Monday, March 1, 2010
Arab Dress A Short History
Months ago Umm Malaak suggested I read this book (the first part can be found online here) as an answer to my Jilbab post. I've finally finished it and its due tomorrow, whew. This is not a book you can just breeze through. If you look online you will find that this book is very expensive to purchase so I was grateful to get this through interlibrary loan where they sourced it from an university. I notice they had paid $75 for it. This book goes through the history of arab dress from the time of Islam to modern times. There are so many fascinating facts in this book. First of all it covers not only women's clothes but men's. In fact I wish it would cover women's more as there are a lot more descriptions of men's clothing. The author presents her information in a matter of fact way which is very refreshing and to be expected but new for me as most information regarding this topic is never neutral. Also what's amazing to know is that not only muslim women but christian and jewish women in the Islamic empire were dressed alike in jilbabs, khimars (wimples) and niquabs. This was not imposed on them in fact on the contrary many times it seemed they were trying to make sure Christians and Jews dressed differently for security purposes. I was suprised to find out that there are so many kinds of face veils used by women. The peice of cloth across the face which most people call niquab is actually not called that and the niquab is actually a full face veil with holes for the eyes. It also mentions that women would also often just cover one eye. Jilbabs I found out are exclusively for women whereas the khimar is something for men and women. Another interesting peice of information was that women wore many different colours not just black like in Saudi. They were embellished also with embroidery and gold and silver threads. Fashion was big business back then, even more so than now and clothing was actually worth something. It could be sold for good money and also traded. So back to the jilbab itself. Seems like every woman was wearing it and only recently in the 19th and 20th century did women stop wearing it. In fact even men wore 3 layers of clothing (underwear, indoor wear and outerwear). Only the poor wore less layers. The face veil was the first thing to be taken off and that was by christians and jews and later followed by muslims. I'm amazed at how ubiquitous the face veil was! Next to come off was the khimar (wimple). When I compare myself to those women I think they would think that I was very poor since I do not wear jilbab and that I was very brazen to not being wearing a niquab. Back then it was said that a woman without niquab was like a soldier without his armor! Imagine! So am I more convinced about jilbab? Absolutely! The fact that this was written by a Jewish woman makes me all the more convinced since she's obviously not trying to promote islam but just telling the historical facts. The author actually passed away while putting together this book and her husband had to finish it for her; a real labour of love. Inna ilaihi wa inna ilaihi rajiun. Alhumdullillah I am grateful to Umm Malaak for sharing this book reference with me and for Yedida Stillman for writing it. Please do check it out.