Saturday, July 21, 2007

Wearing the Veil/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.


Black Kush said...

Interesting post, Kizzie. There are a lot of stories that you hear, but cannot believe unless you experience it. Your little experiment as a veiled Muslim woman, may have reveal to you that all is well.

Unfortunately, it may not be true for many veiled women.

Good day!

Kizzie said...

Hello there,
Yes I'm not gonna generalize here, my experience was limited to me. I'm sure it differs from state to state etc..
I'm just happy I did it.

Black Kush said...

True, generalization will not give the actual picture. What amazes is the way you went out of your way to feel what is is like to be "veiled" in America. Although you never encountered any hostilities, I presume the experience itself is much more revealing to you.

You are one of a kind . . .

Dina Ali said...

I'm happy I went through this experience! Every look I got made me stronger.
Thanks for your feedback:)
Robert collins sent me one of your articles btw

Ebony said...
Hey look an article that kind of covers a similar concept to your post. :)

Like someone else has mentioned, how you were received will differ from state to state, even city to city...even day to day. Also I'm sure if you had worn if for longer you would have been more likely to encounter some negativities.

I attempted the hijab a few times, and I tell you, it's nerve wrecking . Even when I am received with warmth and eerily politeness. It's just one of the strongest symbols out there (you practically feel like you are taking on the whole world)... so I applaud girls who are able to pull it off everyday...especially those who live in unfriendly environments.

I had an Egyptian friend who lived here (Minnesota) for a year with a host family who attempted to convert and especially "liberate" her from her hijab. Heh...a friend of hers who lived with a differnet family in Wisconsin was flat out confronted by her host mother who told her to remove "that thing."

Whatever marginalized group a person is part of, whether you are judged by your outward display of faith, skin color, sexual orientation...even gender, if those issues are an anchoring part of your'll find yourself more wanting to constantly "act" a certain way that will allow you to enter this ridiculous idea of "mainstream humanity" hahaha (White, christian, middle class, male). You have to watch out how you talk, make an effort to constantly take it upon yourself to speak for your "group", you have to make a conscious effort not to fall into "any stereotypes." bla bla blah. It gets quite tiring.

Why should I continuously apologize for my whole "group?" For some reason in the eyes of others marginalized groups suddenly lack diversity and personal individuality, we just become negative stereotypes on two legs walkin' that the action of one person is portrayed as the actions of all.

It's hard to understand how others feel until you try to walk a mile in their shoes, seriously.

Sorry for rambling. :) Good post.

Ebony said...

sorry, you'll have to copy and paste this somehow, it got cut off in my other comment. Sorry for spamming. :P hahaha

By the way, this is daliya. :)

pommygranate said...


welcome back!

i have mixed feelings about the hijab. on the one hand i am a strong believer in people wearing whatever they want. however, i do find it sad that girls like din ali here would wish to wear it. why do you want to cover up your face? there is no compulsion to do so in the Koran.

however, i am pleased that you encountered only politeness and curiosity.

looking forward to read future posts!

btw, that article you wrote for me has been linked everywhere, including to a British women's magazine called Bella (a sort of downmarket Cosmopolitan).

Kizzie said...

Hey daliya,
thanks for your feedback.

btw, dina ali is a friend and i was using her laptop so i used her account by mistake.
I was talking to a guy and I told him the experience was worth it.
I believe u should stick to your opinion about people being able to wear what they want.
covering your face is naqab
covering your hair is hijab
Can u give me the link? I'm impressed!

pommygranate said...

aaggh! my ignorance. apologies.

hijab can look very smart and quite appealing (!). not so for the niqab.

KadidiaTerri said...

Very interesting post.

However, may I point out something?
you said:
"I was in their shoes and I felt what they feel."

I think this is only partly true because while some women wear hijab for cultural/fashion/legal reasons, there are many women who wear it because they feel it is a religious obligation. They do it out of obedience to and love for Allah.

In that particular sense, you did not "feel what they feel".

Perhaps one day you might.

In any case, may I say again that your post is very interesting and furthermore, I find your blog to be very informative. I hope to visit it regularly in my effort to find out more about Sudan and Sudanese people.

Keep on bloggin, Sista!

Anonymous said...

I'm a Muslim female, I'm Turkish. I was raised in a very secular family. No one in my immediate family covers their head. I have been against the idea my whole life. Just recently, I have been wanting to wear the hijab, just like you, for a day. I wouldn't want anyone I know professionally to see me in it. That would be awkward. But I would like to try it one day and see how it feels. I think it would be a good social experiment.

Anonymous said...


I was googleing and ended up on this site. What an interesting post! I've been reading the whole story and all of the comments..

I think you're very strong, not a lot of people would have the strenght to do this..

Greetz from Holland