Saudi Wahhabism is hostile to any reverence given to historical or religious places of significance for fear that it may give rise to ‘shirk’ (idolatry), and the most significant historic Muslim sites (in Mecca and Medina) are located in the western Saudi region of Hejaz. As a consequence, under Saudi rule, an estimated 95% of Mecca’s historic buildings, most over a thousand years old, have been demolished for religious reasons. Critics claim that over the last 50 years, 300 historic sites linked to Muhammad, his family or companions have been lost, leaving fewer than 20 structures remaining in Mecca that date back to the time of Muhammad. Demolished structures include the mosque originally built by Muhammad’s daughter Fatima, and other mosques founded by Abu Bakr (Muhammad’s father-in-law and the first Caliph), Umar (the second Caliph), Ali (Muhammad’s son-in-law and the fourth Caliph), and Salman al-Farsi (another of Muhammad’s companions).
Saudi Arabian dress strictly follows the principles of hijab (the Islamic principle of modesty, especially in dress). The predominantly loose and flowing, but covering, garments are suited to Saudi Arabia’s desert climate. Traditionally, men usually wear a white ankle length garment woven from wool or cotton (known as a thawb), with a keffiyeh (a large checkered square of cotton held in place by an agal) or a ghutra (a plain white square made of finer cotton, also held in place by an agal) worn on the head. For rare chilly days, Saudi men wear a camel-hair cloak (bisht) over the top. In public women are required to wear a black abaya or other black clothing that covers everything under the neck with the exception of their hands and feet, although most women cover their head in respect for their religion. This requirement applies to non Muslim women too and failure to abide will result in police action. Women’s clothes are often decorated with tribal motifs, coins, sequins, metallic thread, and appliques.
Ghutrah (Arabic: غتره) is a traditional headdress typically worn by Arab men. It is made of a square of cloth (“scarf”), usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head. It is commonly worn in areas with an arid climate, to provide protection from direct sun exposure, and also protection of the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand.
Agal (Arabic: عقال) is an item of Arab headgear constructed of cord which is fastened around the Ghutrah to hold it in place. The agal is usually black in colour.
Thawb (Arabic: ثوب) is the standard Arabic word for garment. It is ankle length, usually with long sleeves similar to a robe.
Bisht (Arabic: بشت) is a traditional Arabic men’s cloak usually only worn for prestige on special occasions such as weddings.
Abaya (Arabic: عبائة) is a women’s garment. It is a black cloak which loosely covers the entire body except the head. Some women choose to cover their faces with a niqāb and some do not. Some Abayas cover the top of the head as well.