How it feels to be an outsider
By LOUISE PEMBLE
TO walk around
I had the full support of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, whose president, Ameer Ali, viewed it as a chance to highlight some of the issues faced by
Later, as I was waiting at the crosswalk outside
My senses were on high alert the minute I stepped out of The Sunday Times building. Most people did a double take on seeing me and then either gave me a hostile stare or in the case of several young women smiled encouragingly. It soon became obvious that many people thought I was dressed this way as an act of defiance. In their view, I was snubbing my nose at the anti-Muslim feeling said to be running high in the Australian community.
I had heard of Muslim women being spat at and abused. One woman even had her headscarf torn from her head at Carousel Shopping Centre. In the morning, I was accompanied by a Muslim woman wearing the headscarf, but not the facepiece that I wore. In our two hours of walking around the city we were twice subjected to vilification. “Imagine how this must affect you if it happened every time you left your house,” she said. It was then I realised how much we take for granted our right to feel safe in our own community and how people take only seconds to decide if you are friend or enemy.
But for every snide remark and hostile stare, I was surprised by the extra respect I was shown by young men and women. Every shopkeeper I approached was much more polite than I had experienced when dressed in my usual clothes. And on a train, where I feared I might be regarded as a suicide bomber, I was twice offered a seat. It was a similar story on a bus, which was standingroom only. By this stage I had removed the niqab so that my face was showing but nothing else. This seemed to ease some of the tension I had sensed earlier in the day.
Back at the office, workmates asked me how uncomfortable I had been walking around
On the plus side, I found being hidden under all those garments surprisingly liberating. For the first time I was able to walk down the street without the usual scrutiny of my figure, face and hair. On the downside, dressing as a Muslim woman showed me how it feels to leave home every day unsure of your own safety.