I have decided to make this a new feature of ILOVEHISHMA. Since I have decided to start wearing niqab, inshaAllah, when I leave my job (I put in my notice for Aug. 20th), I thought I'd document my experiences, so those considering it can know what to think.
July 24th, 2009
Well today, since my husband would not be able to accompany me out to the Masjid, I decided to wear niqab. I do this for two reasons. A. I AM most comfrotable this way. and B. the brothers coming to the Masjid for Jum'aa deserve it from all the sisters in our city for us to wear good khimar and jilbab and practice good hijab so they CAN serriously make no excuse for any lack of hijab on their part, ever.
I put on a black abaya, and a very light and breathable black flip-niqab from Oman. It doesn't have a string and I NEED a string (since this thing slips up into my eyes without a string), but it is the lightest most breathable niqab fabric so I didn't care. I flipped the flip part of the niqab to one side, and pinned it into place with a white flower hair pin (that has a crystal center---found in a bridal accessories sale). People find the black niqab less threatening with a big giant sparkly flower strapped to the side of it.
The girls at the hair salon next to my flat are all smiles at me when I walk by and so is the middleaged Doctor who was having a lemonade break outside his offices (but then, these people know me on a daily basis of me running errands and being, ya know, normal, in the village). And the Doctor has always been kind in a normal way to me and my husband, saying goodmorning to us as if we were anyother married couple out for a stroll in the village.
Walking by myself down the street towards downtown people passed peacefully without even too much staring, until I heard a group of four teens from across the street. "Tell her to take that mask off her face" one of the boys (cowardly) urges another. "She's white" says the girl with them. Yes, even forty feet away and nothing but my hands and eyelids showing, the glare of my hands, and the odd green-ish grey of my eyes remains noticeable. I am no Saudi-exchange student.
"I can also speak English, so I can hear AND understand you," I say as they cross the cross walk to intersect with me. "I am a convert to Islam, and my family has lived in this city since the 1800s." Canada isn't even all that old, and my city, relatively young, so this makes some impression.
The cowardly one (urging his idiot friend to tell me to take off my mask but unwilling to do so himself) pipes up. "I am one third Pakistani."
So you want to fit in here, I get it. I am not afraid of anyone but Allah when it comes to my identity as a Muslim.
Idiot (might be drunk) friend decides to pipe up. "I am nine inches and you can have me in you"
Yes, because in ANY other circumstance it is TOTALLY okay to propose sex to a stranger on the street in a threatening way. But you know, I am a Muslim woman. And I am veiled. So I don't deserve the same rights as another plain dressed woman walking down the street. If he saw me in what I was wearing under my abaya (chiffon floaty knee-length dress and stretchy sweater with hair in a bun and diamond drop earrings---underneath I look like a ballet dancer on the way to practice at the studio) I'm sure the incident would not have happened. But it is because the media objectifies Muslim women, and especially the munaqaba woman.
"No thank-you," I politely decline, not threatened, but almost laughing. The guy is not sexually attractive whatsoever, to make such a statement. Never in my life would I ever contemplate dating the guy. These "crony-type Men" always propose sex in a rape like way when they feel out of control. It is something I have learned from past experiences (but that is another story entirely).
The girl's eyes follows me as I move away, and she is left with those sad two, the man that feels sexually and physically threatened by diminuative but empowered me enough to act out like an evil pig, and the other, that is afraid of not fitting in. I saw that she did not hate me, fear me, objectify me. She doesn't know what I look like exactly, but she saw ME. My essence. And it was essentially normal, and it was STRONG, and DIRECTED. I know the look of being lost one's self. And realizing it. That was her look, helpless and lost.
I continued one way, she went another, may Allah guide her (she's the only one out of the three that was intelligent enough and maybe strong enough to increase in any kind of understanding but Allah knows best).
There's alot of construction on the luxury end of the downtown stretch between my more artsy humble area (we can call the area I was walking towards the uptown downtown) so I passed by alot of construction workers. Two gaped, but most went on with their work normally, which is something that never happened when I was a non-muslim ESL teacher and men from the construction sites would actually leave the worksite to try and give me their phone numbers (and I was never the sexy one--I am more the librarian bookish girl type---lol I learned to dress more sexy after I started wearing abaya and met alot of arab women:D).
