Burqa woman: A 'make-believe' refugee

The one outrageously true aspect about this outfit is that the friends you make in it are your true companions.

Yusra Mujib September 20, 2011
"Excuse me ... I'm almost afraid to ask this, but I have never seen anyone like you before. May I please take a picture?"

Summer hat, sea blue shirt with khaki shorts revealing legs tanned, the right shade of cocoa-brown - how could I say no to this guy? So I pose next to a palm tree and say: 
 “I have my best smile on but I bet your photography can’t do any justice to it.”

As he manages a nervous giggle, I can almost hear his thoughts:
"Crazy woman with a strange sense of humour."

That was justified, of course, considering the fact that he couldn’t see my glowing expression. With a jet black veil covering my face and the rest of my body, I appear little more than a silhouette to most. A single window for the eyes and an accompanying voice, are added features. Now that’s worth a picture, isn’t it?

Approaching a cross-roads, this article can go in two different directions from this point; I could begin explaining my choice to wear the face-veil due to the Islamic beliefs that come with the package, or I could share contemporary experiences that come with the package, only in the 21st century. I choose to do the latter as you can find much better authorities on the former from within Muslim society.

Thanks to the millions of images emerging from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, there are only two nations people associate me with – Afghanis or Arabs. Living in Dubai more specifically, I appear to be a UAE national to many.

Now the UAE is a country where nationals have the greatest privileges in lifestyle and authority. Rightfully so, it is their country after all. Although the association inspires utmost respect and overwhelming politeness in many people, they also assume I know no other language apart from Arabic. You can expect that from any UAE-national but not from me – a Pakistani. That’s where the struggle begins. Speaking fluent and articulate English doesn’t help. One may damage her diaphragm enunciating, however, these fellows will refuse to understand a single word. They will insist you comprehend the four words of Arabic they know and respond solely in that language. Talk about globalization!

Also, talk about global aphasia – the loss of the ability to communicate. The other half of the people, mostly fresh arrivals from the West, assume I am from Afghanistan and appear to be suffering from global aphasia. With that thought in mind, a man walks up to me and without uttering any sound, starts making the most perplexing gestures. I try to make sense of the flailing hands and jerks, sometimes even a chicken impression if they are looking for KFC. I brace myself as I attempt to respond with similarly exaggerated gestures, because a reply consisting of intelligible words and ideas is extremely shocking to many. I rarely make use of them.

That’s not my only reason though. Turns out, an Afghani woman who does know English is a sign of pitiful oppression and must be sympathized with. I’ve overheard people say that my situation involves a talented mind imprisoned by conservative tribal bounds. For fear of innumerable cardiac arrests, I never mention I’m actually not from Afghanistan. I do understand how oddly contradicting that would seem. People would see me in the same light as George Bush – waging wars to make peace prevail.

Nevertheless, ever heard of the old lady who didn’t want to cross the street?

With the Afghani assumptions follow the pat on the shoulders, the motivating words, the visits from understanding colleagues, the taboo subject of my family, and the friendly discussions about the overriding power of government officials. Someone needs to ship these folks to Afghanistan. They will do well helping others; I speak with the authority of a 'make-believe' refugee.

Truth be told, these are just the occasional light-hearted moments I share with strangers mostly. Friends are the highlight of my experience. You see, the one, overriding, outrageously true aspect about this outfit is that the friends you make in it, are your true companions. Their judgment lies solely on your personality and has nothing to do with your nail colour or its brand. That doesn’t stop them from suggesting Batman and Darth Vader for my Halloween costumes, though.

