Some observations about Syrian women…

Not to get all National Geographic on you, but it’s definitely interesting living in a place that has such a defined culture.  I know, I know most places in the world have distinctive cultures (duh) but living in the U.S., in a family that was not too big on being ‘Indian’ has left me relatively culture-less I think, which makes it all the more interesting to observe others…    

Anyways, here are some interesting things that I’ve noticed about women in Damascus in my time here (sorry for the generalizations, and I’m sure there are exceptions):

  – Their dress:  First of all, from what I’ve seen, generally speaking, no one in Damascus wears traditional Arab clothing (the colorful abayas and jilbabs you see in the souq).  Everyone wears Western clothing, i.e., long skirts (denim is really in), pants, jeans etc.  The trend now is towards tattered skirts (the bottom looking like it was cut in a zig-zag fashion), and towards ‘suits’, i.e. long skirts and short jackets in the same color, khaki, denim, funky orange, etc.   Most women here wear hijab, and many also wear the monteau.  Monteaus are basically chic coats, similar to the kind women wear in the U.S. over a suit or a dress, but they are ankle length, and worn over normal clothes when a woman goes outside of her home.  It’s like a jilbab, but it’s not loose or flowy, but more fitted.  The typical Syrian hijab is tucked in, tight around the face, and not flowy or big.  Women almost always wear high-heeled shoes, and a coordinating purse.  The overall effect is a look that’s “smart” in the British sense of the word: Women always look well-dressed, neat, ironed, and well-groomed, with nothing shabby or untidy.         

I was in a photo shop in our neighborhood the other day, and a woman walked in wearing a perfectly tailored charcoal gray monteau, a black hijab tucked in, and khimar the Syrian style — a second black scarf, wrapped around from the back, and appropriately pinned so that the bottom half of her face was also concealed.  She had fair skin, dark sunglasses; a chunky ring of gold on her finger and then a ring of diamonds; a black purse, and killer-high heeled shoes; the perfect example of the Syrian woman; feminine, Muslim, confident, and well put together.   

How they manage to maintain this is beyond me, who usually returns home after a walk in the souq or school with the bottom six inches of my clothes covered in dust, and my hijab needing a repinning :)  The high-heels also astonish me, since the roads here are not always smooth, and I’ve fallen myself more than once wearing normal flat shoes…  

The monteau is also something that takes some getting used to.  I’m not comfortable with the idea of uniformity.  My first response to it was, does hijab necessarily have to mute your personality?  But their perspective is:  The uniformity is only in the public sphere.  Why do random people on the street have the right to ‘know’ you or your personality?  That’s something you show to the people that are important in your life, not to just anybody.  (And this flows into their mannerisms in public too, read below…)  

The ‘Bedouin’ women (that come from the outskirts of the city) are very different.  The older women are usually stocky, with tanned and weathered faces, and wear velvet jilbabs or black dresses that have elastic at the waist.  They wear black hijabs, and then a colorful one tied on top bandanna style.  We often see them in our neighborhood on the weekends, because one of the local masjids provides free Quran courses for them and their children.  They tend to be loud and bold, as opposed to the more prim and sophisticated manners of the city folks :)   

Some women wear niqab in the way I described above, and others wear it similarly, but pin the second scarf under their nose, instead of on its bridge.  Some women, especially the older ones, wear niqab by draping a second cloth over their head, that shrouds their entire face.  I think this style is slowly fading though, because it’s not as often seen as the others. 

 – Their behavior in public:  Women are very prim and proper :)  Speaking and laughing loudly is considered uncultured, as well as smiling or talking to shop-keepers, drivers, etc.  Women though are very independent in Damascus; they drive, take public transportation on their own, go out to eat at restaurants, work, study, etc.  I think this is one of the reasons why many single sisters come here to study… the culture does not have a lot of restrictions on what women can and cannot do. 

– Their knowledge: There are many, many knowledgeable women in Damascus, which is an extremely refreshing thing to see.  They have really taken the forefront when it comes to Quranic studies, memorization and Tajweed; and every Shari’ah college has a parallel program for women.   This is one of the things I love about living here: meeting strong and knowledgeable Muslim women, whose philosophy is that women, though having different responsibilities from men, have their own unique and important role to play in service of this deen, and they put that into practice in their actions. It’s not just talk, and their ability to balance being a mother/wife/daughter with working effectively for Islam is something we need more of in the US, where I think we fall into extremes.      

