So it is your first time to go to a Muslim/Arab country, how exciting! Whether it be Jordan, Morocco, Egypt or Turkey, you should dress in the right way – if you want to be respected by the locals, that is. Just remember, we have funny preconceived ideas about Muslims (influenced by the tv and the media), just as they have strange preconceived ideas about us (influenced by the tv and the media), so hopefully the way you dress and behave will prove those ideas they have about us wrong (and vice versa).
So just what do Muslims think of us? Basically they see a lot of Western women on tv acting in a loose way, having affairs, behaving badly, dressing like tarts …and they think we are all like that! It is up to you to act as an ambassador for the West and dispel those myths – or open yourself up to sexual harassment (if that is what you are after!).
Put yourself in their shoes for a minute: Muslim males come from a culture where, in general, they cannot date women, take girls to the movies, hold hands with a female or have any kind of romantic encounters without chaperones etc until they are married. They are just humans (well, men!), looking for female contact, and the only place they can find that is with Westerners. If you do get accosted by men, no matter what you are wearing, always be polite in fobbing them off. Just be stern and ask them firmly to go away. If this does not work after a couple of attempts, speak very loudly and crossly so as to attract attention, so people can see you are defending yourself and not trying to attract male attention, then people will be more inclined to help you. As I said, the men in these countries sometimes have odd ideas about Western women. So you almost can’t blame them for trying!
Rules on dress do differ slightly depending on whether you are heading to the beach or the city, because obviously you don’t want to be covered up like a nun in 40 degrees on your beach holiday! In beach resorts in Muslim countries the locals live off your tourist money and rely on it for jobs, so they turn a “blind eye” (although they might be peeking!) to scantily clad women on the beach (a g-string bikini is not really acceptable, there are bikinis and there are bikinis – use your common sense, ladies). However once you get on the streets behind the beach and beyond, you should cover up. Not only to respect the locals, but it will also save your skin from damage too, so look on the bright side!
I often see women in completely inappropriate dress when I am in Marrakech. I put this down to the fact that many charter flights come here from Europe, a stone’s throw away, so people come for a long weekend. They know nothing about Muslim culture, it’s hot, so they just wear short skirts and tank tops. Of course, when other tourists see this, they too think it must be ok, since these women don’t seem to be getting arrested or anything, and so it perpetuates itself. Shorts or anything above the knee is disrespectful to the locals and just because you see other ignorant tourists scantily dressed, does not make it OK for you to dress like that. Although Morocco is “relaxed” about the dress code (its not Saudi Arabia and you wont get arrested) if you wear revealing clothes it does not reflect well on you or your family. It basically means you have been badly brought up, as no self-respecting parent would let you out of the house looking like a slut. When you do something wrong in a Muslim country, it does not just reflect on YOU, like it does in the West, it reflects on your whole family. This has to do with the “honour” of the family. However Muslims (or Arabs anywhere) will not tell you off, they are far too polite for that, and would not want to cause you to lose face. They will just think what they want about you and smile…
So, what to wear? Spend some time with the locals and learn about their culture and you will learn it is not really respectful to wear revealing clothes. You should wear longish skirts/pants at least to past the knee, and shoulders covered as the bare minimum, and no cleavage. Anything see-through or super-tight is a no-go too. A scarf is not necessary unless you are in Iran. A good rule of thumb is to look at what the local women are wearing and go from there. Basically, the more skin you cover, the more respect you will get. :). Simple, really!