners.

From that definition, the presidency meant that any abaya violating the said conditions must not be sold in the Kingdom, according to al-Zahrani.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Nov. 25, 2014.