 – Marriage: There is a really traditional understanding of marriage and a lot of focus on it, especially for the young girls.  There is a lot of emphasis in established families on preserving a girl’s reputation, by making sure she’s not going out late, hanging out with the wrong crowd, etc.  In this respect I feel that Syria is much like many other traditional Muslim cultures (Pakistan, India, etc) but not to the same extent.  It’s considered odd for a man to help out at home or in the kitchen, and the pressure for having children comes immediately after someone gets married.  I guess it balances out, because there is also a strong sense of manhood and responsibility among the Syrians; it’s shameful for a man to be unemployed or fall short in providing for his family, and out-right wrong for his wife to feel obliged to work.     In many ways women in Syria are an interesting blend of traditional and modern; much like its landscape.  Walking down the street from my apartment, you will see an eight-hundred year old masjid; and directly across from it, an internet cafe.  Or a student of knowledge, wearing traditional clothing, looking as if he stepped out of a long ago century, hop a suzuki to get to a masjid on the mountain side.  That’s just life in Shaam :)   walhamdulillah. 

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Published in: on December 7, 2006 at 12:18 pm  Comments (41)  

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41 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for explaining your observations! :) the Syrian woman never ceases to amaze me honestly.
    prim proper and chic. :) mashaAllah

    • Nice comments
      I liked the article too

  2. Salaams chica bonita….

    Oh how i miss you ma….keep up the awesome writing…

    love ya,
    L:)

  3. life in shaam…… how i miss it… sigh

  4. as salaamualaikum,

    Ooooooh you make miss being there more and more . reading your writings I can just see myself walking through souq jumu^a. I hear the men calling out their prices as you walk just stopping to take a peak. i can see Aneesah Huda teaching in her calm, yet inclusive way . Oh how I miss Damacus. May Allah let benefit more and may He let that benefit benefit others.please don’t stop writing . i don’t know if i’ll ever return to Shamm but reading your page makes me feel like I never left.

    • If I felt that way I would still be there. Everyone talks about how they miss it buyt still here they are not there.

  5. I remeber the hamadiyah souq too. It was great shopping there

  6. Al Salamu Alaykom Sister, thanks for your beautiful article :) I’m from Syria and it’s nice to see comments like this being said about the Syrian women. I haven’t lived there for the majority of my life, but I love it so much and truly miss it. Thanks again :)

  7. Thanks for writing your blog,it made me to miss so much back to Sham,to Syria,to meet all my in-law’s living there,to hear call of Adhan,see and taste real Syria,it really has taken bit on me,Alhamdidullah.Inshallah,we will return there some day to live again there,not just for visit.
    As says Syria is your second home,for me for sure,more than second home,country where i feel am back at home.

  8. Great to hear the observations of a non syrian about the syrian people and cultures, really enjoyed reading this, thanks!

  9. [...] “Some Observations about Syrian Women” by Damascus Dreams Syrian Women protest the 2003 US war on [...]

  10. I loved syria, had a great time there. Hope to go again soon

  11. Assalamualikum,

    I love syrian culture and people. Truly i would like to marriage a syrian Girl. I am from india live in dubai.
    Truly i don’t have any communication with any syrian woman, may be i have to go throgh syrian match maker. would you please let me know the how can i get the mail address of matchmakers who work in Damascus.
    Infact i want to marriage a syrian muslim girl,who want to lead a islamic life and would like to stay in uae. please write me. mantashao@yahoo.co.in
    Thanks
    ======================

    • salaam mash’allah brada same when u know let me know insha’allah

      ibnpinnock@hotmail.com

  12. Herein I would like to know about to make a business in Syria: what the requirement,also to purchase an apartment ,resident visa requirement,to establish an office for the business.,Syrian curency Equivewlen to US Dollar,Please I need full information,,Thanks

    Jamal Eldawi

    • hi jamal..i advice you to feed every one he shoud help to set up your business ,,,just i few $1000 00

      love syria

  13. assalamu alaykum:

    mash’allah it sounds good im looking to go there soon insha’allah and also do nikah there insha’allah…do u think it would be a problem as im black(jamaican decent) & alot of races dont like black people??? waallahu alim

