I grew up with the belief that abaya and hijab were meant for married women and by choice. Seriously! I never saw any young girls wearing them until they got married. But things changed a lot in a decade or more (phew, am I that old?) I got to see my younger sisters wearing an abaya to college. I also saw that abaya itself evolved and goes through "trends". It was no longer the boring stuff. However. sometimes I felt that the whole purpose of wearing it was defeated when there was so much of bling and cuts added to it. I stayed away from it. It was not compulsory and I rather not wear it. Hijab was never even discussed in our family. It was only seen when a family returned from the Gulf. So, I thought it was just another way to cover your head and that is how it is done in the Gulf.
Then came the niqab. My first experience was at my final year college tour to a happening city in south India. All my non-Muslim friends then used to bombard me with questions as to why are they wearing? it is a must? why aren't you wearing? how do the men recognize? how do you eat? - I Don't Know! I never had a friend who wears the niqab or hijab to ask how (in)convenient wearing it was.
Covering head became a necessary post marriage. I use my shawl to cover my head casually and keep pulling it forward a zillion times. It got annoying after a certain point when you cannot continue a task because the shawl/dupatta going off your head. I don't know how some of the women carry it off so easily with just the shawl wrapped around and it stays like that forever. It was a nightmare if we had guests at home - I had to be all wrapped in that heat! cooked up!
So when did I become a hijabi? When I realized that wearing hijab was the only solution to have an intact, hands-free, comfortable, and abide by what is required from me being a Muslim. I had the intention within but never took the step until my then future BIL (brother-in-law) (R) directed me in a very interesting way that made me go for it the very next day. It was not easy, YouTube was my only go-to thing to learn how to wear hijab and there were sooooooo many different ways. My friends, colleagues, roommate - everyone was supportive.
My first abaya was gifted to me by my in-laws. Hardly got an opportunity to wear it. It is the worst thing to wear in summer in Kerala. Why does Abaya have to be in the black? Wonder who said that it should be in black! Black is the worst colour to wear in summer! But I had to get used to this as it was planned that I would be coming to KSA to live with F. The only fact that I like about abaya is that you can wear anything comfortable underneath. KSA made me feel that I did not have to bring all those lovely shirts and Salwar kameez. All you need are pyjamas and cotton t-shirts :-) unless you have women only get together.
Having done a lot of research on the dress code in KSA, I bought a couple of abayas. F, then informed that I will have to have niqab too. I was not upset, surprisingly, I was excited. It was the excitement of doing something for the first time - such feeling die once you have tried and you don't like. But when we boarded the flight, he said I don't have to wear the niqab! (whoever said women are complicated!)
Upon landing in Yanbu, and in a few days when we planned to go out shopping for the new home.. I wore the niqab.
How did I feel?
I felt like I was hiding from the world,
I had to repeat whatever I speak,
I never went to eat out fearing I would offend others if I remove the niqab to eat. (women here do not remove niqab to eat)
I had a tough time adjusting as it used to get too close to my eyes
Gradually, I found a way to wear the hijab niqab style shown in the picture. This gives a little more freedom than the traditional niqab.
The niqab is worn by 99% of Muslim women in Yanbu. I watched every time when out at the malls, there would be a very few women without niqab and hardly one or two wearing a coloured hijab. Yes, coloured hijab was not common at all. And I guess these women are here for the first time and soon join the bandwagon of wearing black and niqab.
The niqab is not mandated, yet certain regions like Yanbu it seems like it is mandated because, if you don't wear, you stand out. You don't want to gain attention, at least not here.
PS: I have linked the images to its original source. These are not affiliate links, meaning I am not going to earn anything if you click or buy.