Experiencing the Hijab - Amal Alharthi

 Early Experiences with the Hijab

Poetic Ethnographer: Amal Alharthi

Participants: Six Saudi women

Project: Saudi women’s voices and gendered experiences

Source: Alharthi, A. (2021). Defining Saudi feminism/s: Poetic ethnographic representations of Saudi women’s voices and lived experiences[Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation]. Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Wearing the abaya

When I was in fourth grade

My parents said wear the abaya

After a year they said

wear the scarf to cover your hair

After a year

they started to force me to cover my face

I was only in the sixth grade!

They said you are older now

You will be in middle school

you have to cover your face

It’s over!


I resisted the abaya!

Every time we go out

I wear the abaya in the house

When I get in the car

I take it off and put it beside me

Then I get out of the car without the abaya!

My dad would ask me

Where is your abaya?

I tell him I left it in the car!

He says next time don’t leave it in the car!


I was still a child!

              I was eleven

  I was not ready to transition!


One day

We were going out to play

In a big amusement park

I said to myself

            We are going to play

I’m going to leave my abaya in the car again

I went out of the car

I was behind my dad

When I reach him, He saw me!

He said where is your abaya?! 

I said in the car!

On that day

He decided I had to go back to the car

Bring the abaya and wear it


It was the very first experience

where I felt the irony of it!

The idea of playing

of having fun!

Then there are these restrictions

The abaya!

                            You have to wear it!

    You have to transition!

From a kid to a young lady!


That moment I felt was

a turning point in my life!

I’m wearing the abaya

So now I’m bigger

I’m an adult

But I’m still a young kid inside!

I had to force myself to grow up

People perceive you as older

So you have to act in a certain way

But I still wanted to act like a kid

I still wanted to be a kid

Covering the Hair

I was forced to wear abaya

But they couldn’t force me to like it

It took them more time to convince me

to wear the hijab (head scarf)

to cover my hair

I was only wearing the abaya without covering my hair

I was taking it very slowly

I wanted to slow down the process

       as much as I can

I didn’t want to grow up

at that moment of my life

I wasn’t ready!


At home I tried to rebel

against the black hijab

I was wearing the black abaya

but I told my parents

I’m not wearing a black hijab (head scarf) 

I wanted a colored hijab to cover my hair

It was weird at that time

 very weird!

Nobody wore a colorful scarf at that time

Only the people from outside Saudi Arabia

people coming from different Arab countries

we saw them wear a colored scarf


But for us Saudi women

            We had to wear black

It was very weird to wear a colored scarf

But I insisted

It was my form of resistance!

I thought I was too young

I didn’t want to grow up

I felt if I put this outfit

the black abaya and black scarf

            is like I’m growing up

I felt I was forced into growing up


I don’t know why society forced us to wear black

Everything was black

The black color of hijab suffocated us

Everything seemed dark around us

And we didn’t expect that there was something else

Five or six years ago

We started to see a few colored abayas in the mall

Very few women wore them

Those women were considered corrupt

They had a big x on them

Covering the Face

When I was in sixth grade

before covering my face

My mother and I went to the mall

One of my mother’s friends saw me

she knew us

She came said hello

She said “I knew you from your daughter”

Because I was not covering my face

My mother looked at me

As if she was saying

You exposed us!

The next time we went out

I got in the car with my normal abaya and head scarf

My mother said

Go back home and wear a niqab (face veil)

I don’t want anyone to recognize us!

So I tied the niqab with people not knowing us


I started to cover my face when I was 10 years old

I was forced

by my older brothers

You know those days

You can’t really object

My sisters and I had a problem with one of my brothers

He was extremely strict

He forced us to cover our eyes

We used to cover our face with a burka

That covered your face except your eyes

                        So we can see

But he did not want our eyes to show

He used to bother me about it

He used to say

The burqa makes your eyes more attractive and seductive

It’s not acceptable

You have to cover your whole entire face!

In intermediate school

In the seventh grade

My father and mother issued the royal command

It’s time to cover my face

I was not convinced

I didn’t want to cover my face

I didn’t believe I had to cover my face

But I couldn’t say anything

I had to be silent

I had to accept it

I couldn’t object



I used to put the abaya on my head

in front of the teachers

But once I got outside of school

I put it down on my shoulders

When I get in the car

I remove the niqab

I remove the scarf wrapped around my hair

Because I’m not convinced of covering my face!

I only wear the abaya and cover my face

because it was an obligation in school!


I was so resistant to the idea of hijab

Resistant to the idea I had to give up my childhood right now!

Accepting the fact, I have to grow up

even if I was not ready to grow up!

I didn’t feel that it was the time I wanted to grow up

Or maybe I am different

            maybe I want to do something different

Maybe my appearance does not have to change