Emiratis debate issue of wearing abayas and kandouras overseas after man’s arrest in US
By Nawal Al Ramahi It is the national dress that Emiratis say they are proud to wear.
But some say they are thinking twice about travelling abroad in their kandoura or abaya, saying it is not worth drawing attention to themselves.
The issue came to light after the mistaken arrest of UAE businessman Ahmed Al Menhali in the US state of Ohio last week.
The widely broadcast footage sparked anger and even travel advice from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that suggested Emiratis consider not wearing national dress while overseas this summer.
7DAYS spoke to a range of Emiratis to get their views.
Cultural commentator Nasif Kayed, 52, who has lived in the United States, said he does not wear a kandoura overseas. Kayed (pictured inset), said: “UAE nationals should be careful about what they wear abroad. “I don’t wear the national dress unless the place is secure. Safety comes first.”
Kayed recently founded The Arab Culturalist, an organisation that seeks to promote greater understanding of Islam and the Arab world. But he suggested that when it comes to the US, he faces an uphill battle.
He added: “It is a challenge to erase their ideas about Arabs and Muslims, knowing how effective the [American] media is in every household.”
Majeda Al Ghareeb, 24, who studies in New Zealand and volunteers at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Dubai, does not wear an abaya there or when travelling elsewhere.
She said: “I don’t wear any traditional clothes [abroad]. I wear it in GCC countries to identify myself as Emirati, but I don’t think it’s suitable anywhere else.
“During these times, it’s important not to draw attention to yourself.”
The footage of Al Menhali’s arrest showed police forcing him to the ground and handcuffing him as he protested. It followed a 911 call from a receptionist at the hotel where he was attempting to check in, which she described him as “a suspicious man with disposable phones - two of them - in a full head dress”.
Al Ghareeb added: “I think what the police did was the right thing to do. In my opinion the girl is totally ignorant, you just assume that everyone wearing traditional dress is a terrorist. “But I don't blame her, she’s ignorant and it's just the media coverage they get there.”
However, Abdul Rahman Al Shamsi, 23, from Sharjah, said UAE nationals should be able to dress as they wish abroad, as he said expats can in his country.
He said: “The UAE respects all nationalities and Emiratis deserve to be respected abroad.
“Many Westerners live here and do not have to wear conservative clothes. “The majority of Muslims are moderate, peaceful people who have been affected by terrorism and violence more than non-Muslims and non-Arabs.”
Al Menhali has received an apology from police, while reports in the US media said the hotel clerk in question is being investigated.