My answer was yes, and that generally elicited a few guffaws.
Most people back home just call the entire black get-up the "burka." But if you were to tell a woman who wears the hijab that you admire her burka, she's going to laugh at you and possibly get a little offended. Allow me to school you on the wardrobe of the Saudi woman.
This is a hijab (pronounced "hih-job"...or habab if you're my friend Kimmie)
In Saudi Arabia, 99% of the hijabs you see are black. Some will be mostly black with a little embroidery around the corners for decoration. You rarely see any other color as the dominate hue on the hijabs. I'm not sure why that is, because in other places in the Middle East, you see colorful fabrics and patterns.
The hijab shows your face, and depending on which region you're from, you can show a little hair. The looser your hijab is, the less conservative you are. If you're a Saudi woman, your hijab will be on and be on properly.
Some women don't wear the hijab. Note: when I say "wear the hijab" I mean all the time. ALL Muslim women in Saudi Arabia wear at least the hijab when they're out in public. But when a woman says she "wears the hijab," that means she wears it all the time, whether she is with women, men, or mixed company...for the most part. I work with a woman who "wears the hijab," but she doesn't wear it at school. However, if we take a photograph of her, she will stop us until she has put her hijab on. It's complicated, and I've not explained all the ins and outs, but I'll move on.
Most Saudi women also wear the niqab in addition to the hijab.
This is a niqab. (pronounced "nee-cob")
Note: I did not take any of the pictures posted. They were already on the internet, so I haven't invaded anyone's privacy.
What most people in the West would probably call the "burka" is actually the niqab. The niqab goes on top (or in front of, I guess) the hijab. It kind of looks like a bandana with a slit cut in it and straps attached so it can be tied to your head. So when the ladies are suiting up to leave school for the day, they put on their hijabs, and then tie the niqab on. Some will even put gloves on their hands as further coverage.
Generally, the wider the opening of your niqab, the less conservative a woman is, but let me be clear: women who wear the niqab are greatly respected here. I kind of equate it with a vegan among vegetarians. Vegetarians already live a different lifestyle. But when a vegetarian finds out a person is vegan, they often respond with, "Wow! How do you discipline yourself like that? I couldn't do it." That's how women are here. The women I have talked to who wear the niqab don't feel like it is demeaning or disparaging. They feel like it is their way to show their level of faith and to bring themselves closer to Allah.
This is the abaya (pronounced "uh-bye-uh")
This one is on a mannequin, obviously. It's the closest I could get to the typical abaya you see in KSA
The abaya is the black dress/robe/housecoat that most people assume covers from head to toe. Actually, the hijab combined with the abaya is what most people see. Generally, if a woman wears the abaya, she also wears the hijab, so it's hard to find one without the other.
Around here, though, you see a lot of women only wearing the abaya...but they are "Aramcons." Aramcons are the non-Muslim employees (or the wives of the employees) of Aramco, the Arab American oil company that is based in Dammam. In my experience, Aramcon women have almost a visceral aversion to the abaya and hijab. They seem to resent that they have to cover in this country, so they only do the bare minimum to escape the scrutiny of the mutawa. We often see Aramco women walking around the malls in just their abayas and their heads uncovered. Once I even saw two Aramco women walking completely uncovered!
Whenever the Mister and I go on the Aramco camp, the first thing I'm told when we meet up with our friends is, "You don't have to wear that thing here! Take it off!" Some don't seem to understand when I tell them that I really don't mind wearing it. It gets hot and stuffy sometimes, but it's not a big deal.
Anyway, Muslim women all wear the abaya here. As with the niqab, it seems the less frills and decoration, the more conservative you are. There are some very pretty abayas on the market. They have nice embroidery or cut is flattering. The expensive ones are made of really nice fabrics and they flutter and flow as the women walk past. I think it's quite ethereal.
I'll tell you more about the wardrobe of the women of Arabia in another post, including a video showing you how to tie to hijab. Until then, take a look at this video about why women cover themselves. I didn't find it terribly convincing, but it was interesting nonetheless.