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Colored Abaya’s Impact on Emirati Identity Research Paper

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Updated: Jun 12th, 2020


There is a lot of concern among the Emirati people to conserve, and construct their national identity based on the perception that it is a form of socio-cultural enterprise (Al-Saji, 2010). Often men and women of Emirati origin make use of their national dress as a symbol of distinction, as well as a point of boundary to the maintenance of their national identity in a society that is multi-ethnic (Bennett & Wright, 2010). The Emirati society has become an open society that is characterized by modernized and affluent as a result of the oil fields in this region (Bennett & Wright, 2010).

Although such features has significant changed the society’s economy, the social content has greatly become complex. Such effects are largely felt by the Emirati women who despite their deep-rooted ancestral backgrounds, the exposure to Western culture have had an enormous effect in terms of diverse thoughts, ideas and values that can be instilled through media, education along with direct contact with people who embrace the Western culture. As such, the new generation of young people faces modern life’ pressures, as well as the traditional forces (Al-Saji, 2010). For this reason, an incessant tension exits among the young generation, which is manifested in the way such people behave nowadays. Even though they seem to hold their tradition by wearing the veil, they also have designer clothes under the Abaya (Sobh, Belk, & Gressel, 2012).

Lately, there has been a lot of concern on the role of colored Abaya on the identity of Emirati. In the modern days, some form of relaxation has been witnessed as far as the adherence of the Islamic mode of dressing is concerned (Farrell, 2008). Such relaxation seems to be common especially in the view of the young generation of Emirati women. As such, there is a need to establish whether or not the changes in social and cultural changes have any impact in the veiling practices among Emirati individuals. This study therefore, provides and in-depth overview of the impact that the colored Abaya has on Emirati identity.

Background of the study

The abaya is a form of dress code among the Muslim women that is voluminous and often worn on top of other clothes. It is often used to cover individual’s whole body. It is a black piece of cloth that is used alongside veil that matches it (Maeder, Dempsey & Pozzulo, 2012). Predominantly, abaya is used as form of dress by the females. In most of Arab speaking countries, the Abaya is considered a national dress code, with a lot of emphasis on its conservative significance (Khelifa, n.d.).

The literature on abaya has two versions whereby several authors point out that abaya has been in existence in the tradition of Saudi Arabia for many centuries. Other authors have described the abaya as a recent trend that emerged in the late 20th century (Raven & O’Donnell, 2010). However, abaya is believed to have originated from Syria and Iraq during the reign of King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud. With time the abaya displaced most of the regionally used costumes following the requirement to have a strict adherence of Islamic dress code all over Saudi Arabia.

The social and cultural context in Emirati has greatly changed over the recent years. Such changes have been brought about by the continued presence of Western culture and the increase in the number of Emirati individuals interacting with people with diverse cultural backgrounds (Bennett & Wright, 2010). The Western culture has since washed away the traditional beliefs and Islamic law on dress codes such that many Emirati women do not follow the Islamic defined mode of dressing (Redman, 2012). Following such cultural erosion, most Emirati men and women are torn in dilemma whether to remain with their cultural traditions or to adopt the Western mode of dressing. Many researchers have expressed the concern of the colored traditional clothing and how it affects the cultural and self-identity of the Muslims. In most of the studies, it has been showed that veiling is a traditional practice that needs to be conserved among the Emirati citizens.

Research Objectives

The primary objective of the study was to find out whether or not the colored abaya had any significant impact on the identity of Emirati.

Research question

To achieve the primary objective of the study outlined above, research question approach was considered the best way seek the necessary information. For this reason, the study was based on the following research question: How does the trend of colored traditional clothing affect self-identity and cultural identity? This research question was chosen because it provided a platform to seek for answers on the current state of the Muslim tradition of veiling and how the trend of colored clothing impacts the self-identity and cultural identity of the community.

Literature Review


Shaban and Al-Awidi (2013) pointed out that in the recent years, a lot of changes have been seen in the context of Emirati women veils, especially the young women. Such changes can only be understood through an critical review of the link between identify formation and dress code, the impact of gender role expectations and the different stereotypes about gender and their different roles, as well as the impact of dress code on social relationships. Further, the meaning of the Islamic veil cannot be understood without explaining the meaning of the veiling code in the context Islam, how it is important, as well as review the existing discourse on veils. By looking at the veil in the context outlined, the study will be able to provide an in-depth overview of any possible impact of the current trends of colored abaya on the Emirati identity.

Identity, Dress, and Context

Always, people’s way of dressing is informed by socio-cultural and historical aspects. For this reason, the clothes that different people wear have a symbolic meaning regarding the social and personal identities and political alignment. In addition, individuals’ mode of dressing depicts their socio-economic status, as well as the membership in terms of religion (Slater, 2000). On the hand, one’s mode of dressing is used as a communication tool about their power, social class, and gender. As such, analysis of individuals’ dress code can be used as a point of distinction among different people.

