Tuesday, April 3, 2012

the day i wore a Niqab

me in the niqab

what i usually wear

What do you honestly think when you see a women in the grocery store with her head covered or wearing a veil over her face? In the west, the site of a woman wearing a burqa or niqab conjures up all kinds of emotions and judgements.  A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to the market wearing a niqab and I would like to share my experience.

First of all, a few disclaimers. 
1.  Right now, I’m an extremely NEW learner to this culture so things I say are simply my impressions.  I do not speak Hindi/Urdu well enough at this point to have deep conversations with women…yet J
2.  I love, honor, and respect so many of the women I am now sharing life with.  I do not want to change the beautiful things about their culture, these are just my thoughts in the midst of life here.
3.  I am not an expert on Islam or the Quran.  At this point, I don’t know what things are done because the Quran teaches them or if they are done because it is cultural and that is just the way people do things.  I have several Muslim friends from different countries, some choose to cover and others do not.  So none of these statements are blanket statements in any way about Islam, again just observations here in India. 

 One day my new friend wanted to take me to the market to get some material for cloths.  She wanted me to wear one of her niqabs so that while we were out, people wouldn’t stare at us, and to get better prices in the market.(as soon as people see my face as a foreigner the prices shoot up)   

Here are a few of my observations under the veil:

I was no longer an individual, but part of a sea of women in black.  This wasn’t a totally bad thing for me.  I am stared at everyday when I go out.  It begins to get annoying and this was the only time I have been on the streets and not had hundreds of men staring at me.  It was refreshing in that sense.  In another sense, it is a strange feeling for me as a westerner to not have the shopkeepers really look at me when I am buying something from them.  Also, in India there are SO many people that it is crowded everywhere!  Wearing the niqab made me one of the many women in the market, which means lots of pushing, cutting in line, and stepping on each other’s feet.  I don’t experience this when people know I am a foreigner. 

It was hard to see where I was going and to see the people around me.  India is full of exotic colors, people, foods, and smells.  While wearing the niqab, I had a hard time seeing all of those things.  My friend and I were on a mission to go the market and get something done and then get back to the house. We were not going out to take in the sights, sounds, and people of India. 

I felt vulnerable because of my inability to see.  Walking the streets here is always a challenge.  You have to dodge people, cars, motorcycles, dogs, cows, bicycles, and trash.  Maybe, I am just not used to it, but I felt like I was going to get trampled at any moment.  My friend literally led me by the hand as I stumbled along. 

Because of growing up in America these are some of the feelings I experienced.  It seems like women growing up here do not experience these feelings, or if she does, it doesn’t seem like a challenge or a negative thing for her.  Here are a few things women have taught be about wearing the niqab(from my limited Hindi/Urdu ;)…..you can totally be impressed that I understand so much!!  haha!

Wearing the niqab is beautiful.  They come with different patterns on them, rinestones, ect.  All the women in the family that I went out with thought I looked so beautiful in my niqab. 

The niqab is a form protection.  Women here only wear the niqab when they go outside of their homes.  They say it is much safer for them this way.

The purpose is to honor their husband(or future husband).  The belief here is that a man who is not a part of your family should not see your face or hair.  At least he shouldn’t see these things while you are out on the street.

Will I wear the niqab again?  I don’t know at this point.  If I have a friend who only feels comfortable going out with me if I am wearing the niqab, then I probably will wear it to honor her.  On my own, I probably will not wear it.

I hope to share more thoughts on this subject as I continue to learn this language and culture.  I want to better understand how women here think and why they do the things they do.  It is also important as westerners to not be intimidated or shy away from a woman who is dressed differently from us.  The women behind these niqabs are smart, funny, beautiful, and interesting.  I challenge you to get to know them, they are some of the most hospitable women you will probably ever meet.