Expo visitors attempt to make world’s largest Emirati burqa for UAE's Golden Jubilee

The face accessory is an important part of the country's culture

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Visitors at Expo 2020 Dubai are attempting to make the world’s largest burqa, a traditional Emirati face covering, to celebrate the UAE’s Golden Jubilee.

A burqa is a metallic-coloured face accessory that has been worn by women – mostly in the early days of the UAE – to show they are married or as a form of protection from the sun and dust.

It is an important part of Emirati culture and is still worn regularly by elderly women and by young women for special occasions.

Maryam Qayed, 34, is the Emirati woman behind the world record attempt. She is the founder of Al Beqsha, an Emirati cultural tourism company that sells locally made souvenirs and holds cultural workshops for tourists and residents.

The company has a kiosk at Expo 2020 Dubai, where the largest burqa, at 1.25 metres, is coming to life.

“Burqa is a symbol for us, and as Emirati women, we still love and relate to it,” Ms Qayed told The National.

“Women in the past wore it because they wanted to protect their beauty and help them in their journey of modesty. At the same time, it was associated with their personal identity. Even today, people share their stories that their grandmothers still wear even while sleeping, which is very interesting.

“Nowadays, it is not common for people to wear it, but it is still a symbol and is part of UAE’s culture.”

Maryam Qayed is the founder of Al Beqsha, an Emirati cultural tourism company that sells locally made souvenirs and holds cultural workshops, including ones on how to make burqas, for tourists and residents. The National

Visitors at the expo started sewing the burqa together on November 30 and it is expected to be finished on Thursday, in time for the UAE’s 50th anniversary.

Once it is completed, Ms Qayed hopes to give the burqa to the Mother of the Nation, Sheikha Fatima, who is the Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation and Chairwoman of the General Women's Union.

“Sheikha Fatima is someone who we are really inspired by. We thought of dedicating something special – the longest burqa in the world made by Emirati women and residents. It’s the first attempt ever done,” Ms Qayed said.

“Everyone who joins us to make the burqa will be taught more about the burqa – what it means and represents. It’s such an important part of our history, culture and our traditional wear.”

A burqa is made of a cloth lining called al sheel and then a wooden piece known as al seif is placed in the centre of the fabric, where the nose is.

The Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism said on its website that the burqa has changed significantly over the years.

“Traditionally, the burqa was quite large and covered most of the face, and both old and young women wore it throughout the day,” the department said.

“The materials used today are different, as are the styles, although this difference is most commonly seen in burqas worn by younger women. Older women’s burqas look similar to those of the past.

“Young women wearing burqas for special occasions use the burqa to highlight their beauty, which is completely different from how women in previous generations would have worn theirs.”

Ms Qayed said the completed burqa would be presented at the Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai on Thursday.

It is not clear whether Ms Qayed plans on contacting Guinness World Records, but said the attempt is more to celebrate the UAE's culture and its 50th anniversary.

Earlier this year, a bride from Cyprus set a Guinness World Record for the longest wedding veil, which measured 6,962 metres.

Updated: December 1st 2021, 4:46 PM