Connect with us

News and Views

For American Muslims, Choosing to Wear the Veil Poses Challenges

Published

Featuring MuslimMatters very own Hebah Ahmed, who adds:

Asalam Alikum we rahmat Allah we barakatu,

Jazak Allahu Khair for all of your duaa and comments. After reading some of the comments on the NY Times page I started to feel down but everyones comments here have lifted me so high. Thank you to all of you for reaffirming our blessed way of life. May Allah reunite all of us in Jannat Al Firdous Insha Allah and protect our children from straying from the path. Ameen.

PLEASE e-mail the reporter, Lorraine Ali, directly and praise and thank her. She has written several positive piece about Muslims and she very rarely gets the Muslim support, so let’s flood her!!!! :)

Here e-mail is lorraine@lorraineali.com.

Source: New York  Times

Behind the Veil by Lorraine Ali

HEBAH AHMED assessed the weather before she stepped out of her minivan. “It’s windy,” she said with a sigh, tucking a loose bit of hair into her scarf. Her younger sister, Sarah, watched out the window as dust devils danced across the parking lot. “Oh, great,” she said, “I’m going to look like the flying nun.”

Hebah, who is 32, and Sarah, 28, do wear religious attire, but of the Islamic sort: a loose outer garment called a jilbab; a khimar, a head covering that drapes to the fingertips; and a niqab, a scarf that covers most of the face. Before the shopping trip, they consulted by phone to make sure they didn’t wear the same color. “Otherwise, we start to look like a cult,” Sarah explained.

When Hebah yanked open the van’s door, the wind filled her loose-fitting garments like a sail. Her 6-year-old daughter, Khadijah Leseman, laughed. Hebah unloaded Khadijah and her 2-year-old son, Saulih, while struggling to hold her khimar and niqab in place.

The wind whipped Sarah’s navy-blue jilbab like a sheet on a clothesline as she wrangled a shopping cart. Her 3-year-old son, Eesa Soliman, stayed close at her side, lost in the billowing fabric.

Most people in the parking lot stopped to stare.

If the sisters were aware that all eyes were on them, they gave no signs. In the supermarket, they ignored the curious glances in the produce section, the startled double takes by the baked goods and the scowls near the cereal. They glided along the aisles, stopping to compare prices on spaghetti sauce.

Two Hispanic children gasped and ran behind their mother. “Why are they dressed that way?” the girl asked her mother in Spanish. “Islam,” the woman said, also telling the child that the women were from Saudi Arabia.

Hebah, who is from Tennessee, smiled at the girl, but all that could be seen of her face were the lines around the eyes that signaled a grin. After nearly a decade under the veil, she and her sister know full well that they are a source of fascination — and many other reactions — to those around them.

Hebah said she has been kicked off planes by nervous flight attendants and shouted down in a Wal-Mart by angry shoppers who called her a terrorist. Her sister was threatened by a stranger in a picnic area who claimed he had killed a woman in Afghanistan “who looked just like” her. When she joined the Curves gym near her home in Edgewood, N.M., some members threatened to quit. “They said Islamists were taking over,” Ms. Ahmed said.

Her choice to become so identifiably Muslim even rattled her parents, immigrants from Egypt.

“I was more surprised than anything,” said her father, Mohamed Ahmed, who lives in Houston with her mother, Mervat Ahmed. He said he raised his daughters with a deep sense of pride about their Muslim background, but nevertheless did not expect them to wear a hijab, a head scarf, let alone a niqab.

Raised in what she described as a “minimally religious” household by parents who wore typical American clothes, Hebah used to think that women who wore a niqab were crazy, she said.

“It looked like they were suffocating,” she said. “I thought, ‘There’s no way God meant for us to walk around the earth that way, so why would anyone do that to themselves?’ ” Now many people ask that same question of her.

HEBAH AHMED (her first name is pronounced HIB-ah) was born in Chattanooga, raised in Nashville and Houston, and speaks with a slight drawl. She played basketball for her Catholic high school, earned a master’s in mechanical engineering and once worked in the Gulf of Mexico oilfields.

