Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Modesty: Saudi Arabian Style

Dressing and living as a woman of modesty has been a hot discussion point for us lately.  The value is so significant and it's fun to spark conversations about it!  Modesty is a spicy topic with lots of view points.  I enjoy knowing all of them-the Lord is so creative as to how He imprints this on our hearts.

Here are a few doable ideas to start dressing modestly today!

But what has been really significant in my processing about modesty is linked back to Saudi Arabia.

Background:  My Jesus-following, smarty-pants husband went to grad school in Saudi Arabia at a new university KAUST (King Abdullah's University of Science and Technology).  Basically the King knows that oil is not going to last forever in the desert so he instituted this new university to pave the way in environmental studies and renewable technologies!  We moved to the heart of Saudi just 8 weeks after we got married so Ryan could complete his Masters.  It was one of the greatest adventures we've ever been on!  And it has affected us positively every since.

I'm sure you can conjure up some stereotypical images of the Middle East.  Desert, hot, beige, and women veiled in black.  And it is from those women, who I am privileged to call friend, that I learned the most about modesty.  Let me explain...

My incredibly adventurous, and brave Father-in-law, Mother-in-law, and Sister-in-law visited us for Ryan's graduation.  Here we are out to lunch with our hosts at a local shopping mall.

Pictured above with us is my sweet friend, Noora*, my closest Saudi friend at KAUST.  She is a mother of some very little ones and pursuing her Masters!  Girl power!  I just love her.  We often talked openly about Middle Eastern customs, specifically how Islam directs virtually every way of life there.  Including how women dress.  I gained perspective from many women while we were there about modesty and the motives for it.

Let me clarify too, which pieces are which in the Saudi women traditional attire, thought not all pieces are worn by every woman:

Abaya = long black "robe"
Hijab = the head covering, something like a light scarf that covers the hair and head
Burqa (burka) = The small black veil or face covering that leaves only the eyes exposed

 Look at all those white people in the desert!  For respect for the culture, and our hosts, we wore the abaya and didn't mind it too much at all!  

 My mother-in-law chatting with Noora in front of the Red Sea

There are many reasons why the women of Saudi, and other Middle Eastern countries, dress the way they do but these reason were the ones I loved most.  These are the personal opinions of my friends:
  • An abaya allows them to decide who can enjoy her beauty.  Whoa!  Have you ever thought of it like that?  I am so in love with that idea.
  • The traditional attire empowers the women to choose that what is underneath her clothing is for only her husband's eyes!
  • Fashion is very popular in Saudi.  Does that surprise you?!  Underneath those abayas are some insanely high heels and cute fashions.  But for respect to God and to avoid unnecessary distractions they choose to express those fashions only in the privacy of their home or with close friends or family.
  • Finally, I learned that dressing in an abaya is a way to promote dignity and respect for themselves, from other men, and live in a way honoring to God.
What grabs my attention about Noora's and others motivation for modesty is that it is really a heart condition more than it is about what is on their body.  The way women of Saudi dress is significant but truly their hearts are gentle, honoring, and humble in all ways.

Noora, her husband, my Ryan, and myself at a KAUST dinner

Noora has brought so much refreshment to the ways I view modesty-clothing, attitude, or otherwise. She has motivated me to prepare my heart in a demeanor honoring and loving towards God and the rest follows naturally.

What do you think about this?  This certainly was a new way for me to understand a Muslim woman's perspective on such drastically different ways of dressing than here in America!

Does it surprise you that modesty can be empowering for women?

I am not naive enough to believe that every woman wearing an abaya does so by choice or for these reasons but through  knowing my friend's opinions in Saudi I believe the attitude and perspective presented here is not always the minority.

This is a unique and new view on modesty that I would love to hear your opinion about!  All I ask is that you do so with respect and gentleness.  Write on!

*Name change for privacy

My Journey to 1000 Gifts
321. Friends different from me but sharing common ground nonetheless
322. Our patio being finished!
323. Ginger tea to cure stomach aches
324. Freshly mopped floors
325. Slow Monday nights to let Ryan rest and heal
326. James 5:14 and a legit church to cover Ryan in prayer
327. Seeing God change us and sanctify our hearts
328. The gift of ibuprofen-it has cured many a problem around here for us lately!
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Proverbs 31:30

I'm so glad you're here!  I hope you're encouraged by what you read and spurred on to pursue the heart of God.  To make sure you don't miss anything join us over on the sidebar and add our button to your page.  Be blessed!


