In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
As a child I was debilitatingly shy. I was afraid of strangers, afraid of loud people, intimidated by large men, and hated to be addressed by any adult I didn’t know well. I couldn’t talk on the phone to people I didn’t know, and had a hard time talking to people I did know, but wasn’t close to. I couldn’t run into the store to pick up a gallon of milk while my father kept the car running outside, because I could conceive of nothing more daunting than the task of looking the person at the checkout in the eye, and connecting with a stranger for the seconds it would take to complete the transaction.
Then, at 14, I went to madressah, and that helped a little; after all, it’s hard to maintain such skittishness when your every waking moment is spent with strangers, six or seven of whom are part of your every sleeping moment as well. At around the same time, I donned the niqab, and that was where my true freedom began. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like an object of curiosity, subject to the judgement of those around me, and so I felt free to enjoy my time amongst strangers, not only unafraid to interact with them for seconds at a time, but happy even to talk to them for minutes. This may sound counterintuitive, but think about it. When people stared at niqabi me, they weren’t staring at me, they were staring at my clothes, at my religion, at my way of life, and I was much more comfortable with those being scrutinized and judged than myself or my face. (Besides, the kind of shyness we’re talking about here isn’t exactly logical).
When I graduated from madressah five years later, I was a much more confident woman than the girl who had started there, but I was still pretty shy, and utterly unable to address strangers on the phone. After all, they didn’t know about the niqab between us, and so, in a strange way, I continued to feel open to their judgement for a few more years. (When I say strangers, I mean the simplest things, such as calling a grocery store to find out their hours). Then I went to community college, and that was where I finally shed the last of my shyness. I’m still soft-spoken, and I still don’t like the idea of standing out, (so I won’t wear any color but black, because it feels conspicuous to me, even though I realize intellectually that living in America, what I wear could hardly be more conspicuous), but I am no longer afraid of strangers, and I don’t know when or if that might have happened without my niqab.
I’m not saying it’s for everyone. My little sister, who as a direct result of my early shyness, (somebody had to make those calls and go into those stores) is known for her vibrance and outspokenness, wore it for a few years; but it made her feel cut off from the world and isolated, so she took it off. What I am saying, is that every woman has her own reasons for it, and her own experience of it, all of them worth pondering.
I leave you with this question. When I thoroughly conceal my face and body, what do I leave you to judge me by other than “the content of my character?”