In the case of the Emirati people, they use Abaya as a national dress code. Several studies have been conducted outlining the significance of upholding a certain dress code. Even though most studies insist on the use of dress as a tool to explain a given scenario, it is important to note that sometimes, the meanings of different symbols and dress code change, due to sensitivity of time of even for redefinition purposes. In this context, the symbolic meaning of given dress codes might change with time or even evolve following society’s growth. In the present times, when there are a lot of changes brought about by modernization and the growth in technology, there is an emerging trend of Western-style clothes as well as other forms of fashion (Slater, 2000). In the face of such changes, the fashionable abaya has showed signs of replacing the traditional mode of dressing among many people in the Gulf States.

Gender-Role Expectations and Stereotypes

Different societies have some form of prescribed gender-roles. Such roles are used as a point of reference on the expectations of different people regarding men and women dress code (Shaban & Al-Awidi, 2013). The existence of culturally defined values and norms is used as a measure of the acceptable and not acceptable dressing for both men and women in the society. Historically, the dresses that people wore were based on a given social expectations (Sobh, Belk & Gressel, 2012). Even though behavior is considered as one of the primary factors expressed by an individual’s dress code, gender-role expectations also play a significant role in prescribing an individual’s appearance.

For this reason, the expectation of gender-role stereotypes is very important in shaping the social interactions of people in a society. This can be attributed to the fact that such expectations lay out the foundations for measuring conformity. Different studies have showed that conforming to gender-role expectations has a rewarding effect to individuals who consider such expectations valuable (Khalaf, 2005). This is based on the assertion that conformity to societal expectations of the different gender-based role enhances social relationships.

Significance of veil in Islam

There are a number of connotations associated with the Islamic veil among the Muslims, as well as the non-Muslims. Many people have different interpretations of the Islamic veils depending on their understanding (Shaban & Al-Awidi, 2013). It is considered a religious duty among the women and men of the Muslim community (Slater, 2000). For this reason, they are supposed to abide by the law by ensuring that their bodies are fully covered. In spite of the significance of the veil to the Muslim community, there are there are diverse dress code among Muslims. This can be attributed to the fact that different communities interpret the meaning of awarah different. In the Muslim context, awarah refers to the body parts that ought to be kept covered and way from the public.

In spite of the fact that there are diverse interpretations of awarah, the veil is seen as a religious mandate that seeks to have all women cover any body parts that are considered to be attractive to men. Hence, in the Muslim society, the veil is a representation of morality, purity, as well as chastity among women.

Research Design and Methodology


Research design refers to the systematic planning of actions that are applied in the collection of information and subsequent analysis of data in a logical manner that help in realization of the purpose of the study is called the study design (Creswell, 2009). Examples of the study designs include descriptive, cross-sectional, experimental, and explorative researches. Research methodology refers to the principles and processes that are applied to collect data that can be utilized in decision making, in business and/or social setting (Kothari, 2005). This chapter will therefore concentrate on the research methodologies and design to be used in the research. Research designs, target population, sample frame, sampling techniques, methods of data collection and data analysis are therefore presented under this chapter.

Research Designs

The research on the impact of colored abaya on the identity of Emirati will focus on what is known about the Muslim veil and the perceived trends in Emirati dress code. The study will also get quantitative data that relate to the abaya from the different secondary sources. The quantitative data will be supplemented by interviewing women, men and young girls of Emirati origin. The research will be comprehensive and combination of two study designs will be applied, they include descriptive and cross sectional.

The descriptive research design will apply to this study, as it is very crucial in assisting to provide answers relating to how research problem has affected a given societal situation. For instance, in gauging the impact of the abaya on Emirati identity, there will be a need to describe the tangible effects so far and reasons behind the effects. In many occasions, the descriptive study is applied as a precursor for a quantitative research. The descriptive study also gives indexes to the variables that need to be examined. In addition, the descriptive study leads to reliable data from which inferences and recommendations can be drawn.

Target Population

Target population involves the entire people or units of which the study intends to collect information from and draw inferences. This study wishes to collect information from ten respondents of the Muslim community to help establish whether or not there is a significant impact of the colored abaya on the Emirati identity. As such, the study will use the random sampling technique to get the sample size for the study. The simple random sampling technique is preferred because it allows inclusiveness and avoids researcher bias. In addition, the random sampling technique is very effective as it avoids cases of classification errors.

In determining the sample size, a lot of consideration is given on the number of replication needed for reliable inferences. In addition, the sample size is also affected by the type of data needed for any study. In this case, a small sample size was preferred because there was need to enhance precision of the research. For this reason, the study used a sample size of 10.

