Dress Codes in Islamic Countries
Travelling the world is an experience to be enjoyed. Encountering unique people from different cultures is a privilege, but it is also important to understand that with different cultures come different rules. With this being stated, when traveling throughout Muslim countries, it is imperative to know and observe the dress codes of these lands.
The most obvious reason for adhering to the dress code in a Muslim country is obedience to the law; another, equally important reason, however, is that a healthy respect for a culture is the only way to receive the most from the encounter. One of the greatest benefits of traveling the globe is doing as the Romans do while in Rome, and full respect for and observance of culturally based laws is part of appreciating the travelling experience.
Common Dress Code Etiquette In Muslim Countries
There is a consensus, if you will, pertaining to what is considered appropriate and modest dress in the Muslim world. The most common practice, one that is best observed in every country where Islam is the predominate religion, is the covering of the upper part of the arms and legs, especially by women.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, also known by its abbreviation FCO, the United Kingdom’s foreign affairs branch of government, advises that for women, it is prudent to cover the arms and legs to ward off any unwanted and unwarranted attention. Loose fitting knee-length skirts and dresses, as well as slacks are all acceptable and expected of foreign women in most Muslim countries.
Also, it is important for those who plan on enjoying any of the numerous beautiful beaches throughout the Muslim World to know that swimming attire, for the most part, is acceptable only on the beach. At some beaches, however, it is proper for a woman to cover her bathing suit with a t-shirt and shorts while lounging on the beach and not in the water. It is wise to be mindful that most of the public beaches in the middle east are not the place to go to tan, as the local women, by way of their culture, do not show their limbs, let alone publicly tan on a beach in a country where it is considered improper for your tan to be shown publicly.
Many “western” habits, especially those pertaining to the liberal freedoms of women in such countries, lead to misconstruction of innocent ignorance of the local culture for sexual advances. To avoid this, practice modesty in your dress, and not only will you steer clear of possibly precarious situations, but you are much more likely to be genuinely and happily received by the local population.
Dispelling The Myth
A common misnomer held by many is that all Muslim countries have the same culture, but this is far from the truth. Take, for example, the United States, Russia, and Kenya. These are three countries where Christianity is the most commonly held faith, but their ways of life, i.e. culture, are as different as these three countries are far apart.
The same is true of Muslim countries. Visiting the United Arab Emirates is not the same as visiting Iran, and visiting Turkey is not the same as visiting Saudi Arabia. It is important to know the intricate differences of the various Muslim countries when planning to visit one of them, and it is even more imperative when planning to tour northern Africa and western Asia.
Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, have a more conservative culture and interpretation of the Muslim law, which is known as Sharia. In these countries, women are often required to not only to cover the upper part of their limbs, but their head as well. In such countries, a simple scarf or shawl that covers the head and shoulders will suffice. Many of the local women in the more conservative Muslim countries wear what is called a chador. It is a full length, loose-fitting robe that flows from the top of the head all the way down to the ankles. Most women opt to wear a veil with the chador as well.
It is also worthy of note that the Islamic countries on the north coast of Africa are typically more liberal and lenient in their dress codes than some of their western Asia counterparts. Many of these countries are ideal for tourists as well, due in part to their being situated on the Mediterranean coast, and their proximity to southern Europe, for those planning to do some intercontinental touring.
Dress Expectations for Men
While it may be common knowledge that modest dress is expected of women in the Muslim world, it is equally important for men to respect the expectations set by the host nation as it pertains to clothing. Luckily for men, as is usually the case, it is simpler to navigate what passes for appropriate dress in Islamic countries. In most cases, slacks and a shirt with sleeves is the code. While it does get extremely hot in some of the Muslim countries, in most of those countries it is best not to wear shorts, and if they are worn, then they certainly should at least cover the knees.
When visiting a foreign country, whether or not it is fair, you are representing your own country in the eyes of the people of the host nation. It is desirable that the people you encounter are left feeling good about the level respect that you show their country and culture, and enlightened about you and your home nation as well. Also, locals can give you a glimpse into the everyday life of themselves and their people as a whole in a way that sticking to the tourist mainstays cannot. For those who long for the opportunity to bond with the locals, and by extension learn a foreign culture more intimately than the average tourist, the first step to ingratiating yourself to the people of that nation is to be receptive and respectful of the culture. There is much to learn, see and enjoy throughout the Muslim world, but the key is to enjoy responsibly.