Social Question

gravity's avatar

Should I wear an abaya for safety reasons if this is not my religion?

Asked by gravity (3116points) December 20th, 2012

I am living in a 99% Muslim country that is dangerous for Americans to be in at this time. My boyfriend and I draw many stares when we go out, which isn’t often. There are no other Americans here that I have seen. A local friend of my boyfriend said that if I wore an abaya (the black covering from head to toe) then it would be better for us. (safer) I feel like if I do that, then I am bowing to a religion that I do not ascribe to. I want to know others opinions of this and not the crazy anti- Christian comments that you may want to deliver.

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37 Answers

burntbonez's avatar

As an atheist, I say this is a matter of practicality and cultural respect. You are a guest in a foreign land. By not following local customs, you make sure you stand out, and you are offering disrespect. No one likes disrespect.

I think this has almost nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with going along to get along. It is about respecting the culture of the people you are living with. That does not mean you approve of it. It just means you are not rubbing the local people’s noses in your ways. If you want to get along with people, it is always good to mirror them and not make your differences so obvious.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think it’s unfortunate for anyone to feel unsafe. I suppose you need to take whatever measures to feel safe so go ahead, put the abaya on…though, I know it’s not a clear matter.

CWOTUS's avatar

I was going to give pretty much the same advice that @burntbonez gave.

But I would add this: In some parts of the world it is perfectly acceptable to stand out, to be different, to buck the trend and to be a rebel (to a point), at least as far as appearances. In some parts of the world it’s not at all safe to be that way.

If you’re “drawing stares” and “causing muttered comment” among angry men, or even worse, groups of angry men, then it would be foolish not to take the necessary steps to blend in. In the case you’re describing, that would probably include not being out on the streets unescorted by your male companion, too. (And not being married to him is another problem, if that fact becomes commonly known.)

JLeslie's avatar


You should conform to the area. When in Rome do as the Romans. Even if you were in your country you would dress appropriately in a church, at the beach, at a funeral, etc.

Especially if it has to do with your safety, dress appropriately, lie, whatever. Don’t see it as religious, see it as a cultural expectation. I live in America and when I lived in FL we were half naked half the time. Where I live now if you show your stomach everyone is aghast. Both states are primarily Christian.

Why are you living there? Get out.

bookish1's avatar

I would say do it if you think it will make you feel safer and draw less attention. You might be perceived as easy pickins if you are out in public without one.

I’ve never lived in a predominantly Muslim country, but I certainly changed my style of dress to fit in better in India and not receive unwanted attention.

Shippy's avatar

When in Rome do as the Romans do.

Coloma's avatar

Well, seems like a no brainer to me. Do you want to take as many precautions as possible to protect your life, or, do you want to stupidly hold out on principal?
When in Rome and all that jazz.
What’s better, covering up your American pie or getting shot, maimed, tortured or killed?

Seek's avatar

Fortunately, blasphemy is a victimless crime.

You should absolutely wear whatever garment is considered respectful in the country you are visiting. I, personally, would want to wear the least restrictive garment that is acceptable. For example, if I could get away with a hijab (head scarf) instead of the whole tent thing, then awesome.

janbb's avatar

Is it possible to wear a head covering only and not stand out or do women only appear in public wearing the abaya? If they do, and you are not feeling safe, I think I would wear an abaya.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I agree with most of these comments, it’s not about religion, it’s about respect and safety. Many religions, even Catholic and Jewish, respect the head-covering and if you’re not religious then consider it a hat. Much like going to Japan and wearing their traditional ceremonial kimono’s.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Just wear it. And behave appropriately! No drinking, no flirting, no loud talking!

Be mindful and respectful to your host country. You knew the rules before you went there. Presumably the bother will all be worth it.

I will give you a horrible example of what not to do. In a similar country Americans lived in ‘the compound”. On warm evenings they would sit outside on the roof and drink. They were loud and obnoxious and visible by others outside the compound. In the host countrymen’s eyes they represent all of us. I would have fired them if I could. Idiots.

Be the best guest you can be.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not sure I remember this right, but are you in Somalia?

I don’t know how long you plan to be there, but I think this is an incredible opportunity. I would do whatever I could to get to know people and learn about the culture and make friends if possible. As I said earlier, I would also go to that island 200 miles out in the Red Sea, if you can. It looks incredible.

Now is the time to be humble. Later, when you learn the ropes and have friends, then maybe you can start organizing protests. But not now. Now is the wrong time. Now is the time to learn, not get in the faces of the people who belong there.

marinelife's avatar

Definitely. For safety.

flutherother's avatar

If everyone else is wearing it then I suppose you should also. We often wear dark clothing from head to foot with only a narrow letter box for the eyes but that is because of the weather.

hearkat's avatar

I agree with the above, and like several, I wonder if just wearing very modest clothing with a head scarf might be an adequate show of respect. It seems that if you were to suddenly change to the fully covered clothing, they would recognize that you were doing it out of fear rather than respect. Is there a cultural advisor that you might ask, or have you befriended anyone who wears the full garb who might offer an opinion?

rojo's avatar

Sure, its cultural, and when down south of the mason-dixon line, wear your daisy dukes and halter top, tied in front of course.

Jeruba's avatar

I’m an atheist. In a Christian church I participate in the service, short of taking communion or making any other profession of faith. In a Jewish synagogue or a Mormon church I follow along quietly. In a Buddhist service I do my respectful best. None of these folks are threatening my safety and well-being if I don’t.

