One Muslim woman on
her choice to veil.
by Maysan Haydar
...And say to the believing woman that she should lower her gaze and guard her modesty; that she should not display her beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof...
Quran, Chapter 24, Verse 31
It never ceases to amaze me. As much as people preach the importance of accepting differences, they still stare when I walk in the door. It's the same old reaction every time.
Their eyes get really big, occasionally their jaws will drop, and they watch my every move, trying to figure out just who I am.I don't have a third eye or some strange growth on my face (except my nose, but that's a different story). I happen to be a Muslim woman, and as such I wear clothes that don't reveal anything except my hands and my face. This ensemble includes a scarf that hides my hair, and loose clothing that doesn't hint at any sort of body form. Most women begin veiling right around puberty (I started at 13). It falls nicely into place there, since there are so many other changes going on. A symbol of the maturing process, maybe. The reason I follow this tradition is simply because I want people to respect and like me for me, and not because I'm cute or have a nice butt. There are a lot of other reasons women decide to cover.
Some do it just for the sake of pleasing God and others do it to avoid feeling violated by lewd stares. A few years back, my clothing got lots of confused looks. Now, thanks to movies like Not Without My Daughter, and a series of Chuck Norris flicks, people ask instead, "I wonder if she gets beaten by her father/brother/arranged husband/any guy whose harem she dances in." Or, they think I'm a terrorist! So rather than explaining my culture, I'm stuck reassuring the Hollywoodized masses that no, I don't have an Uzi hidden under this thing.
Yet, veiling goes beyond religion. No matter how holy I feel or how my faith fluctuates, veiling is something I just don't compromise. There wouldn't be any sense in whipping it off one week and throwing it back on the next. On the rare occasions that I do walk around scarfless (in semi-privacy), I always feel bare.One of my teachers used to complain that she never knew what the people who asked her out on dates really wanted. She even occasionally joked that she'd like to borrow one of my outfits sometime to see if their opinions would change. And employers have always been very respectful of my decision. While I was interning for a newspaper last year, an editor told me that I was chosen partially because of my willpower to be visibly different. These little comments reaffirm my conviction. Also, I don't have to worry about what Sassy says is cool for this season. I'm still stylin' in what I wore last year (and what I'm planning on wearing again next).
Instead of explaining my culture, I'm stuck reassuring people that I don't have an Uzi hidden under this thing.
Of course, not every Muslim woman chooses to veil. Many feel oppositely from me, asserting that hiding behind a scarf is oppressive. Others argue that veiling to avoid harassment is a form of victim-blaming, implying that a woman "asks for it" by wearing fitted clothes. Then there are those Muslim women, like my Aunt Leila, who simply don't feel it necessary to scarf. In this country, there's no punishment for these women.[*] It's simply their choice and I respect that, just as I hope they'll respect mine.
[*]- ie secular laws - H.