I assume that this is not a universal rule but one thing I have noticed about people is that it is always easier to make fun of something one has never experienced or something that one does not know (anything) about. If something goes wrong with the joke or someone gets offended, these people think that they can still defend themselves. All they need to do is to say: How was I supposed to know?
That is true. Most people don’t know. Usually because they never tried. But I think that those who actually dare to make serious fun of other cultures and their customs are people of ignorant nature.
As a sequel to my previous article on the issue of adapting to a new culture, I decided to write about wearing niqab as a foreigner in Saudi Arabia.
Now, before all of the complaints and accusations come down on me, I am aware of the fact that my experience is not and most likely will never be, the same as the one of a local woman who covers up because of her belief. My experiences are the experiences of a white woman putting on a face veil because of where she lives. Whether that is of any value to you or not is your decision. I am not putting myself into a position to say that I am better or worse than any other woman in this society by doing so because I am none of the above.
I have heard western people make fun of the niqab and abaya for so long, that I started to feel sorry for the women here, even though most of them may not know what the others are saying. So, my main objective was to try and respect local norms by dressing what in this country is considered modestly as well as prove all of those wrong who, in a mean way, make fun of the way that Muslim women here dress. Bottom line is: If I can adapt, then why can’t the rest of the expats? I am, after all, not from Saudi Arabia but from Europe, hence I would be expected to join the joking but I chose not to. I am not even saying you have to go all the way into this. Just stop complaining about the basic things that are asked from you, please.
At this point, most people will ask me: But WHY are you doing this? You know that you don’t have to! So why?
Well, that’s exactly it. I actually do not have to cover my face up to my eyes. I can do that a couple of times every time I am among Saudis and if I decide that I don’t like it, I can just take it off and pretend the whole thing never happened. A Saudi woman however, would probably not have this choice and because I know what advantage I and other western women have in that aspect, I was even more encouraged to put on my niqab as a try. Temporarily of course.
Covering up is not difficult, once you learn it, it does not take up too much of your precious time and it does not hurt you physically. So, give me a good reason why someone should not at least try and do what others do? That is of course, unless you are Saudi and think that it is disrespectful for non Muslims to dress like one, in which case I want to apologize in advance. Disrespect was never the intention but the contrary. If any of my readers are Saudi women but disagree with the veil, then I respect that opinion just the same.
As I pointed out, hiding your face behind a veil, especially if you live in a country where a significant majority of women do this, is not as horrifying as western people think it is (given the fact that there is always the option to take it off again if you are white). At least for me it wasn’t too bad and am I not just a human being like the rest of you? Surely, black is not the best color to wear outside at such high temperatures, but personally for me, that was the only obstacle I faced in putting on a face veil.
The most spread rumor about the niqab is that women who wear one apparently can’t see a thing. If you happen to be one of those people, then I have a huge surprise for you. If a woman wears a niqab that leaves her eyes free (and that is the one the rumors are about, too), she can see totally fine. Just as she would if her face was not covered. My niqab met at the very border of my glasses above and below and I was still able to see everything clearly.
I tied up everything at the back of my head, placed the pins where they belonged and looked at myself in the mirror. It was quite a strange feeling at first. But not because I felt too uncomfortable about it.
When I was a little child, I saw women every now and then who would have everything covered, except for their eyes. Since I was small and the women taller than me and mostly all in dark color, I could not help but be afraid of them. And now here I was and what looked back at me out of the mirror, was one of my childhood fears. I have , at least visually become what I was afraid of. That is, if you ask me, an ironic coincidence and interesting feeling.
I did not feel uncomfortable while walking around the mall. I did not feel oppressed or anything of that sort. The world was not about to end. I was exactly like the majority of the women around me and nobody looked at me like I belong into the zoo. Men did not turn around after me like they usually would if my face or even parts of my neck were visible. After three years in South East Europe, where inappropriate comments about my appearance from men no matter what I was wearing were daily routine, that was a very relieving experience. Nobody asked questions. Nobody accused me of being dressed immodestly, hence not a single religious police officer had a reason to approach me and tell me what is right and what is wrong. I was left alone and theoretically just belonged into the crowd like everyone else.
I remember back when I had to wear a uniform to school in order to look modest and professional, some of my female teachers thought that the idea of professionalism in clothing did not apply to them and some showed up every day like they were just about to take their purse and go party at the club across the road. I do not know too sure about my peers but I was nearly offended by that behavior. I was ( and still am) young and pretty, too. Why did I have to look like a sack of potato, while some of the staff were showing off what nice curves they had? Did I not have the right to be pretty, too?
With that in mind, I felt good about the fact that due to the way I was dressed, I was not offending anyone who believed in modest clothes. Every time I am in school now and see a covered up woman walking to the cafeteria, while I pass by in my leggings and heels, I do feel pretty bad, to be honest.
So I think that just for the sake of respect and not to make those uncomfortable who would be, it is worth it to adapt to rules. It does not have to be the full cover but at least do the best you can. There will always be some people who appreciate that and is that not an awesome feeling to have, when someone appreciates something you do?