Dear Woman Wearing The Burqa (or, in this case, a Niqab),
I saw you today while visiting a living history museum. You were walking hand-in-hand with your two daughters and you were beautiful. I’m sorry if I stared, but you captivated my imagination. I stupidly marveled over how the fabric hung loose over your frame. You had such pretty eyes…
It occurred to me to check the faces of my three children walking along beside me. You were ahead of us and I wanted to make sure they weren’t staring. They didn’t even seem to notice. My littlest, two years old, saw you. Or she saw your beautiful little girls, I don’t know, but she didn’t seem surprised.
It isn’t often that we see a woman dressed in such cultural clothing here in Indiana. Sure, we have Muslims in hajibs, but rarely women completely concealed except for their eyes. We have Amish and Mennonites, I suppose, but people have grown used to seeing them. At first I thought, “She doesn’t have to dress that way here. We’re free!” And it hit me…we are free. That is why you can wear that with courage and strength. I wondered if you’re happy and instantly felt guilty for it. Can someone tell that I am happy simply by observing what I am wearing? Were my jeans and flips flips and tank top a sign of oppression or religious bondage of some sort? Or what about the woman that worked for the museum—a woman with the mid-western mark of holiness: long skirt and long hair, face free of make-up? Was she happy? Was she oppressed? Was she in religious bondage?
And what a silly notion, right?
This is the land of the free, supposedly built on religious freedom. We should welcome all people who decide to hold to their cultural and religious beliefs in such a way that stands them apart from the majority. That’s what we are proud of…isn’t it?
But then I noticed other people staring and turning all the way around to watch you after you passed them. My blood began to boil. A girl around eleven or twelve years old gasped as you drew near and covered her mouth with her hands. I was mortified. When you were behind her, she circled back to the adult women that accompanied her. I heard her ask why you were dressed that way. The oldest woman in the group rolled her eyes and spat out, “She’s a Muslim. Muslims aren’t allowed to show anything but their eyes.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to tell her that she was wrong…but I didn’t. I just let her pass, looking back at you as you kept your daughters close to your side. My heart swelled with pride for your strength and courage. How often did people gasp and stare as you passed them today? How many people asked you rude questions or told you that you didn’t have to dress like that if you didn’t want to? How many people asked you where you were from?
I didn’t enjoy the rest of my afternoon. It wasn’t your fault. I couldn’t stop thinking about how wretched we as a free society have become. A group of school children with girls in hajibs passed another school group. The boys pointed and stared. One boy asked, "Where are those people from?" Here...they're from here, I wanted to say.
We champion this nation because we think it was built on freedom and equality for all people—freedom to worship and live as we please. But it isn’t. Well, it is…so long as you live and worship like the biggest portion of us. We are judgmental and we are passing that judgement on to our children—teaching them to fear that which is different than us. We are sowing seeds to reap a harvest of bullies ruled by fear. We must stop. We must be more careful.
And I am so sorry.
You were beautiful, darling lady. You were positively beautiful. I don’t know your story, but I hope it is a wonderful story and adventurous journey. I admire your courage to walk with your head held high in a society so different and cold towards those unlike them. I wish you were my friend. I would love to know who you are…
And if you don’t want to wear the burqa, I hope the day comes when you can dress how you wish with your head held high. Don’t ever look down…
Note: The woman was wearing something more commonly known as a niqab which is often worn by women of the Wahhabism Islam faith. They wear this attire in urban areas, such as Hamilton County, Indiana. And that's pretty awesome. For many of these woman, it's a sign of incredible beauty--a queen wearing her crown. For others, it is a sign of oppression. But let us take into account what we as an American (free) society do to oppress our own women and keep them from complete equality before we judge to harshly those of another religion. Let us remember how we overly sexualize the woman's body and objectify her. We are not better.