I have to mention, even before Islam, I never recieved a cat-call in my life, or a whistle. I always understood that how we presented ourselves in clothing represented the level of respect we would eventually recieve from strangers. Men ALWAYS treated me with respect because I dressed like a woman who deserved to be treated that way (although they still saw me as approachable in respectful-but-still-sexual way). My bestfriends (still not Muslims) Am and B always wondered how I found the "hopelessly dedicated" one guy in the nightclub, when B found the weekend fun guy, and Am the creep [and lol, I gotta mention, I never kept a phone number or gave out mine since I didn't want find my true love in a bar]. It was, I told them, because of how we dressed. I dressed in a way that was intimidating for all but those who were serrious. One of Am and B's string of boyfriend's put it as, "[Pixie] dresses like a man wants his wife to dress." The creeps, and the immature, could read clearly, that they need not apply. My husband said that when he first saw me as a teacher in his ESL school (I was never his teacher and did not know him as a student---I only met him at my going-away party from when I left the school) what he liked about me was how I dressed. A childhood friend put it best. "Some women, how they dress, says I want to be touched. Some women dress in a way that says I need to be held. You are the kind of a woman, that when I man sees you, he knows this is a woman he cannot just touch, he has to hold her."
My niqab says, I am beyond the touching and holding of all of those on the street. It says, my beauty is for myself and for Allah.
I think it is good for the men (male construction workers). And the older ones looked like they were thinking of their daughters when I passed by. Or maybe that is because they remind me of my father. I think they were thinking, what would I do if my daughter dressed like that? It would ease some of my problems but it would make her life hard, almost impossible to get a job, get married, lol. Of course I cannot read minds.
I cross up the cross-walk up to the mall. Most people don't stare. Women in their thirties or over DO. And they are, in my experience, the worst when it comes to prejudice. Young tween girls are capable of making ignorant comments among themselves, but at least don't stare and get off telling someone else how to live their lives, lol.
But believe it or not, I am totally aware of not a single man enjoying the sight of my face. I feel comfortable and less self-concsious. And people know that I am Muslim. And they see my little flower. It shows that I got my own way of dressing. They seem to like to hear me talking in plain English on my cell as I prepare to meet up with my little sister. They like to eavsedrop and smile at my conversation, so normal, so NOT what they expected.
My sister and I hug outside a bookstore. She's in skinny jeans and a longish white tee, and pink gelly flip-flops. She's got a bit of cleavage. My sister is the curvy one. I am a bit too slim. People seem awed by our pairing. As if I am not supposed to be able to hold a conversation with a non-scarf wearing female. We break down a billion stereotypes.
BTW, my sister is fine with my Islamic clothing. She says she can still see me in everything that I wear. That I cannot hide myself in anything less than a blue afghani chador with mesh. We joke about my father finding out that I am going to be wearing niqab.
It is summer. Jane is not the most naked chica out there, so it hardly draws any attention whatsovever, till we hit up the Masjid. Then I feel uncomfortable, because the Arab guys think that she is Arab (she can pass for Saudi or Mexican) and do notice her. But they see her with me, and tend to give her a little more respect than eyeing her up as potential convert-marriage meat soon to be on the market---that'd probably happen if she arrived by herself. They'd see her as somebody's girlfriend. Instead of a Muslimah's guest.
We put Jane in a cotton prayer garment in the masjid (which she informs me smells like BO) and she looks soooooooooooo cute. Women say salaam to her, and she responds a bit hesitantly in English "and upon you" to let them know they've made a msitake and she is NOT a Muslim. I, of course, can take of my niqab since there are no men in our side. Then we head back downtown for shopping, Jane rejecting the prayer garment (lol). We have to buy her some jewelry to go with her dress for my civil-service weddings (btw way, Boxie, I found a glam blue [not seafoam]pashmina and it'd look sweet with anything white that you own if you want to wear it for my day]. Only one woman in the stores there give me that odd look that you know isn't curious, but hey, she's working in a store for trendy 20-somethings, and she kinda looks like she's in her late 40s. The young girls of Le Chateau are helpful, and understand that I know what I am doing when it comes to styling stuff, and we can discuss fashion with no barriers and lots of smiles.
We are done our day, Jane catches the bus home. I go grocery shopping. I hear a little boy ask his father why I am wearing what I am wearing. The father says, "Because that is her religion, she is a Muslim." The little boy keeps staring. "But why is she wearing so much black." I laugh and come up to the little boy and wink. "I wear this colour because I don't like to get as dirty as I would be if I wore white or lighter colours. I only wear my pink one for weddings because I am so messy," and I lift the hem of my abaya to show the boy my feet that are kinda grey with dirt. Both him and the father smile. The girl at the checkout is completely normal. I walk down the last stretch of road before my flat and see two arab guys drive by. Don't be ashamed of your deen brothers, I silently urge them, and then, in my home, I flip up my niqab, pray Asr, and then take it off. Day one on the journey to niqab recorded.