Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Hijab in America

Last night I agreed with three friends of mine to wear the Hijab for a whole day. I’m not veiled in real life so I was never in the shoes of veiled women in Egypt or even in the United States. I was told that in a post 9/11 world, being a veiled woman in the United States is hard. By putting on this harmless piece of cloth, I was putting myself in a dangerous situation. Obviously, I was expecting all sorts of impolite treatments including harassments, name-calling and suspicious looks. Not all of the above happened but it was a very interesting day.
In the beginning, I felt weird and uncomfortable because I’m not used to it and it was an extremely hot day. It took a lot of courage to keep it but as soon as I noticed the looks I was getting, I became more confident. We took a shuttle bus to the station where we were going to take a 2 hour-long tour bus. The first comforting thing was a smile I received from the bus lady who grinned not only smiled at me and said hello. I replied and kept reminding myself that being veiled doesn’t and shouldn’t suppress my personality. I noticed a couple of surprised faces on the bus but I didn’t mind that in fact, I replied to it by smiling and talking comfortably with friends. Thankfully, I had the chance to ride on the front row on the tour bus. I heard a lot of veiled girls say that they feel invisible sometimes. Unattractive. Not good enough. I didn’t want to be invisible. I wanted to see people and be seen.
Our tour bus guide was a young friendly guy who asked us where we were from. I expected this to be another bomb to the rest of the people. I expected some of them to associate Sudan with “Terrorism”. After all, it was a big possibility.
During our very exciting tour around the Yosemite National park, my hair was exposed once because of strong winds but I proudly put it back on. The tour guide kept looking at my friend and I every once in a while and occasionally gave us an awkward smile.
I had to break the ice. I had to make conversation with him. I wanted to break a very common stereotype as well. Many non-Muslims are convinced that Muslim girls “can’t”talk to guys. I started a conversation with him by asking about the history of the place but soon, we started talking about other things. Of course, I had to reassure him that my Muslim brother is not going to bury him in the desert and wait till the ants eat his face and then stone me to death in order to set a good example for other Muslim girls. I did say that, in my mind of course. While I was talking with the tour guide, many people gathered around us to witness this special moment. Muslim girls speaking up. I also had to pose a few times for my fans all over the Yosemite National Park. I felt very special because I was more interesting than the stunning nature around all of us. This was the case to many people.
After we finished the tour and everybody had a picture taken of me. We headed to the Museums. During my 5 minutes stay in the Museum, I looked at the pictures and diagrams they had while some people focused their attention on me. I went to the auditorium to watch a movie about Yosemite and as soon as I walked in through that door, all eyes were on me. I sat down, fixed my headscarf and enjoyed the movie. When we were leaving the auditorium, a committed boyfriend grabbed his girlfriend away from us allowing us to get out. I smiled at them and I thought he was such a gentleman. Was he a gentleman? Or was he scarred we might harm her? I know I don’t go around harming random girls but some people think we are hiding some kind of dangerous weapon under the thick layers we are wearing.
During my few hours as a veiled woman I applied makeup a few times. I would run to the rest room as soon as I can to re-apply kohl to my eyes or put on more lip-gloss. I was never a big fan of makeup. I do apply makeup sometimes but it’s usually very light. As I was trying to not be invisible, I thought makeup will make me more visible. I’m not sure if this is because I felt that something was missing and I was trying to replace it by something else or it is because I just felt that makeup will make my face look prettier. I didn’t know the reason behind it but for now, make up was important.
Wearing the veil today was worth it. I’m glad I didn’t get called any derogatory names or called any names at all. I’ve heard many stories about the plight of veiled women in the country but I just had to experience it myself. Today, I was in their shoes and I felt what they feel. Ordinary. I was just another individual on the tour bus and another visitor to the Yosemite National Park. The only difference was- I wasn’t wearing shorts or Jeans or a tank top. I was wearing jeans, a sweater and my hair was covered.
People say the way you dress says a lot about you and your personality. What I wore today told people one thing about me. I’m a Muslim woman. Although it might’ve meant to some people things like oppressed, submissive and weak. I didn’t feel this way at all. However, I felt sad because I was judged by my headscarf today. I was judged by what’s on my head however, what’s in my head was overlooked.


Sleepless In Muscat said...

Fantastic article. I salute you in the battle to repair the image of veiled women in the West.

Maybe you should try prolonging your 'experiment'?


Meticulousness said...

I enormously adore every word you just typed there, loved the experience you went through and I would just like to add a few points. I hope they’re worth reading as far as your valuable incident is:

Veiled Muslim women are passing a message that clearly says: "ignore our appearance and be attentive to our personalities and mind". Regarding to that, veiled Muslim women are filled with dignity and self esteem; they're pleased to be identified as a Muslim women.

As a chaste, modest, pure women, they wouldn't accept for their sexuality to enter into interactions with men in the smallest degree so therefore, Muslim women who are veiled are actually concealing their sexuality but allowing their femininity to be brought out at the same time

Though, I would’ve looked at you like their own eyes did, they’re not blameworthy or any of that. I for once, spotting a man with a tattooed body might leave me perplexed. Its mind boggling ‘cause you can’t really judge nor state the well from bad out of him. Though, women in early centuries used to wear a veil and they weren’t looked at as Muslims, it’s only ‘cause we have broaden ourselves and became more recognized that is.

Blessed Kizzie..

Luisa aka Balqis said...

I felt sad because I was judged by my headscarf today. I was judged by what’s on my head however, what’s in my head was overlooked.
Maybe they were just trying to find what's everywhere, in-on your head and in your heart.
Don't judge them wrong, you might fall in the same mistake.
Lovely post, you're very talented .

Suburban said...

An excellent, thought provoking post.

I don't know if you were judged or perhaps just treated differently because of what's on your head. perhaps a comparative study is in order; try a cowboy hat, a mohawk hairstyle, or a "gangsta" bandanna.

I think that in thier efforts to be sensitive to your faith, they were unsure how to approach you or if it was even appropriate to strike up a conversation with you. Most of what I think Americans know about Muslims comes from the news reports out of Saudia and Afghanistan, places where it woudn't be ok to strike up a conversation with a woman you don't know.

This brings to mind a similar experiment that a friend of mine and I did here in muscat. She was blonde, and was constantly getting hassled and harassed by men wherever she went. I have much darker hair and features, and almost never have problems. She died her hair dark brown and I wore a blonde wig for a few days.

I got so much hassle, it was like spending three days in a different country. My girlfriend chose to remian a brunette at the end of the experiment.

Apparently there is truth to the saying "gentlemen prefer blondes"

Anyway, excellent post. Looking forward to more.

Anonymous said...

Sleepless in Muscat,
It was worth it I swear. I went to send a message and I did. I smiled at people, I talked to some of them and I posed for pictures.

"mabye you should try prolonging your experiement"
oh it's not as simple as I thought it is:) For now, I'm proud of being part of the experiemt.

Anonymous said...

i will reply back to all the comments. I'm meeting a Jewish economist and writer tomorrow who participated in the peace tallks between Yassir Arafat and Israeli's :)

TI3GIB said...

Enjoyed reading that. Cosmopolitan cities where the presence of diversity prevails over majority tend to be more race-conscious.

I can't say for sure, but I can tell that it's obvious that little towns where the 'catholic white man' persona represents a big portion of the community the unprecedented form of religious expression is usually accompanied by harassments.

Must've been a nice experience.

Unknown said...