She is not a Muslim Everywoman; it is not a role she would ever claim for herself. Her story is hers alone. But she was willing to spend several days with a reporter to give an idea of what American life looks like from behind the veil, a garment that has become a powerful symbol of culture clash.

All that’s visible of Ms. Ahmed when she ventures into mixed company are her deep brown eyes, some faint freckles where the sun hits the top of her nose, and her hands. She used to leave the house in jeans and T-shirt (she still can, under her jilbab), but that all changed after the 9/11 attacks. It shook her deeply that the people who had committed the horrifying acts had identified themselves as Muslims.

“I just kept thinking ‘Why would they do this in the name of Islam?’ ” she said. “Does my religion really say to do those horrible things?”

So she read the Koran and other Islamic texts and began attending Friday prayers at her local Islamic Center. While she found nothing that justified the attacks, she did find meaning in prayers about strength, piety and resolve. She saw them as guideposts for navigating the world.

“I was really questioning my life’s purpose,” Ms. Ahmed said. “And everything about the bigger picture. I just wasn’t about me and my career anymore.”

She also reacted to a backlash against Islam and the news that many American Muslim women were not covering for fear of being targeted. “It was all so wrong,” she said. She took it upon herself to provide a positive example of her embattled faith, in a way that was hard to ignore.

So on Sept. 17, 2001, she wore a hijab into the laboratory where she worked, along with her business attire.

“A co-worker said, ‘You need to wrap a big ol’ American flag around your head so people know what side you’re on,’ ” Ms. Ahmed said. “From then on, they never let up.”

Three months later, she quit her job and started wearing a niqab, covering her face from view when in the presence of men other than her husband.

“I do this because I want to be closer to God, I want to please him and I want to live a modest lifestyle,” said Ms. Ahmed, who asked that her appearance without a veil not be described. “I want to be tested in that way. The niqab is a constant reminder to do the right thing. It’s God-consciousness in my face.”

But there were secular motivations, too. In her job, she worked with all-male teams on oil rigs and in labs.

“No matter how smart I was, I wasn’t getting the respect I wanted,” she said. “They still hit on me, made crude remarks and even smacked me on the butt a couple times.”

Wearing the niqab is “liberating,” she said. “They have to deal with my brain because I don’t give them any other choice.”

Her first run-in with public opinion came, ordinarily enough, while driving.

“A woman in the car next to me was waving, honking, motioning for me to roll down my window,” she said. “I tried to ignore her, but finally, we both had to stop at a light. I rolled down the window and braced myself. Then she said ‘Excuse me, your burqa is caught in your door.’ That broke the ice.”

Her sister Sarah started wearing a niqab around the same time, while completing her engineering degree at Rice University. The learning curve was steep; both sisters found they needed to carry straws for drinking in public, but eating was another story. Once Sarah forgot she was wearing a niqab and took a bite of an ice cream cone. “Humiliating,” she said, shaking her head.

Breathing wasn’t as difficult as they had imagined, but Hebah had a hard time contending with all the material around her.

“I kept losing things or leaving them behind,” she said. “But it’s like when you first put on high heels or a bra. It’s not the most comfortable thing, but there’s a purpose, and you believe that purpose outweighs the discomfort.”

WOMEN who cover totally, called niqabis, make up a tiny sliver of the estimated three million to seven million Muslims in the United States, yet they have come to embody much of what Westerners find foreign about Islam. Hidden under yards of cloth, they are the most visceral reminders of the differences between East and West, and an indisputable sign that Islam is weaving its way into American culture.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy is backing a bill to ban women from publicly wearing the niqab and its more conservative cousin, the burqa, which covers the wearer’s eyes with a mesh panel. Similar legislation is being considered in Canada and Belgium.

In the United States, there have been flashpoints: in 2006, Ginnnah Muhammad, a plaintiff in a small claims case in Detroit, refused the judge’s request to take off her niqab during court proceedings and so her case was thrown out. She later found herself in front of the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing for her right to wear the niqab in court. The high court upheld the judge’s action.

Ms. Muhammad and five other American niqabis were interviewed for this article, in addition to the Ahmed sisters. All of them made the decision to wear the niqab when they were single. And, although the Muslim faith does not require women to cover their faces, all believe the niqab gave them a bit of extra credit in the eyes of God. “The more clothes you wear, the closer you are to God,” Ms. Muhammad said.