  14. Although I love MANY things about syrian culture I must say the treatment of women is not as wonderful as you make it seem.I am an american women who was married to a syrian man,I loved him very much but what you call manhood in some of these men is a serious lack of insecurity and distrust of women.Before we married we agreed that working going to church and school was fine,unfortunately right after we married to months later he became mean and abusive.I stayed with him for 2 years hoping he would change,needless to say he did not.We had a beautiful daughter together and I just could not see bringing her up in a mean abusive enviorment.He threatened to kill me if I ever left him.Needless to say I left him.So although I so agree syrian women have a wonderful strength about them don’t make it seem like it is all peaches and cream.It is not a good thing for a women not to be able to make her own choices whether arab,american, or any other race.

    • Dear Madam
      I am sorry to know what happened to you. I am a doctor from Pakistan. I have never been to Syria nor do I know anyone from Syria personally. But your statement clearly showed a “hasty gneralization”. All men in any country or nation cannot be bad. It was your hard luck or your misjudgment that you fell into the hands of a “wrong guy”. Let me ask you, are there no women abusing men in your own country? What if you had married an American man and he had turned out to be a “bad guy”. Would you then give the same comment about all men of your country? Of course not.
      There are many good men in my country and there are many bad men in my country. I personally know a number of Pakistani men who have American wives; some living in Pakistan and others in USA. And all these couples are happy. Some of them have even become grandparents. So, one wrong experience does not make a whole people bad
      I wish you best of luck for your next marriage
      Sincerely
      Saleem Adil, MD
      saleemadil@yahoo.com

  15. In response to the post before this one, that attitude is what makes me uncomfortable towards the idea of marrying an American woman. When things go downhill, then it’s the husbands culture, not the wife’s, and not even because the individual is simply too different or even a “bad person”. It’s always the man’s culture, and they want your kids taken away because they consider your culture abusive. That’s like ripping your heart out.
    Then on top of that they want to take your kids away remembering movies like “Not without my daughter” claiming it’s to protect them. It’s NOT protecting them; it’s just choosing to raise them in a different culture with very different standards. Unfortunately US courts buy that too. You can’t ask the potential wife to sign any right to kids waivers either because it’s so disrespectful, hurtful, and inconsiderate. So it’s a real dilemma and a clear example of how cultures can clash.
    If a man is somewhat abusive, then suddenly it becomes because of the culture, not because of him. Any American woman that wants to marry an Arab man should know PRIOR to marrying him, that in his culture he IS the head of the family, and that means if the wife is somewhat if a feminist, chances are it won’t work out.
    It’s just built into us Arabs, and yes just like men is in any cultures some become abusive and takes it too far. An Arab man (although “whipped” sometimes ) certainly is not just some “male” who follows along because he’s afraid of being sued and losing all his stuff, being forced to cheat and live two lives.
    Back to the topic, I find Syrian women to be a perfect example of a strong confident Muslim woman. They are smart, presentable, and educated without losing their Muslim identity. Although I do like many things in American women (such as transparency, being honest with themselves etc vs. endless mind games of Arab women), id still chose a Syrian over an American woman, simply because I know that if it comes down to it and the worst case scenario happens, we won’t have huge differences on how to raise the kids etc (and I’m not even Syrian, but from the gulf, born in the US).

    Sorry for going off topic a little. I didnt expect to write all that lol

    • Although this reply is 2 years later, I liked your comment and appreciate your insight.
      I had an assumption of gulf Arab men, but definitely generalisations cannot be made

  16. pls help: i want syrian coat or abaya

  17. Wonderful piece of information. I specially admire the comment : “Why do random people on the street have the right to ‘know’ you or your personality? That’s something you show to the people that are important in your life, not to just anybody”.
    I am a Pakistani and frankly speaking I had a different impression! In fact one of my friends visited Syria on an official tour a few years back and according to him, Syrian women dressed and acted quite like American women. Well, you learn new things every day
    Regards
    Dr Saleem Adil (Pakistan)
    saleemadil@yahoo.com

  18. plss help me if somebody knows here abt monteaus coats(which syrian womens wear in thier country) i really want it badly….and i’ll be really really thankfull and appricaited if anybody contact me (rabiazai@hotmail.com) and give some information abt it……i live in saudia so can i get it frm here??