  1. This is very interesting Carly,we truly can learn a lot from other cultures. My step-father is Muslim, and also practices Islam unfortunately, but his family is very gentle and loving. For the most part (his mom and dad), who live in Pakistan. Those are some great take-aways from your time over there.


    1. Wow that is amazing Nicole! I was so humbled to learn that many of my perceptions about the whole 10/40 window were so off.

      I love when Jesus teaches us things in ways we never ever dreamed of :) And I'm praying for your sweet stepdad and his amazing family. What a neat opportunity you have to be a light.

  2. I like the idea of only allowing my husband to enjoy my beauty although I do enjoy the occasional flirt from the insanely young cart boy at Costco I must admit - ha! Truly I want to honor my husband and my faith in my dress and seek His heart to be what shines the most!

    1. I love your heart Shannon-dress is one way to honor God and your husband. And I love what Noora taught me about modesty being a heart condition also. Thanks for your insight :)

    2. lol! So vulnerable Shannon! Love it!

  3. Very beautiful message here Carly!It really gave me an insight on things! Alos, Thank you for your suggestions/ideas on how Julia(13) can raise money on her trip! We are going to add them to our blog post with a link to introduce my blogger buddies to ya!

  4. Thanks Rachel! I'll be checking back in with your blog often :)

  5. This is awesome! I also am struck by the get to choose who sees... wow.

    Do you know Amhir and Maryam? I think I have told you about them. I have been shocked into reality by them. They just moved here from Iran and ask legit questions. Maryam saw a boy kissing a girls neck (or what she thought she saw) and could not understand how they could be Christians/loving God. They have an arranged marriage after knowing each other for 15 days and it is just so awesome how they Choose to love each other!!

    1. Isn't that awesome Laura!?! Abayas are not negative like I once perceived. I know so little about things sometimes ha ha :)

      I have heard you to talk about Amhir and Maryam! They sound amazing. I love their curious, God-seeking hearts. Maybe I can meet them soon! They are so wise and even though I'm glad I wasn't married to Ryan after only knowing him 15 days-marriages and people can still thrive under those curcomstances.

      I'm learning to embrace and learn from differences this morning yet somehow discern what God wants and says is true.

  6. Beautiful post, Carly! What an amazing experience. My favorite point was definitely that the abaya lets them choose who can enjoy their beauty. :)

    1. Me too Erica! Such an amazing point. And I want that to be true of how I might dress or display my heart to the world also. That inside or out I am choosing to reveal a beauty as God leads.

  7. I get that they choose when and how much to reveal in private and I certainly appreciate modesty in this day and age. My question has always been why black in the dessert? Couldn't they be covered in white or some other light color? I've only started wearing dark colors in the summer since I've moved to Alaska, and I still wouldn't wear it at 70F or higher. Is there a significance, like black for married Amish women?
    (ps - found you at Women Living Well)

    1. Davette I totally know what you mean. Black is SUPER hot!! Noora told me that black draws the least attention. I don't know if there are also other relevant religious reasons but that is what she told me.

      The campus we lived on (KAUST) was fairly "liberal" being the first male/female university of Saudi. Knowing that, there was a breast cancer awareness week and some of the Saudi women wore bright pink abayas and hijabs during that time! So I guess it's not always black :) Oh, and you could see in the last picture, Noora has on brighter colors and a white hijab. Her and her husband certainly are more modern and she dressed with more color-being a younger generation I think they are moving away from black only.

      Fun to see you here Davette!

  8. Great post! I wonder what the friendships are like among these women as well w/o the "competition" feeling or envious feelings of "Gosh, I wish I had her legs/arms/stomach/breasts/butt/etc." Seems like dressing modestly goes a long way to helping women have good friendships.

    1. Wow that is such a great point! Just enjoying friendships for the woman you are with and her heart-not competing with her looks or clothes. What an interesting and insightful thought!

  9. Carly,
    What a beautiful attitude and perspective from your friend. This makes me smile.


    1. Jacyln, my friend is truly amazing. Glad you stopped by-checking out your blog now!



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