Agreeably, the view from my window to the world is no different from my peers. The tools to operate aren’t any different either. Occasionally though, one may deny her own identity to avoid unwanted company. For instance, when approached by a clingy fellow, one may reply in unrecognizable Taliban-language to make the individual run for cover. But then again, being comfortable in our skin is what’s it’s all about. Fortunately for me, the veil has become a second skin.
Yusra Mujib An aspiring journalist cum graphic designer, with a part-time ninja duty.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Aysha | 10 years ago | Reply Wow, all these people with Muslim sounding names, yet with very unIslaamic comments. What is your problem? You do know that mocking Allah or our religion puts you out of the pale of Islaam, right? I like doing this occasionally (responding to comments on various websites), though it does drive me insane sometimes. Here goes: MJ: You said, "Please do not take this personally but I find niqab, not scarf or burqa mind you, to be quite insulting and I feel as if it is an involuntary judgement of my character." First of all, the burqa refers to the type of covering Afghan women wear (the commonly blue or yellow coverings). Secondly, how can you find the niqab insulting when ALL of the credible scholars (I say credible because, these days, we've got a bunch of "scholars" who don't deserve being called such) have said that it is something that it is at least mustahab - encouraged - if not obligatory? Omq: I don't understand what you're trying to say. It's an all or nothing type of thing for you? She shouldn't wear niqab, even though it liberates her, because there are other issues around? S: Actually, I think it just might be the opposite. I also wear niqab, though not in the UAE but in America. I try to make it a point to say salaam to all of the Muslims that I see and to be friendly and maybe even become friends with them (with the sisters). However, a lot of times, people are not comfortable with me and I'm not the type to push myself on others, so I leave them alone after they make it clear through body language or their manner of speaking to me that they don't want to associate with me. I have my dignity too. However, I guess what you say is also true in a sense. I try to only become good friends with people who I know will better me in how I practice my deen. But that's because the Prophet sal Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam said that a person will follow the religion of his friends. Shumaila: "Nonetheless I consider the burqa with it’s restrictions to be donned at all times and inability to be abandoned without guilt a restrictive form of wear." Donned at all times? I don't know who you hang out with, but I, and all of my friends who wear the niqab, take our niqab, khimar, and abaya off when we get home or are at all girl parties. Secondly, people SHOULD be guilty when they commit a sin, because when one stops feeling guilty, then that is a sign that their heart has hardened. The scholarly opinion that I follow is that niqab is necessary, but even if I didn't, I love niqab too much to ever abandon it. Also, I guess you should say the same thing about regular clothes, eh? Why should women have to wear clothes at all anywhere, anytime (according to your logic)? You also said, "Also know that you are a confident, well adjusted woman (as appears from your article) despite the burqa and it’s restriveness, and not because of it." I became much more confident when I put my niqab on. I'm also much stronger. I live in the U.S. and I started wearing niqab when I was barely 18 and starting university. If I wasn't confident, I wouldn't be able to handle people staring at me wherever I go because I have decided to wear niqab. I wouldn't be able to handle some of the comments (perverted or prejudiced or otherwise) You also said, "What if your wife feels the same way about you wearing a burqa?" Well, that's ridiculous, because the hijab for men is different than it is for women. Men need to cover their bodies from their navel to their knees, grow beards, trim their mustaches, and lower their gaze. We have to cover our bodies (and faces and hands, according to the opinion that I follow) and lower our gazes. Would you have a problem if a man wanted his wife to cover her chest? Would you tell that man, "Well, you should cover your chest too, if you want her chest to be covered?" Again, there are differences between men and women. Our Creator knows best and I choose His Word over yours. MF Hussain: Why give advice in such a condescending way? You do know that many of us have windows and backyards where we can sit where no one can see us? I, personally, get my vitamin D from the sun that way (and some from food, but nothing compares to the sun). And, as you must know, sitting in the sun for just a few minutes a day (up to 20-30 for browned skinned folks) is more than enough sunshine. Parvez: Maybe you should try reading up on the Islamic evidences before you go around talking so confidently as if no such evidence exists for niqab. Balma: "Desi Muslims of Pakistan and India have a terrible identity crises." What in the world? Trying to practice Islaam as the Prophet Muhammad, the best of mankind, sal Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, practiced it, is having an identity crisis? Islam transcends borders. We are Muslims first and whatever ethnicity we are second. In fact, the ethnicity part isn't even important in terms of our actions. It's our religion that is. Jahaan Ara: Actually, that is incorrect. ALL of the (credible) scholars, past and present, say that the niqab is encouraged. And MOST of them say that it is obligatory. All four of the madhaahib say it is fardh. Some people have placed the condition in the Hanafi madhhab that it is only fardh when there is fitnah. But when is there not fitnah? Check the website www.islam-qa.com and look at their evidences for the face veil. Salma: "I wonder how you would feel if the veil was on the other face and your face uncovered." I have been in that position before I started niqab. I was always mesmerized by the niqabis and loved them for the sake of Allah. I didn't have a single bad thought, I just knew that I loved that they wore niqab, though I never said that to their faces. S: "Why is it the right thing (meaning not wearing a scarf is, by definition, the wrong thing)? How many old people are you helping across the street by donning a scarf? " 1.) It's the right thing to do because Allah and His Messenger commanded it. It is sinful to disobey them, so yes, it's the wrong thing. 2) Why is it an all-or-nothing deal for you? Helping the old, giving charity, doing Hajj, praying, lowering one's gaze, covering the way Allah wanted us to, etc are all things commanded by Allah. They are different deeds. Not connected to one another. If one drinks alcohols, they can also do many other good deeds (and still be sinful about the alcohol, but rewarded about the other things). If one wears hijab, one can do many other good deeds as well as commit sins (and be rewarded for the hijab, and sinned for other things). Your argument doesn't really make much sense unless the person in question is not a Muslim at all and just wears hijab, in which case, the hijab is worthless since the condition to good deeds being accepted is for one to be a Muslim Malik: I don't wear niqab because of any men. I wear it because of Allah. Simple as that. I don't care that you are offended that I decide to cover my beauty (or lack of beauty, since beauty is in the eye of the beholder). I wear it because I love to worship Allah and obeying Him in this command is one way through which I can worship Him. Anyways, we all make mistakes and I am a very sinful person. But at least I would never discourage someone from doing something Islaamic which is what many of you seem to be doing.
Honestly | 10 years ago | Reply @Braveheart um, last time I checked men in islam CAN show their upper bodies, as well as their legs.. for them the 'area to be purdafied' only lies between the navel and knees.. I do hope that you know what six pack abs are...? :S How can you refute Malik's comment?? He is right!
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