I’d wear the appropriate garments in a Muslim community that isn’t used to outsiders—that is, unless (a) I felt like dying to make a stand for my home customs or (b) wearing the garb without being a member of the faith could somehow expose me to other and possibly worse recriminations. I don’t know whether wearing the prescribed garments is seen as a privilege and you could be considered an impostor—? Perhaps someone else can answer that.

Akua's avatar

I believe you should dress appropriate to the culture. Yes. Out of respect.

Jeruba's avatar

Then, @Akua, I presume you also think that Muslim women should take off their scarves when they are in a secular Western society? out of respect?

Akua's avatar

@Jeruba we live in a free western society (mostly) and no one is required to dress one way or another here so as long as they feel safe they should be able to carry out their religious obligations, including dress code, even in the west. The OP was concerned for her safety in a strict, religious, patriachal ISLAMIC country. So ensure her safety and the safety of other women, it would be wise to cover herself out of respect for the religious beliefs and opinions of the people that live there. During 9/11 my Aunt, who is a married muslim woman had to remove HER scarf in the western society because she was harassed and did not feel safe. She didn’t stop her beliefs but felt like in light of the political environment it was better for her to remove her kemar until the tension settled. She now wears her kemar again.

Jeruba's avatar

That’s about safety, not respect.

In our society we don’t hide our faces; we associate that with stealth and menace. But our whole society is supposed to forget its customs and traditions in favor of its guests and newcomers, who don’t care to do the same in return.

bookish1's avatar

@Jeruba : Will you please give an example of “forgetting [...] customs and traditions in favor of [...] guests and newcomers, who don’t care to do the same in return”? By ‘our society’ do you refer to the West in general, the U.S., the Anglophone world, or something else?

This is not an attack. I think about PC/multiculturalism √† l’am√©ricaine versus ideas of assimilation all the time and I wanted to make sure I was not interpreting your statements incorrectly due to what’s already kicking around inside my head.

flutherother's avatar

Wear a bullet proof abaya and you’ll be doubly safe.

Jeruba's avatar

Here’s one: the neutralizing of holidays for reasons such as that they they might “exclude” someone.

bookish1's avatar

@Jeruba : Are we talking about the “War on Christmas” here? How does one neutralize a holiday?

gravity's avatar

Interesting comments… thanks to all of you for answering. I don’t have to worry about what to wear out since I won’t be going out for some time now. There were 3 westerners kidnapped Friday in the city I am currently residing. Al Qaeda had said 12 days ago there would be kidnappings and bank hold ups. I thought it very careless of the US Embassy to not even alert those of us here (In Yemen) of this statement. I am even registered with them for them to send alerts. Niiiiice. I am hungry all the time and ready to move! If I do have to go out… I won’t be looking like myself for sure.

When I did go out I was covered with long sleeves and conservative clothes and usually in black. It wasn’t like I was showing skin and being disrespectful.

hearkat's avatar

@gravity – Sending you wishes to be safe through your time abroad. Please reach out to your representatives there and in your home country regarding the notifications—protecting citizens abroad is a major topic these days.

bookish1's avatar

@gravity: If Al Qaeda is making active threats… I think your best bet is to look as little like a Westerner as possible. (Not like they have any qualms about killing Arabs and Muslims, but you will still stand out less as a target.)

Doubling @hearkat‘s wishes for your safety.

Akua's avatar

@Jeruba the OP asked for our opinions and I gave mine.
Who said that we were supposed to forget our customs because it excludes new comers? It’s called compromise. When in Rome… Many cultures do not greet with a handshake because it is considered “Unclean” but once in this country, many set aside their traditions so they do not offend us, so they can get a job and they shake hands. If I meet a japanese person and they greet me with a ‘bow’, I won’t insist on grabbing their hand. I’m going to bow if they bow regardless of what country we are in because that is their culture and what they are comfortable with. I’f I’m invited to a synagogue, I will come dressed as the culture or religion dictates if I don’t want to create an unfavorable situation. Also, what my Aunt did was not JUST for safety but out of respect to the feelings and emotions that Americans were feeling after 911.
We all make concessions when we want to assimilate into a new culture and Americans are hardly tolerant. I get tired of making up lies to avoid shaking peoples’ hands (I’m not religious, I just think it’s nasty)
. @gravity I’m hoping you and your family are safe wherever you are. Good Luck.

gravity's avatar

I never did go back out shopping, so I didn’t get an abaya. We were being targeted and had to flee the country. We are now back in the states and trying to move past the stress that took such a toll on us both. Thank you for your remarks and concern.

augustlan's avatar

Thanks for the update. I’m so glad you’re safe and sound!

JLeslie's avatar

Thanks for the update. I’m glad your back. Sorry you had such a bad experience.

burntbonez's avatar

What a bummer! Glad you’re safe now.

Akua's avatar

I hope it wasn’t too traumatic for you but I’m glad your safe and sound.

gravity's avatar

Thank you for the concern from my fellow fluther friends, it means so much to me : ) The stress of being there and the stress of the danger has wreaked havoc on my health. I can’t believe how much damage stress can do to parts of you that you never imagined! I have faith that I will be well again one day…

JLeslie's avatar

Sorry to hear the circumstances have led to some problems that have stuck with you. I do think chronic stress can shorten your life. But, also I think the body has an amazing capacity to heal. Do your best to relax and be in the moment and address whatever health problems you are having. If you are feeling anxious or depressed I really think that will pass soon. See a therapist a few times if you need to to talk things through and clear your mind. Esoecially if you are having nightmares, a few sessions with someone can relieve that.

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