Times have changed, but not love for burqas

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Times have changed, but not love for burqas

Abu Dhabi - Since the pre-oil days of Arabia, burqa was a symbol of womanhood, worn by every girl as soon as she reached puberty or got engaged.


Silvia Radan

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Published: Sun 10 Jul 2016, 6:50 PM

Last updated: Mon 11 Jul 2016, 9:03 AM

In spite of all modernisation happening in the Arab world, burqa or the traditional full body covering veil, is the most fascinating attire in a woman's wardrobe.
Since the pre-oil days of Arabia, burqa was a symbol of womanhood, worn by every girl as soon as she reached puberty or got engaged.
Over the years, though it has become more of a fashion accessory and the younger generations, particularly in urban areas, have dropped it altogether.
Yet, burqa still holds its value among the elderly and the more "traditional" towns.
"Many people when they first see a burqa ask me if it's not too heavy to wear on the face all day, every day, but then I hand them one and they get surprised how light it really is," said Samira Mubarak Al Amri, the public relations manager at the General Women's Union (GWU) in Abu Dhabi.
She is indeed an "encyclopaedia" of Emirati traditions, especially concerning women. Samira spread out several brand new burqas which have been made by some of the ladies at GWU.
These burqas all come in slightly different shapes and designs and, at a first glance, they look as if they are made of gold.
"Long ago, women used to wear burqa for two reasons. One was to protect their face from sun and wind as they were out all day in the desert. They also worn it to protect themselves from passers by, particularly since their men were gone, at sea, for up to six months," said Samira.
Past meets present
Now, as it was then, the burqa is made from a special cloth imported from India. In the old days, it used to be mostly red in colour, but that has changed these days with green and purple hues.
The material is rubbed down with a glass ball until it gets that shiny metallic finish that makes it look like gold. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai women prefer a design called the Zabeel cut, which has a thin top and broad curved bottom, inspired by the shape of a falcon in flight. A brand new golden looking burqa was even worn by a bride on her wedding day, matching the real gold adorning her and the golden embroidery on her special bridal veil.
Before the Western white dress made its way into the Arab women's weddings, Emirati brides used to be covered in colours and gold. The attire included several layers of dresses and veils, gold jewellery and a burqa.
Sitting on the "matrah", a special seat used for brides only made by folding traditional red coloured soft mattresses, Rabia Hosein said: "The 'thob' - a two-piece dress ­- that the bride wears is different from the everyday one as it is embroidered with golden or silver talli, the traditional Emirati embroidery. It comes in many colours and it is usually a gift from the family, along with perfumes, jewellery and nice smelling creams."
Specific henna design for the hands, a sea through head veil and a sheilla, both beautifully embroidered in silver and gold colours, golden earrings, necklaces and rings for eight fingers complete the attire of the Emirati bride.
"The rings I'm wearing are of five different designs, each having a different name and it has to be worn on specific fingers," she added. Completing the adornment was the henna application, which traditionally had a very simple design for Emirati women, called "ghassa", without any flowers, just geometrical lines and shapes. "It used to take one week for the Emirati bride to get ready. She would go through a ritual of bathing, oil massaging to get herself smell nice, applying henna and preparing her dress," said Rabia. Even though burqas are mostly sold to tourists as souvenirs nowadays, the GWU has put the authentic Emirati dresses and souvenirs for sale during the holy month of Ramadan.
Sadu, khous, talli were among the skills showcased by the GWU members during the Ramadan sale. - silvia@khaleejtimes.com

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