Menahal Begawala, 28, was raised in Queens, the daughter of Indian immigrants. She began covering her face at age 19. “I suppose there is some part of me that wants to make a statement, ‘I am a Muslim,’ ” she said.

She is a former grade school teacher now living in Irving, Tex. “I think I blow perceptions because I speak English, I’m educated and it’s my choice to cover,” Ms. Begawala said.

Sarah Zitterman, who as a teenager was a blond California surfer, converted to Islam after living in Zanzibar as a student. In Africa, she felt more at peace with the call to prayer than she ever did at church back home in San Diego. Now 30 and the mother of three in Fresno, Calif., Ms. Zitterman said that being white and American has made her experience under the niqab a little easier.

“It’s less scary for others,” she said. “But the hardest is when kids are frightened. If there’s no men around, I’ll uncover and say ‘Hey, I’m just a mommy — see?’ ”

Most of the niqabis interviewed said that they have received almost as much criticism at their local mosques as at their local malls. Many Muslim Americans do not like being associated with the niqab, saying it gives non-Muslims the wrong idea about their faith.

“The idea of covering one’s face is challenging, even in our community,” said Edina Lekovic, communications director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council in Los Angeles. “For more-mainstream Muslims, the understanding is that you dress modestly and cover everything but your hands and your face. So for a woman to choose to wear niqab is above and beyond what the Koran calls for.”

SARAH and Hebah Ahmed live only a few miles apart in Albuquerque’s East Mountains — Hebah off a winding dirt road with her children and husband, Zayd Chad Leseman, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico; Sarah in a rural geodesic dome with her son and husband, Yasser Soliman, an engineer with Intel.

Hebah and her husband, who is from Moline, Ill., met as graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. By the time they were married in 2003, he had converted to Islam and taken the first name Zayd. People were often confused by the sight of the couple, she said, because he looks like “a corn-fed, Midwestern guy, then he’s walking with this covered women who’s dark — they can tell from my eyes.” She laughed and added, “They must wonder where he bought me.”

Mr. Leseman supports his wife’s decision to wear the niqab. “I am proud of my wife’s conviction to her beliefs, but it took some adjustment being out in public with her, especially with all the stares and comments,” he said.

Once, he said, “we wanted to go to my sister’s softball game, and my mother said ‘Yeah, right! Hebah will have to stay in the van.’ People think because her face is covered that her feelings are, too.”

The sisters make the 30-minute drive to Albuquerque a few times a week to grocery shop, attend prayers at the Islamic Center of New Mexico and drink smoothies at Satellite Coffee. The trunk of Hebah’s car is filled with pamphlets on Islam, English translations of the Koran and granola bars for her children.

When it comes to dealing with the public, she is a niqabi ambassador, friendly and outgoing. “I look at those run-ins with people as an opportunity to explain who I am and maybe shed some light on Islam,” Hebah said. “If they knew me or more about my faith, I’m sure they would think differently.”

She is used to explaining that a niqab is not a burqa and that no, she doesn’t wear it at home. In an all-female setting like Curves, one would not be able to identify a niqabi among the other women in workout gear. It does get hot under the jilbab, but as Sarah explained, it is “sort of like a self-contained air-conditioning unit that circulates cool air.”

Hebah has grown so used to her attire, she often forgets she has it on. “Sometimes I’ll pass a guy who’s looking at me, and I’m like ‘Is he checking me out?’” she said. “Then I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in a window and it’s like, ‘Uh, hello, Hebah — no.’ ”

WHILE driving on Interstate 40, heading home, Ms. Ahmed wedged her cellphone between her khimar and ear, then joked, “Look, a hands-free device.” Sarah rolled her eyes.

There are many types of niqabs, Hebah explained, pulling at least a half-dozen out of her closet. Pushing aside her worn copy of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” she made room for them on the bed.

Her niqabs were made by a seamstress in Egypt whom she met while visiting extended family, but many American niqabis buy their garments online. “You can’t get them here,” Hebah said. “I mean, the ones at the back of our local halal store — hideous.”

