Buibui, a conservative attire common among Muslim women, is losing its age-old dignity as corrupting elements invade it. These include fashion, prostitution and crimes including terrorism.

Fashion has turned it from loose, dull and concealing to tight, flashy and revealing (through a slit). Prostitutes use it as cover for their business. Terrorists use it to evade suspicion, while shoplifters use it conceal stolen goods.

In the Islamic holy book, Quran, Allah ordered women to dress in attires that are less attractive to men.

Even though not mentioned, black was the chosen colour as it is dull and less attractive and further associated with mourning.

The dress is supposed to be loose and long, covering most parts of your body, only hands and face are spared from being covered.

However, the fashion and usage revolving around the buibui is slowly diluting the meaning of the dress and generating criticism.

The dress has been donned by women in top positions, including politicians.

These women include Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohammed, Likoni MP Mishi Mboko, former Lamu woman representative Shakilla Abdhallah, Mombasa woman representative Aisha Hussein and former National Oil CEO Sumayya Athmani.

First Lady Margret Kenyatta was seen in this dressing at an Iftar dinner on June 24 at the State House so that she could fit in with the Muslim women who attended the event.

Even though this dress has been respected, it has faced many criticisms as it has been used in a negative way.


Recently, clerics complained that the dressing is being used by prostitutes to act as cover.

Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya organising secretary Mohamed Khalifa even mentioned some of the places where these people are found in Mombasa, saying the county government should intervene to ensure the dressing is widely respected.

“There are men who also dress in this attire and mix with the women to do prostitution,” Khalifa said.

The dress, which used to be given the outmost respect, is ‘ish ish’ these days.

In the past, when you saw someone dressed in a buibui, you would not suspect the person is a criminal. The dress was associated with humbleness, peace, calm in such a way that even if you are lost on the way, you would be confident in asking a woman dressed in a buibui for direction.

Mombasa resident Munira Faraj said the dressing is now being taken for granted.

“Buibuis are being used in an awful way. Men also dress in them. This dressing should portray respect when dressed by a Muslim woman, but we can see how it is being used negatively this days,” she said.

Apart from it being used in prostitution, it has been used in conducting terror activities, maybe because it would be difficult to suspect a woman dressed in buibui as a criminal.

Three women donned in buibuis and ninjas stormed and attacked Central police station in Mombasa on September 11 last year.

The terror attack took place at the Mombasa Central police station, in which a police officer was stabbed and three terrorists were killed. The terrorists were alleged to be dressed in buibuis and used this religious dressing to fool the cops.

The dressing has also been used in shops to loot commodities, whereby the thieves take advantage of it and hide the things they have stolen inside the dressing.



The buibui’s black colour might be a reason why it is being used negatively.

That black colour, though, has a meaning.

A definition of a real buibui, according to Islam, is a long black dressing that should not contain any flashy things or slits that would grab the attention of onlookers.

An Islamic woman should not dress in a way that she would stand out and grab people’s attention. Therefore, this dressing suits them well.

The CIPK cleric, Khalifa, describes the dress as one which should not contain any decorations.

These decorations, he said, would attract onlookers, and this in Islam is not allowed; a woman should just remain simple.

According to Islam, he said, the dressing should not be tight on the body of the person wearing it in a manner that reveals her shape and body.

Women’s bodies are believed to be very attractive as compared to men, hence women are used often in adverts because their bodies grab the attention of onlookers.

Khalifa hence gave out these reasons, quoting from the Islamic book as to why this dressing should be the way it is.

He cited a quote in the Quran, elaborating on how the dressing has been described.

Quran 24:31 says, ‘And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment, except only that which is apparent (like both eyes and outer palms of hands), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms), and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands fathers, or their sons, or their husbands sons or their brothers or their brothers sons, or their sister’s sons or their women, or the (female) slaves whom their right hand possess, or old male servants who lack vigor, or small children who have no sense of the feminine sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.’

Khalifa said women are not to show their adornment, hence the buibui being the way it is covers it all.

He termed the black colour of the dressing as dull and unattractive, hence would not grab attention in any way.

“The main reason for its blackness is to evade showing off the woman’s adornment,” he emphasised.



Touring the streets of Mombasa, I came across a woman by the name Fatuma Ibrahim, a resident from Kilifi area, who said she cannot walk outside her door without a buibui.

She said she has been raised knowing that this is a dressing to be worn by all Muslim women when they go out, and without it, you are considered to be naked.

She said she was brought up knowing that buibuis are black, and that is the reason she prefers her buibui black, no matter how much the dressing changes with fashion and style.

Fatuma said she is quite sure that people wear the buibui because they found other people wearing them and they followed suit.

Her comments on why this dressing is black, she said, is because of the Islamic teaching that clothes worn by women should not be attractive.

“According to Islam, it is not permissible to wear something colourful as a woman that will attract men,” Fatuma said.

Another surprising reason from her was that the dressing is worn several days before it is washed, hence the black colour favouring it all.

She said it is an expensive dress, and washing it daily basis would make it wear out faster and fade, hence the need to get another.

Fatuma said there is no way the blackness in buibuis will become extinct because there are people who follow the Islamic religion with passion, hence will ensure the blackness lasts forever.

“I cannot wear another colour and if they become extinct in shops, then I would be buying a black material so I can make orders from the tailor for them to make for me the dressing that is required,” she said.


From a male perspective, Yusuf Maneno from Bamburi thinks the buibui is black because some women are lazy in doing laundry. So the black colour favours them and they are able to wear it many times without it being noticed as dirty by other people.

“I think they should be white so that at least it would only be worn once and changed like other dressings, hence will not encourage laziness among women,” he said.

He likes this dressing, though, and would recommend it for every Muslim woman in the country and beyond to wear it because of its virtue.

To Yusuf, the buibuis are black also because they are a symbol of unity among Muslim women and it is an identity to any Muslim woman wearing it.

“Whenever you see someone in a buibui that is black, you would directly know that she is a Muslim,” Yusuf said.

He also thinks they are black because “it is hard to see through a black material”.

Yusuf supported the fact that Muslim women should not expose themselves to people. Wearing a coloured buibui would expose the woman to other people and, therefore, she would look attractive to them, which is not required in Islam.

According to him, the different colour ranges seen today are not buibuis but simply dresses, and for this clothing to be called a buibui, it should be black in colour.



Samira Mohammed, also a Likoni resident, said the black colour in buibuis will at some point come to an end due to the fashionable and trending buibuis seen today.

According to her, buibuis should just remain plainly black, without all those designs seen these days, which she said would go against the Islamic teaching on which the woman would be able to attract onlookers.

She said the buibuis have evolved in such a way that they no longer play the role they should play, including covering the woman in an Islamic way without exposing her beauty.

“Nowadays you would find tight buibuis and colours of all ranges, and these are the buibuis most people prefer these days,” she said.

Many women term it as “moving with fashion”, and whenever another colour is introduced to the market, they do not want to be left behind.

There are white, cream, black and white, purple and red ones, but there are controversies on whether these colourful ones should be called buibuis or just dresses.

Most of them even have belts these days, which reveals the shape of the woman.

Will all these developments lead to it becoming extinct? Will it lose its value at some point? Will people reject it in the future? It remains to be seen.