Data collection

In order to collect in-depth information on the perspectives on the impact of colored abaya on Emirati identity, interviews will be conducted to gain more insights from different respondents. According to Kothari (2005) interview are good research instruments that can be applied in collection of information in order to gain insights into attitudes and perceptions. They also serve to explore personal differences, experiences, and outcomes. The interviews will be guided interviews, as they will probe to get specific information from the respondents.

Results and Findings


The primary objective of this study was to establish the impact of colored abaya on the Emirati Identity. To achieve this objective, the study interviewed ten Emirati individuals including 3 girls, 4 women and 3 men. The results from the study are highlighted below.

Respondents’ Demographic data

The table below show the demographic data on the respondents interviewed during the research.

Age No. of respondents Gender
Male Female
18-30 3 0 3
31-40 3 1 2
40-50 3 2 1
Above 50 1 0 1

Respondents’ opinion on the significance of veil

The study also sought the opinion of the respondents with regard to the significance of the veil among the Muslim. Their response are showed below

Age Veils are very important Veils are not very important
18-30 0 3
31-40 2 1
40-50 3 0
Above 50 1 0

From the response, it was evident that most of the respondents (70%) felt that veils are very important among the Muslim; with only a small number (30%) pointing out that they felt veiling is not significant.

Respondent’s’ response on the impact of abaya on Emirati identity

The primary objective being to establish the impact of colored abaya on Emirati identity, the study analyzed and presented their response as showed below:

Age Do you think the colored abaya has any the impact of abaya on Emirati identity
Yes No
18-30 0 3
31-40 3 0
40-50 3 0
Above 50 1 0

The interview results showed that most of the respondents (70%) felt that the colored abaya had a significant impact on the Emirati identity, while the rest (30%) felt that the colored abaya did not have any impact on Emirati identity.


Based on the interview results, it was evident that most of the respondents felt that the colored abaya had a significant impact on the Emirati identity, while the rest felt that the colored abaya did not have any impact on Emirati identity. Secondly, the results showed that most people agreed to the idea of veil dress code. According to the review of literature, such difference in opinions can be attributed to the fact that different people have different gender-role expectations (Redman, 2012). As evident from the interview results, most of those opposed to the veil dress code are the young generations. This can be attributed to the fact that such individuals have been culturally brainwashed by the western culture. They have a high preference for the Western-style of dress and fashion, and are only wearing the veils because it is a cultural obligations but not from a religious perspective.

From these findings, it can be concluded that there is a high probability that the traditional mode of dressing will be replaced with time. For example, the adoption of the abaya is a strong proof for this assertion. However, the significance of colored abaya remains religiously-based.

Annotated Bibliography

Al-Saji, A. (2010). The racialization of Muslim veils: A philosophical analysis. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 36(8), 875-902.

This article examines the stereotypes on Muslim veils. In this article, Al-Saji examines the public debate that banned the use of different religious symbols in educational institutions, as well as the concept of veiling in general. The article points out that veils are used among the Muslims as a religious tool and for identity purposes. However, the article highlights that veils are used for the wrong purpose in the western contexts.

Bennett, H., & Wright, N. (2010). Female Emirati graduates and the multicultural, mixed gender workplace. Team Performance Management, 16(5/6), 267-288.

This article aims at examining the difference among female Arab students who have diverse educational backgrounds. The focus of the article is on factors such as values, attitudes, skills and social behavior. The author points out that a significant difference is in moral values and general behavior is noted in Arab students with diverse educational experiences. The article was significant for the currents study in that it shows the role of social interaction on cultural erosion.

Creswell, J. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

The author presents an overview of the different research designs that can be used for any study. Creswell points out that a lot of research approaches have been introduced recently, increasing the number of design choices for investigators. As such, the author explains the mixed methods, qualitative and the quantitative approach. The concept of Creswell was used to provide insight on the research design to use in the current study.

Farrell, F. (2008). Voices on Emiratization: The impact of Emirati culture on the workforce participation of national women in the UAE private banking sector. Journal of Islamic Law and Culture, 10(2), 107-168.

This article presents an in-depth analysis of the impact that the Emirati culture has on women in the banking sector in United Arabs Emirates. The article starts by an exploration of the concept of culture, and integrates the idea to the issue of gender and diversity in the context of Emirati identity. The author provides a background for the current study by highlighting the importance of dress code in Emirati identity.

Khalaf, S. (2005). National dress and the construction of Emirati cultural identity. Journal of human sciences, 2005(11), 229-267.

