We had visitors today–Paola and Chris– from the Dominican Republic, who told us they never see Muslim women in abaya, or hijab,on their island. In fact, they don’t think there is a mosque in the DR.
They are both friendly, social, well travelled, professionals. Lawyers. It was interesting to hear their comments on how they react to seeing a woman in black with face covering–whether in the States or Europe. “She looks as if she wants to be invisible.” “I don’t know if is all right to speak to her or not.” “Would it be insulting to smile?” “I can’t see her expression so I don’t know if she’s approachable.” “Could I ask her a question?” “I know she doesn’t want me to touch her or to bump into her.”
Not many people know much about Muslim women and their garments. Most of us think it is an ancient way to dress. In fact it is not. The outfit I am wearing, and the full black ‘cage’ is a new fashion in Middle East. Prior to the late 70s, early 80s women were not required to wear the body covering garment. They might wear head covering as simple as a scarf and dressed modestly. The change came when the religious fundamental cleric class made the laws regarding women’s clothing.
What surprised me a lot, too, was finding out an abaya actually goes out of style. “But they’re all the same!” Not so. A abaya has about a two year fashion span. “How can that be?” The cut of the sleeve. Trim on the hem. Cut on the bias or not? The fabric. The neck closure.
So far, on Day 10 only two people have acknowledged me being there in the space: at a Lebanese/Middle Eastern grocery store. Both were women who said ”Excuse me” in Arabic when they wanted to get past me in the aisle. I’ve spoken to maybe a dozen people, mostly to ask directions or to offer my seat on the subway. I think, in general, most people don’t even notice me when I wear the abaya, and those that do don’t know what to think. (Unless they obviously scowl at me when I am out alone, or at my husband when he accompanies me.)