I Walked Around in NonMuslim Clothes All Day Every Day Before I Became a Practicing Muslim
After reading Annette Lamothe-Ramos’ piece about walking around in a burqa all day, I felt, like many of you, I had to write something in response. I am not going to throw insults at her or defame the things she said. Those were her opinions and perspectives. These are mine. I’m an American Muslim college student. My family is from Bangladesh, but I was born in Hawaii and raised in Georgia.
Before I continue further, I want to say that the hijab/burqa/abaya/niqab is simply something that we Muslim women wear to protect our beauty from the public. It is mentioned in the Quran, our holy book, but I don’t want to get into the religious aspects of wearing it. We believe that a woman’s beauty—her hair, her face, the shape of legs and buttocks, her bust, her bare arms—is not for just any man to see. We cherish our bodies so much, we don’t want to give everyone the right to see and enjoy them.
When I first read Annette’s article, I was offended. Then I thought maybe she needs to see something from the other perspective. My experiences with these garments are much different than hers. For one thing, she says that most of the articles she’s read about burqas reference “oppression.” Maybe I just read different things than she does, but I’ve found a lot online about burqas that don’t discuss oppression at all. So I decided to address some of the things she discussed in the article and explain them to her. Hopefully she—and the rest of you—will understand burqas and hijabs a little better.
As a practicing Muslim, I have worn a burqa outside quite a few times. Mostly, I dress modestly and cover what needs to be covered. Yes, it does get hot in the summer and I might break a sweat sometimes. But back in the day when I used to have my arms and neck exposed, I used to get sunburns, which was worse than breaking a sweat. And wearing modest clothing protects us from UV rays much better than sunscreen. I’d much rather be a little uncomfortable a few months out of the year than get skin cancer.
The Wind and Rain
Wearing a burqa is actually quite helpful on certain occasions, like when it gets rainy or windy. I remember once, before I was a practicing Muslim, getting soaked when I got caught out in the rain at school. My wet clothes clung to my body like a second skin, and not in a flattering way. Everyone could see every little curve of my body, and all I could do was run to the restroom and try to dry myself off in front of the inadequate hand dryer. Another time, I went out with my friends with a pretty dress on. All of a sudden the wind picked up and blew my dress in all the wrong directions, forcing me to hold my dress down in one hand and hold my shopping bags in the other. It got to the point where I was frustrated and just wanted to go home or wait in the car. Now when I go out on a windy day, I feel safe. I don’t feel like “Batman” or anything of that sort as Annette did; I feel free because I can enjoy the wind without holding my clothes down for dear life.
All Muslim women eat. All Muslim women have easily eaten in public before, even Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab (the covering of face below the eyes). I didn’t have to learn how to eat in public with the niqab on because I haven’t chosen to wear it at this point in my life, but of course I’ve seen niqab-wearing Muslim women master that act. Millions of women around the world do it. It’s really not that complicated. You can cut a hot dog into pieces and use a fork or you can use a straw to drink your Frappuccino.
When you see a Muslim woman walking down the street, you see her from your perspective. Poor woman, you might think, without considering how she feels. She feels anything but oppressed. She feels free and liberated.
Let me explain: As women, no matter what race, height, or age we are, we get hit on. When I used to go out in public without the hijab, I suffered constant glances, open stares, and catcalls. When men looked at me like I was a piece of meat at the market, or when they felt entitled enough to make lewd remarks, I felt disrespected, like I needed to run home and shower. Yes, some girls might get a boost to their self-esteem, but I don’t want strangers complimenting me. The only compliments I want or need are from friends and family. I used to get really angry at these men, and curse them in my head or give them dirty looks. Then, one day, I wondered… Is it only their fault? It was partly mine too. If I dressed in a way so that they couldn’t see my body shape, would they still be looking? Probably. Would it still anger me or make me uncomfortable if they looked? Definitely not.
The burqa does not restrict me; it liberates me. No man in the world can ever make me feel disrespected or dirty again. While Annette couldn’t wait to take off the burqa and wear those shorts she had on, when I go out in public, I cannot wait to protect myself and, make private one of my most valued possessions: my beauty.
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