This article focuses on the importance preserving as well as constructing Emirati national identity. The author points out the significance of national identity construction and preservation in socio-cultural contexts. In the case of Emirati culture, Khalif contends that the dress code of the Emirati people has been affected by political, demographic and economic transformations. The analysis in this study is useful in building the current study by outlining the importance of constructing and preserving Emirati national identity.

Khelifa, M. (n.d.). Unveiling what the veil means to young Emirati women. Web.

This study provides an in-depth analysis of the veiling concept among the Emirati people. It focuses to establish the possibility of any changes in the veiling practices of Emirati women, which might have caused by the modern socio-economic revolution. The study found out that the religious significance of the veil among the Emirati women still holds, although there is an increased value for the abaya as a point of distinction.

Kothari, C.R. (2005). Research Methodology- Methods and techniques. New Delhi: Wiley Eastern Limited.

Even though very many studies are carried out every day, few people take note of the importance of choosing the right research methodology. This study provides an overview of the different research methods and suitable techniques. In the view of the author, this book was very instrumental in assisting the accomplishment of the current study by providing the necessary insight on the choice of a methodology that was appropriate to study the impact of colored abaya on Emirati identity.

Maeder, E., Dempsey, J., & Pozzulo, J. (2012). Behind the veil of juror decision making: Testing the effects of Muslim veils and defendant race in the courtroom. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 39(5), 666-678.

This article provides an overview on the importance of veils to the Muslim society. As such, the authors examined the role of veil with respect to testing in court cases. The article thus highlights a significance influence of veiled victims on the decisions of juror, in rape cases. Victims who wore hijab or burga had high conviction powers on rape cases as opposed to when they testified without the veil. Maeder, Dempsey and Pozzulo in this article, pointed out that veils are very important in the Muslim society.

Raven, J., & O’Donnell, K. (2010). Using digital storytelling to build a sense of national identity amongst Emirati students. Education, Business & Society, 3(3), 201-217.

There has been debate on a possible threat to the national identity of Emiratis in the UAE. This article provides an in-depth analysis of this discourse. Raven and O’Donnell highlights that identity of any individual can be enhanced through several ways, including showing the significance of one’s self, as in the case of the digital storytelling initiative used in the study. The article outlines the significance of keeping one’s identity.

Redman, J. (2012). Emirati women: Generations of change – By Jane Bristol-Rhys. Digest of Middle East Studies, 21(1), 211-213.

This study presents an overview of the changes noted among Emirati women as generations change. In this article, Redman documents the monumental changes, which have occurred in the Gulf region and that have changed the aspect of the traditional dress code. The author agrees that most of the Emirati young girls are embracing Western-style of dressing and fashion. As such, the article helps in highlighting the role of Western culture in the cultural erosion of the Emirati dressing tradition.

Sobh, R., Belk, R., & Gressel, J. (2012). Modest seductiveness: Reconciling modesty and vanity by reverse assimilation and double resistance. Journal of consumer behavior, 11(5), 357-367.

This study provides an overview of the conflicting ideas regarding the concept of vanity and modesty in the context of Arab Gulf region, with a specific focus on the dress practices among the women and the tensions that come with such practices. Findings from this study highlighted the significance of reverse assimilation along with double resistance in the explanation of how young women in the region respond to the conflicting ideas of vanity and modesty.

Shaban, M., & Al-Awidi, H. (2013). Understanding Emirati Children’s drawing in relation to self and identity through the interaction of social context. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 27(3), 330-350.

This article is based on the examination of child’s drawing and how such drawings can enhance one’s self and their identity. The author outlines the importance of one’s national identity and points out that people should be proud of their identities by conforming to their traditions such as in the case of dress code

Slater, E. (2000). Veils beyond veils, mythopoiesis: Mythic patterns in the literary classics. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 117(540), 591-591.

This article focuses on the different ways that symbols can be used to covey different messages. The author aligns the use of symbols with the role of veils among the Muslims. According to the article, veiling is a religious dress that is used to show one’s sense of belonging and religion. The article aligns with the current study in that it provides an overview of the significance of veils among the Muslims.

Appendices 1: Interview

Part 1: General Information

  1. What is your gender?
  2. How old are you?
  3. What is your religion?
  4. What is your perspective of the Islamic laws on dress code?

Part 2: Veiling as a dress code

  1. What are you opinions about veiling among the Muslim? Do you think it is important?
  2. Are you comfortable with such a dress code?
  3. Given a chance to adopt western-style of dressing would you choose veils over the Western dress code?
  4. What is your take on the restriction on women dress code?

Part 3: Impact of Abaya on Emirati Identity

  1. Are you proud as an Emirati?
  2. Do you think you can show such pride through dressing as stipulated by the Islam laws? (Kindly, explain further)
  3. Do you think there is any significant impact of colored abaya on Emirati identity? Kindly explain.
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