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She Is neither a ‘Ninja’ nor ‘Ghost’, She Is Just Wearing Black

Sep 20, 2007

By Sameen Tahir-Khan

Since 9/11, Muslim women who live in the West and dress in traditional Islamic clothing have seemingly become easy targets of abuse by bigoted ill-informed people. The expressions 'ninja'? and 'ghost'? have become common terms used to insult women dressed in black. Arab News spoke to three Muslim women who live in the US and cover themselves from head to t' wearing the Niqab.

Samar is Saudi woman originally from Riyadh – For the past seven years she has been living with her husband, a Saudi government employee, in Columbus, Ohio. Samar told Arab News that people regularly stare at her. She said, 'After what happened on 9/11, I was approached by an American man who told me to go back home.? Samar says she just ignored the man and continued walking. 'Some people think I never take off the Niqab even when I go home. Others accuse my husband of forcing me to cover up,? she said. 'I remember a woman once asked me bluntly if I was too ugly to show my face. Another time a shop assistant in a grocery store angrily asked my husband why he made me cover up while his own face was uncovered. Before my husband could reply I asked the woman whether her husband wears makeup because she d's. The woman was shocked to learn that I could even speak English,'? Samar said.

On the other hand, some Americans are intrigued when they see women dressed in Abaya. Samar said, 'In general I am respected and admired for wearing the Niqab. Americans have told me they find it awesome that someone can do something so drastic as covering their face for their beliefs.? Samar's driving license includes a picture of her in a Niqab. 'When I went to get my license I was told that I had to be pictured without my Niqab, I told them that I would think about it and went home. On reaching home I offered the Istikharah prayers and a few days later went back to the licensing agency. Again I explained to the woman at the counter why I could not take off my Niqab. This time she thought for a few minutes and allowed me to have my picture taken with a Niqab,? said Samar.

American Muslim revert, Amal can be seen almost every week at the grocery shop moving up and down the aisles like a black tent. Employees are used to seeing her but she says she still gets people staring at her every now and again. 'I have been fortunate; I have never had any major problems with wearing the Niqab. In fact, believe me, I feel more protected because people tend to leave me alone. Occasionally a small child might say something like ninja, but that's about it,? she said.

Amal is also one of the first women to wear the Niqab in her office. 'I had applied for a customer service job and got invited to an interview. When I arrived the receptionist looked very surprised. I was interviewed by a man and was hired for the job. 'As long as what you are wearing d's not interfere with your work it shouldn't matter.? This is what she was told. Amal worked in the office for two years, during which women only got to see her when she was in the ladies room. 'I was very well accepted and had no problems with the Niqab, but I understand that lots of women have problems getting employment and they prefer wearing the Hijab, that's their choice. For me Niqab is the best option, I was convinced to wear it after I read Surah Al-Ahzab in the Quran.?

Another woman who wears the Niqab is Fatima from Houston. 'The only time I find the Niqab a little cumbersome is when it's a little hot,? she said. Fatima leads an active life helping her self-employed husband run his web designing business. Fatima has been wearing the Niqab for over ten years and has never had any problems except once when at hospital. 'I was in labour with my first child and was trying to hurry and get inside. In the hospital corridor I felt something like glass falling on me. I thought some bulbs had broken but soon something else hit me. Some people came running to enquire if I was all right, it was then that I found out another patient was throwing his food at me because he didn't like me,? she said.

The one misconception a lot of people have about a person wearing Niqab is that they think we don't speak English. 'Most people turn to my husband in English when they want to speak to me,? she added. Fatima feels that post September 11 life has become difficult for Muslims in general, not just the women that wear Niqab. 'Its easy to wear the Niqab in the US because here everyone is entitled to personal choice, even the KKK is allowed to march here.?

Speaking about other Muslims who sometimes feel that Niqabis are following a far too extreme version of Islam and therefore making life difficult for mainstream Muslims, Fatima says, 'Those Muslims are either concerned for our safety or they are insecure about their place in American society."

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