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What Is a Sports Abaya?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

A sports abaya is a robe, typically worn by Muslim women, that has been modified in some way to make it suitable for sports or exercise. The modifications to the garment vary, but typically incorporate fabrics that can help keep the wearer stay cool during exercise and that promote evaporation of perspiration. In addition to the sports abaya, garment designers and manufacturers produce various types of athletic clothing for Muslim women who are concerned about modest dress even while they participate in exercise and sports.

The abaya is a traditional garment commonly worn by women in Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates. It is a long cloak or robe that fastens in front and provides significant coverage of the body. It fits somewhat loosely and reveals only its wearer’s feet, hands, and head. It is typically worn with some type of head covering, such as a hijab, or headscarf, and possibly a niqab, or face veil. Women usually wear other clothing underneath the abaya and may be required by law to wear this garment when in public.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

As many Muslim women are interested in exercise and athletics, they may be faced with a quandary. If they do not have access to a private area for exercise or sports practice, they may be required for religious, cultural, or legal reasons to wear modest dress during their exercise. Unfortunately, an abaya may not be suitable for exercise, as it may restrict the wearer's movement, cause the wearer to overheat, and, if it becomes soaked with perspiration, cling to her body, which compromises the modesty of the wearer.

The development of the sports abaya makes it easier for women who are obligated to wear an abaya to maintain cultural and religious standards while engaging in vigorous movement. Each model of sports abaya may have different features, but these garments are often made from fabrics that breathe and that can prevent dangerous overheating. In addition, fabric that wicks away moisture and does not cling helps the wearer of a sports abaya maintain her modesty. Some designs also take on a decidedly modern and sporty look and resemble other types of athletic wear.

For women who do not wish to wear an abaya or who are not required by their culture to wear it, other types of Islamic sports clothing are available. These include close-fitting headscarves and specially designed tunics and slacks that provide significant coverage while also permitting the athlete or exerciser freer movement. Like a sports abaya, these garments are often made from breathable fabric, which can increase the wearer's comfort during vigorous physical exertion.

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