As she rummaged through her scarves, Khadijah tied one around her waist and twirled like a ballerina. Muslim women who cover usually wait until puberty to conceal their hair and bodies in public, but Khadijah likes to wear a hijab for dress-up — especially the pink one with sparkles.

Hebah said she wanted Khadijah “to be a confident female who is not victimized or abused.” She explained: “For me, the best way to do that is to do what I’m doing, and not just because Mama told her to, but because of her conviction. At the end of the day, she has to stand in front of God alone.”

When reminded that hers is a rocky path, and it would likely be the same for her daughter, Ms. Ahmed paused, then began to cry.

“People don’t understand,” she said, wiping a tear with the edge of her sleeve. “We’re really strong, but it takes a toll on you. Sometimes you think, ‘I just want to rest.’ ”

Sarah, helping her sister out, said: “We think of paradise at that point. Heaven is where we’re supposed to rest. That’s what gets us through.”

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Ify Okoye is a Muslim woman, a convert, born and raised in the U.S. She is from New York and her parents are from Nigeria. Despite the petty hassles of work and school, Ify finds time to travel usually for AlMaghrib Institute seminars and to visit beautiful places. Pronunciation primer for her name, say it like this: E-fee O-coy-yeah!

72 Comments

72 Comments

  1. Ify Okoye

    June 12, 2010 at 6:18 AM

    Hebah, well done, windy days are always challenging to manage effectively. And yes, the ever-present stares and comments can take a toll on us but I loved the car incident. I’ve had that happen on more than one occasion, steeling myself for the encounter only for it to be a “your dress is caught in the door” kind of remark.

    • Hebah Ahmed

      June 12, 2010 at 6:15 PM

      Jazaks Ify. I think a lot of women especially are going to be able to relate to this story Insha Allah. Its time we show them some Muslim feminism, in a big way. :)

  2. Mariam E.

    June 12, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    Asalamu Alikum

    MashaAllah tabarakaAllah. May Allah reward you and keep you strong!

    • Hebah Ahmed

      June 12, 2010 at 6:14 PM

      Ameen and Jazak Allahu Khair for the very positive words. :)

  3. someone

    June 12, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Mashallah, a lovely read
    Very poignant statement that applies to all Muslims and the trials we constantly face.

    “People don’t understand,” she said, wiping a tear with the edge of her sleeve. “We’re really strong, but it takes a toll on you. Sometimes you think, ‘I just want to rest.’ ”

    Sarah, helping her sister out, said: “We think of paradise at that point. Heaven is where we’re supposed to rest. That’s what gets us through.”

    • Yus from the Nati

      June 12, 2010 at 12:19 PM

      Exactly. that ended nice.

  4. Cub

    June 12, 2010 at 12:17 PM

    MashaAllah! This is so inspiring! May Allah grant these wonderful women the strength to hold on and may He reward them abundantly!

    • Hebah Ahmed

      June 12, 2010 at 6:13 PM

      Ameen! May Allah accept your duaa and keep all of our hearts on His path Insha Allah. The more we get out there, the faster it will be normalized Insha Allah.

  5. Sayf

    June 12, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    LOL @ the ice-cream incident. Hey, ice-cream doesn’t go too good with beards either.

    • abuabdAllah Tariq Ahmed

      June 12, 2010 at 10:58 PM

      Are they checking out my beard? Yes, but because of the food in it. ;) MashaAllah, a very good article. May Allah put barakat in it for the sisters who participated, and may He reward their devotion to Him.

  6. Blue Moon

    June 12, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    I thought it was good news when you said ‘Muslims’ choosing to wear the veil ~ I thought Muslim men had decided to wear the veil !! Only women offend God by not wearing them still!! Muslim men still get to wear western clothes ~ while women wear those from Arabia!!

    • Sayf

      June 12, 2010 at 3:50 PM

      Ironically a lot of women don’t even fulfill the requirements for the dress code outlined for men.

