Maneuvering her way through the crowds in a department store, Suad and her teenage son finally reach the children section. As Suad stops for a moment to adjust her traditional black scarf she stares in shock! There sat on a bench with her legs stretched apart was a woman in a dress that failed its function to hide her green undergarments! Suad grabs hold of her son’s arm and leaves the store in frustration.
As honeymooners skip the mall, he pulls her close to his lips and kisses hers. Past them walks a large Emarati family whose members start muttering quietly in Arabic.
Not so long ago, there was a famous incident of the British woman who walked to the hotel through public roads almost nude, feeling too lazy to wear the top part of her swimsuit.
I am a voice of growing unrest amongst the majority of traditional families here. I argue the media to have the audacity to publish my article and instigating a public debate about the wittingly or unwittingly “moral imperialism” Dubai is witnessing.
“Time out” magazine, in its previous issue, called for expatriates in Dubai to learn Arabic and to “get cultural”. Perhaps it is time for those who seek to live and work in a Middle-Eastern country to savour some of the traditional flavours this society holds, through understanding and appreciation. In this light, I attempt to explain the rationale behind modest dressing in this region.
Firstly, both men and women are considered as equals. However, as men and women differ anatomically, modesty in dressing is achieved differently. What is considered as attractive in women may not be so in men. An uncovered attractive diamond lying on the street is more vulnerable than a covered and protected one. Aren’t women more valuable than all the diamonds in the world?
In addition, this society lives in a “best-fit” equation, where individuals’ freedoms are balanced with what is better for the community. The family is regarded here as the fabric of the society. Immodesty may, for instance, incite breaking homes from one side and increased crime rates from the other. Whether it is the woman or man to blame in such cases, the answer is simple. Modesty in dressing and behaving for both men and women promotes a healthier society. I know of one woman who developed “anorexia nervosa” as her husband wanted her to appear as slim as those women on Jumeirah beach.
Furthermore, women should be judged according to their intellect and self. When they advertise their bodies as public objects, immodestly dressed women are seen to degrade the self-respect women deserve. I heard a story of a woman who dressed in short skirts on her driving test in a lame attempt to obtain a pass, instead of relying on her wit. Certain estate agents in Dubai attempt to sell flats through unprofessionally dressed ladies in short beach dresses. How could women so readily sell the sight of their meagrely covered bodies before men? Has anyone come across a man trying to sell a flat by being dressed in trunks?
Finally, as this society is a traditional reserved society, what may be the “norm” in Western countries may not be so here. What is acceptable to wear on Blackpool beach is frowned upon in public locations here. It still remains that 76% of the UAE are Muslims. They and numerous residents from other religions call for modesty.
On that note, I have to mention that stereotyping traditional women as being coerced into covering is a big misjudgement. Many Emarati women are highly educated, they have their independent income, and are free to pursue their careers, work, drive and travel. They choose to dress modestly because they value themselves are genuine individuals who prefer to be judged according to their intelligence and work performance. An Emarati woman is seen to be much aware of trends in the latest attractive designs, but dressing in revealing clothes is confined to the privacy of her home. Her beauty is not a public asset but is a cherished treasure shared with her husband.
It is true that Dubai is leaping forward towards modernisation and liberalism. However, the measurement of modernity is based on actual reshaping and improvement of the environment and society through the use of science and technology. Superficially dressed bodies in skimpy clothes contribute nothing to the advancement of nations. Liberal personal freedom stops where it harms. I would like to make a clear distinction here between freedom of faith and freedom of “dressing scantly”. Dubai has embraced many faiths and respects people’s freedom in practicing their religions. On the other hand, France has banned religious symbols from schools and certain public places. Those who are offended by a Christian wearing a cross or a Muslim wearing a scarf do not tolerate freedom of faith and expression. However, this is not to be confused with dressing in a revealing manner. It is a biological human nature to physiologically react to visual perceptions. Therefore, a skimpily dressed individual in public is physically provoking and offending others. Indeed, liberty is not achieved by “liberalising” our bodies from their garments. I have to stress that personal appearance in private residences and private beaches is a matter of choice, but the case does not remain so in public places.
I am not saying women should dress in shagginess, far from that. We can dress smartly and trendily, yet with professionalism and respect. Hot weather? Why not dress in modest garments made of cool fabrics such as linen and cotton? In fact, it is medically advised to cover your skin from direct sun rays in order to protect it from melanoma and sun damage. What is considered “acceptable”? The chest, bosom, back, thighs and knees should be covered along with the upper shoulder. This can be achieved by wearing a short sleeved polo top and a midi skirt, just to name one example. Please remember: modesty respect.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s official website states that “modest dress is recommended for public places”. Shouldn’t we at least respect our kind host’s request?
By: Dr. Mira Ali