With all of the recent negative attention on niqab, I have been considering ways to show my solidarity with our sisters that wear niqab. My experience with niqaabis has been mostly pleasant although there have been some bumps in the road. Niqabis are individuals just like everyone else but their clothing can evoke a lot of rhetoric and negative emotions from Muslims and non-Muslims.
Some Experiences with Niqabis:
I saw my first niqabi walking in the mall in Virginia shortly after I moved from New York in 2001. This was just a few days after 9/11. I remember being fascinated by her dress. She was wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt and a half-face niqab and she was confidently walking next to a guy who I assumed was her husband. I remember trying to look at her once or twice surreptitiously so that she didn’t think I was just baldly staring at her.
Some of the sisters I am closest to wear niqab or used to wear niqab.
A nice niqabi sister from Saudi helped teach me my alif, baa, taa in the Nurani Qaida.
A nice niqabi sister from Egypt volunteered to teach the New Muslim class I used to attend.
Some niqabis, I know were insulted by some guy passing by while a group of friends were having breakfast at a lake. And the hijabis sprang to their defense and confronted the guy.
Several sisters and I were shopping for winter coats and a non-Muslim guy came up to us (or more specifically to the niqabi sister) and asked her why she “wore that thing.” She had a pleasant conversation with him and he said that he would like his daughters to become more modest and observe hijab.
On Eid, I was waiting in line with another sister and her husband for quite a while at a Muslim shop, when a niqabi just cut in front of all of us and set her items on the counter with no shame whatsoever.
At the courthouse in Alexandria, where far too many of us have spent enough time there over the past few years to be on a first name basis with some of the staff, a lead prosecutor in one of the paintball trials said wryly during a recess to one of his companions, “Hey, check out that burka” motioning to a sister who was wearing niqab. Side Note: The security guards at the federal courthouse in Alexandria will ask sisters to lift up the niqab to verify your identity matches you id card.
A niqabi sister was the one who said to a group of sisters that the best thing about her new school was that there were “no black people”.
A niqabi sister and a former niqabi sister were among the first ones to give me eid gifts.
Another niqabi sister bought me gifts for no discernible reason and gave me money to pay the tolls on my way back from Canada.
Several niqabi sisters have been very hospitable to me and invited me to their homes for meals shortly after we met for the first time.
I am very conscious of the negative stares and comments from others when I am with other hijabis and more especially when I am with niqabis. I feel very protective of my niqabi sisters when we are out in public and sometimes feel like a tiger ready to pounce if someone tries to harm them.
The amount of discussion about wearing niqab in the West does not make sense considering that the percentage of Muslims that wear it is probably less than 2% and that is being generous. While the clothing of western niqabis may stand out, they are such a small minority that even if they all stopped wearing it and there is no reason why they should, all of the problems of dialogue, integration, assimilation, immigration, and tolerance would still exist.
I promise not to judge people by their clothing. I promise to defend the right of women to decide for themselves how they wish to dress. I promise to not take any positive or negative experiences I have had with sisters dressed a certain way to extrapolate and make generalizations about them or others with similar fashion choices. I promise to not sit idly by while people try to force you to uncover or cover to fit their perceptions of modesty.