The romance of a desert oasis, the clear starry nights and the allure of a hidden veil all put together can be summed up in one phrase – the Middle East. Arab culture is more or less also known as an Islamic / Muslim culture. Prior to the revelation of Islam in the 6th century the Arabs had a different way of life than is presently know today. What we see today is the fusion of religion and culture finely interlaced. With the rapid expansion of the religion Muslims from all over came into contact with, and assimilated from, Persian, Turkish, Mongol, Indian, Malay and Indonesian cultures.
The Arabs ethnically are one people but were composed of two culturally opposite groups: nomadic and sedentary Arabs. The harshness of the environment forced on Arabs a nomadic, tribal existence for some of them. The nomadic Arabs, called Bedouins, moved their herds in search of scarce resources and water. Trade was the major form of livelihood for these tribes. The Bedouin are the Arabic speaking nomads of the Middle East who have proudly maintained their pastoral way of life over thousands of years. From the Arabian Peninsula, their original home, they spread out into other lands and now live in the desert regions of all countries between the Arabian Gulf and the Atlantic. According to Arab tradition they are descendant from two main stocks: the first settled in the mountains of Southwestern Arabia (the Yemen), claim descent from Qahtan (Yoktan of the Bible) and became known as Yemenis. The second settled in North-Central Arabia, claimed descent from Ishmael and are called the Qaysis. Prior to the advent of Islam the history of Arabia is very scarcely known.
The Arabian Peninsula is a peninsula in Southwest Asia at the junction of Africa and Asia consisting mainly of desert. The coasts of the peninsula touch, on the west, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba; on the southeast, the Arabian Sea (part of the Indian Ocean); and on the northeast, the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Persian Gulf. Geographically, it merges with the Syrian Desert with no clear line of demarcation. Politically, the Arabian peninsula is separated from the rest of Asia by the northern borders of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The following countries are considered part of the peninsula Bahrain — an island just off the coast of the Peninsula, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Arabia has few lakes or permanent rivers. Most are drained by watercourses called wadis, which are dry except during the rainy season. Wherever water surfaces from the ground reservoirs oasis form and permit agriculture. The climate being extremely hot and arid, the peninsula has no forests, although desert-adapted wildlife is present throughout the region. The narrow coastal plain and isolated oases, commonly amounting to less than 1% of the land area, are used to cultivate grains, coffee and exotic fruits. Goats, sheep and camels are widespread throughout the region.
The Arabs of today wear pretty much similar clothing than they used to wear since pre-Islamic periods. Women may have undergone some changes considering the covering up of the head. Traditional Islamic wear for women includes the abaya, the chador, and the burqa, as well as countless other forms of dress and headcovering. The women wear a variety of different ensembles to cover themselves.
In modern day usage, jilbab refers to a long, flowing, baggy overgarment worn by some Muslim women. The modern jilbab covers the entire body, except for hands, feet, face, and head. The head is then covered by a scarf or wrap, known also as a Hijab. It is not clear that any Muslim women wore jilbabs in the long centuries between the early Muslim period and the 1970s.
The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves, regarded by many Muslims as a symbol of both religion and womanhood, come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
The burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through. A burqa is a type of opaque veil sometimes worn in addition to a headscarf by Muslim women observing purdah. There are various versions of the burqa according to different regions in the muslim world. In Arab terms the burqa is generally black in color and is of ankle length, if not longer. The arms are then put through two holes with the front open and just layered over one another and held together with their hands. In some parts of the Muslim world the burqa may also cover the entire face with a see through veil over it, although not necessary by the religion some very conservative regions observe burqa this way, example in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule.
The abaya is an overgarment worn by some Muslim women. It is the traditional form of hijab, or Islamic modest dress, for many countries of the Arabian peninsula. Traditional abaya are black, and may be either a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders or head, or a long black caftan. Today abaya’s are cut from light, flowing fabrics like crepe, georgette, and chiffon. They are now made in colors other than black.
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.
The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.
The chador, worn by Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.