Saturday, December 16, 2006
Hijāb and niqāb
Today, my husband and I were at Barnes & Noble and saw a woman wearing an abaya (loose, long-sleeve, full-length robe), ħijāb (headscarf) and niqāb (facial covering). It was, I think, the first time I had seen a woman in public in the U.S. wearing the full complement of traditional Muslim ħijāb.
I confess my first response was negative. First, I felt badly for the woman. She had a young child--perhaps a year old--in a stroller and the child was screaming, and she could not get the baby to stop crying. Would the baby have been more easily soothed if it could see its mother's face?
I wondered if she wore the ħijāb and niqāb by choice, or if she was compelled by her male relatives or community to dress in this way. I feel strongly that people should have the freedom of choice, and felt that if she truly chose this manner of dress freely, then I should have no reason to pity her. For a number of years I worked with a young woman (an Eastern European immigrant who converted to Islam) who wore loose-fitting long sleeves and skirts with her ħijāb, and I respected her choice to wear such garments as a reminder of the Islamic rules of modesty. However, to think that a woman might be forced (by custom or otherwise) to wear the ħijāb and niqāb bothers me.
I was also reminded of a Florida court case a couple of years ago in which a Muslim woman sued the State of Florida because they would not allow her to wear her niqāb in her driver's license photo. (She lost the case when a Florida appellate court ruled that the state could legitimately require her to show her face to a camera in a private room with only a female employee to take the picture, in exchange for the privilege of driving.)
As my mind filled with negative thoughts of the niqāb-clad woman, I reminded myself of the Bodhisattva Vow, and that my wish for her should be the same as my wish for all other beings: that she be happy and free of suffering, niqāb or no niqāb. I hoped that somehow she could sooth her upset child, and in whatever circumstances she lived, that she would be content, shielded from hatred and protected from harm, and warmed by feelings of lovingkindness.