Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at “Textiles and Settlement: From Plains Space to Cyber Space,” Textile Society of America 12th Biennial Symposium, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 6-9, 2010. Copyright 2010 Textile Society of America.


Shari’a law and local custom dictate that Muslim women in Qatar wear the abaya, an all-encompassing black garment. Supposedly a deterrent to unwanted male attention and a device to protect men from lascivious thoughts, the abaya has rendered women anonymous when in public, silently moving through society as unidentified and all but invisible beings. Increased Western employment, tourism, and media in the forms of magazines, radio, television and the Internet have brought images of Euro-American lifestyles into Arab homes. Higher education for women has resulted in increased female opportunity and independence. Many women travel abroad and every year more complete advanced education in foreign countries, interacting with cultures other than their own. These influences are the seeds of a quiet, but colorful rebellion. Abayas that were once plain black and interchangeable now feature a variety of embellishment, from discrete black braid to huge and wildly colorful appliqués, embroideries, cutwork and beading. Embellishment styles change quickly and outmoded abayas are discarded. Using texts by Ahmed and Shirazi and building on extensive research in Qatar, this paper aims to examine the many cultural, political and religious stories told by the new abaya. Abayas express the wealth of Qatar while adhering to religious dictates and respecting traditional dress. More importantly, they give Arab women a platform upon which to express their individuality, their interest in modernity and mark their emerging role as equal partners in their country.