  19. hi this is a nice article abt syrian women that they are educated decent lefally free but still have a strong islamic identity in them

  20. здравейте, аз съм от България. Случайно попаднах в този саит, който наистина много ме заинтригува. Искам само да спаделя впечатленията си от сирийците, които познавах по време на следването ми в унивеситета Мисля, че това са хора, които умеят да ценят човешките ценности. Тогава почти не познавах тази страна и традициите в нея, но също така съм убедена, че за едно щастливо съвместно съжителство е много важно взаимното уважение, зачитане итолерантност в отношенията. По отношение на коментара от Саудитска, искам да кажа,че ние българите имаме такава поговорка: Мъжът е главата на семейството, но жената е шията. Хубав ден на всички.

  21. There is a photo of two Syrian women in the Huffington Post(5-20-11,online publication), in the section “World News and Opinion”. Gee!!….these women are beautiful. Check it out!

  22. Hello to all Arab men, women and children. I am an now an old American man who has lived in most Arab countries for nearly 8-years. I have found a common thread amongst Arab people everywhere. They are polite, respectful and tolerant. They are a very giving people who always treated me in this way. I am not Muslim (I should be for the way I feel about Arab people) and I was always treated very well. I will not bring up what I hear amongst my people here in the United States. I will say that when I hear negative things being said, I always stop to engage them on my real life, positive experiences living in Arab countries. I give them an alternative way of looking at different people with different cultures. Before I die I hope to go back one more time to enjoy and to say goodbye. I hope someday the American people can see beyond the governments and see the people for who they really are. Jon Heckendorf chains88@hotmail.com

  23. very simple description , i like this . with out literary weighty toms

  24. i have to say the i’m impress but Syrian Muslim lady it one and Syrian non Muslim lady it different story there life it all about sex and money,u don’t have any info about what is going an in that country i understood what this lady is saying ,, I am a Pakistani and frankly speaking I had a different impression! In fact one of my friends visited Syria on an official tour a few years back and according to him, Syrian women dressed and acted quite like American women. Well, you learn new things every day,,and nothing the you wright hire it ok it is far from the true,what is really going on there and how many prostitute are there,,

  25. I really enjoyed reading this piece, thank for writing it.

  26. Very nice and informative article. I’m a woman from Greece and I have a beautiful relationship the last 2 years with a Syrian man who lives in my country. The problem is that as things are getting serious between us I’m more and more concerned about marrying him. I mean I really love him, I practise Islam the last year because I respect it so much and believe in Quran. I never was a feminist, on the contrary I also believe that the man is the head of the family and the wife should respect him. But I’m really scared of what I’ll have to face after the marriage. What if I can’t spend all my days inside a house alone, what if I’ll be forced to do things that I don’t want to. And most importantly, what if we end in a divorce and I’ll not be able to see my kids ever again. I’m trying to be prepared for all the syrian customs and I want to do everything possible to make him a happy husband, but what if our cultures are so different that eventually all this is convicted to fail from the begining. How do I know that my man will treat me in his country as he treats me here. Sorry for the long post, I’m just trying to contact syrian women to talk to, that may help me decide what is best for us both.

    nour_salome@hotmail.com

    • I have read your comments above and would suggest you read all the comments on the different sites regarding Syrian Men as a lot has been said about them which are not nice to read but are very true stories like Topix Syrian Men, Liars, Cheats and Liars, Turkish forums and lots of other forums including twitter especially Farouk Mahmoud’s twitter page best to be aware of how other’s have suffered with Syrian Men

  27. This was such a sweet thing to read as an American who as just married a Syrian there was a lot I could relate to. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  28. I would love to chat with you and swap stories is there anyway i could privately send you me email if your interested?

  29. keren …mantap.. sob..
    mari kita budayakan busana muslim kita… semangat selalu…sukses. Thanks

  30. Factor of success or failure is T = Talent, A = Attitude, S = Skills, K = Knowledge. Congratulations successful … thanks you….

  31. Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
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  32. I every time used to read piece of writing in news papers but now as I am
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  33. this is really well written, also it was too much writing for my eyes so im just guessing its well written

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