Awhile back I wrote a guest post for Go! Girl Guides offering tips for women on social etiquette in the Middle East, and a reader rightfully asked me why I hadn’t included any advice on wearing the hijab. To be honest, the hijab is such a controversial topic I didn’t feel I could do it justice in a 100-word summary wedged between the finer points of tea-drinking and smoking. Despite the common misconception in the media that the hijab is enforced against the unwilling female population, in some countries it is the woman’s personal choice to wear it. Hence if you go to many cities in the Middle East, you will see a mixture of women wearing the all-covering burqa to some not covering their heads at all!
When it comes to Western women travelling in the Middle East however, you will not be expected to wear the hijab unless it is enforced by the government. As long as you wear loose-fitting clothing that covers your legs and most of your arms you will be fine. During my travels around Qatar, Jordan and the UAE I saw women wearing everything from spaghetti strap tops to shorts, and I can definitively state that unless you want groups of men converging around you and taking your photograph for less-than-savoury reasons, you will not wear these things in public. In a foreign country whose culture and social norms are new to you, few things can make a woman feel as unsafe as persistent and unwanted male attention.
For those that need more assurance about what to wear in their chosen destination, a visual representation is listed below as a quick reference.
Have any of you worn the hijab or other forms of Muslim headscarves? How were your experiences?