This light weight cotton head cover (shaylah) was gifted to Dr. Reem Tariq el Mutwalli on one of her field visits in Abu Dhabi in UAE compiling data for her Ph.D. research on the topic from the 1980s onwards. She met with Moza Salim, Um Mansur, at a women’s gathering. She was very enthusiastic about the subject matter and shed light on many details on the topic.
The two women struck a chord and Um Mansur gifted this veil to Dr. Reem. In due course, it was added to The Zay Collection.
Um Mansur was a simple woman in her early twenties, finishing her high school degree through the adult education program. She was married at the young age of 14 and gave birth to 5 daughters and 2 sons.
This light rectangular plain Indian cotton gauze (shash) veil (shaylah) is simply a length of cut fabric that came in different weights and weave densities. It is very commonly used in the UAE and the whole Arab Gulf region to cover the head and upper body. It is known very broadly by the term (nidwah), (wasmah), or (wigayah).
Pre-80s when times were hard, two lengths (fajatayn) of the fabric were sewn together lengthwise at the central edge to create a large wide rectangular form that could engulf the whole body and act as an outer cloak worn at home or in public by most working women. A functional and more economical version of the cloak (abayah) which in earlier times could only be afforded by the few elites among the tribe. The two narrower cut outer edges of the fabric were generally left naively unhemmed, fraying the cotton threads off to use for hand stitching the central portion.
The fabric is generally draped off the head and allowed to just float around with movement to cover most of the body. It is often held in place by biting on a section of the draped fabric close to the left or right cheeks. At times the loose ends are gathered, crumbled, and tucked under one underarm, or held tight with one hand to cover the whole body and face allowing for just one eye to appear to facilitate vision.
Another common public practice within the region is to pull down the top portion above the forehead concealing the whole face down to the chest line, or reversly hold one of the draped corners in both hands and flip it up to cover the crown concealing the entire face, neck, and chest areas. This then renders the article a (ghishwah) from the verb to conceal. Both actions are carried out by women very swiftly, elegantly, and somewhat sensuously when any non-relative male crosses their path unexpectedly.