On the Niqab


I had started writing about this when I was Yemen:

I’m not sure I really got the whole niqab thing. I don’t think of myself as someone from a western culture. In fact, my country although I only lived there for a limited amount of time is majority Muslim.

I am apathetic towards hijab, and like I stated above niqab has been this big question mark for me. Being in a country where everyone wears it kind of pushes it to the forefront. I am confronted with it everyday.

While I disagree with him stating it in public and actually calling for a lifting of it, I think I understand Gordon Brown’s (at least I think it was Gordon Brown) perspective. I know he had less reason to draw his conclusions than I do though.

Being here, all I see are eyes, as itemized in my Yemeni stares blog. But, sometimes its really hard to tell what the heart/mind are saying with just the eyes. As a woman, it is supposed to be easy for me to meet and befriend Yemeni women, but outside of the teachers at my school I haven’t interacted with a single one. Language barrier and cultural differences aside, a large part of it for me is the eyes. When I smile at them, for the most part I don’t see them smile back… all I get is that rude, blank, curious.mildly disgusted stare.

At the same time though, I’m not sure that I care. Ever since the women’s party I see the women at my school in a new light: They weren’t the rigid, serious people I passed by in the hallway each day, encloaked in black. Now, they are…

I guess I didn’t finish that thought. What is it about faces? I guess, niqab has never really bothered me ( to each her own) so much as it intrigued me. Right now, I’m trying to sort out the difference between being a niqabi in the “West” and one in a country where it’s the cultural norm.

Yemen has made the face covering, more ordinary for me as I can now put faces and more importantly personalities with it. I understand how it works in Yemen or Saudi, but am bit perplexed on how it functions in a Non-Muslim nation. I don’t really want to or need to get into the debate within the Muslim community about whether or not niqab is a mandate from God.

I’m just a bit more curious about how these women carry on on day to day basis. I hate going abroad and feeling like all eyes are on me, gawking at the strange thing/apparition walking down the street. But, at least I always know that at the end of it, I will be back home in the U.S. where I am just a face in the crowd.

But, niqabis in the west are home and live with stares every day.


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