  7. Bahjeh

    June 12, 2010 at 8:05 PM

    Assalamualaikum,

    Here’s my personal story…I hope no one will mind the lengthy comment! :)

    Alhamdulillah I got married few months ago and moved in with my husband just last month (May 2010). My husband took me to the bank to add me to his account (i.e. make a joint account). Alhamdulillah I wear niqaab. I was in the car talking over the phone while my husband went inside to do whatever was needed. So he was inside, gave all my info to add me to his account. The man printed out paper on which I had to sign. My husband came out to the car and I signed on it. When he went inside, the man (who was quite uncomfortable since the beginning ever since he saw my husband’s name!) told my husband “sir, could i see your wife’s driving license for a moment”. My husband showed him my driving license and the man looked at my license then looked at the paper for a minute and told my husband “hmmm sir, the two signatures don’t match. your wife needs to come down”.
    The circus was about to start!!
    So my husband came back to the car and was really confused and told me how this “customer service representive turned signature expert” wants me to come down. So I went in. The moment I walked in, every single employee gave me a stare!
    The man tells me “maam your signature on the paper does not match your signature on your driving license”. I told him “well that is my signature and it does look the same to me. but since there are female employees, i have no problem removing my face veil so they can verify that I and the person on the driving license are the same”.
    The man then went to the woman sitting 2 desks away who was completely free…she looked at me and said “i don’t want to deal with that”. He then took it the woman sitting a desk away from him and this 2nd woman picked her head, looked at me and laughed and said “we don’t need to see her face, make her sign again in front of you”.
    I was standing about 10 feet away from all this and these people assumed I probably don’t understand English. So the man told me to sign again and I did. He paused for sometime and says again “yea see the signatures don’t match. this is can’t go through”. I told him again “make it easy on yourself and tell one of these women to see my face and verify with my driving license”.
    The man then looks at my husband and says “sir this is for your safety that we can not add your wife to your account”. My husband said “this is my account and this is my wife, what safety are you talking about”. We were both confused but at the sametime knew exactly what happened here and we just politely walked out.

    Exactly 1 week later, the same man called my husband and said “sir, we’ve checked things with the information you provided. there is no record of your wife. she does not exist. you need to come in and you need co-operate and bring more documents (and then he mentioned document this and document that)”.
    My husband “hold on, you’re saying my wife does not exist and there is no record of her? what nonsense!”
    Man, “no sir, there is no record of her and if you do not cooperate we will take action against you…we will freeze your account”
    My husband “listen! i know exactly what you mean. firstly, my wife was born here so that makes her as much of an american as you. 2ndly you are making a big fuss over nothing simply because of the way she was dressed. and who are you to threaten me? stop discriminating against us because we’re Muslim. since the moment my wife walked in you all started laughing and making comments as if we don’t understand english. your co workers refused to see her face and verify and now you are making ridculous claims against her and me!”

    My husband then hung up. 2 days later we went to a different branch to talk to a manager. The moment I walked in the clerk at the counter pushed the alarm! Within 3 mintues, 2 police cars came. The manager knew exactly why we were there and she covered up the whole thing by telling everyone “oo sorry folks, don’t worry hahaha we accidently tripped the alarm”. We didn’t say anything. So then the manager talks to us and we told her the full story of what happened at the other branch. This woman just shrugs of everything as if it was nothing “oh sorry to hear that, he must have been a new employee. anyways let me call that branch and see what happened”. She comes back after 10 min and tell us “yea i called and they said you’re wife is not a citizen so that’s why all the confusion”.
    I said “what do you mean i’m not a citizen? i was born here just like you and all my social security number was provided!”
    My husband said “you don’t even need to be a citizen to open an account and all I wanted to do was add my wife to my existing account…and she was born here so definitely she’s a citizen…and also this is not called confusion, this is called religious discrimination”.
    The manger then went through the whole process again and made me sign on the paper…and guess what? It’s been 2 weeks and I still haven’t been added to my husband’s account!!

    We are very upset and want to take action against this bank. My husband is very well known among the Muslim community in Philadelphia…MashAllah he has been a fulltime da3ee here for some years now. I come to this site and read articles every now and then…so any advice would be highly appreciated.

    • Jeremiah

      June 13, 2010 at 2:56 PM

      As salamu alaikum,

      I am sorry to hear about your story. Why don’t you two just move to another bank?

    • Hebah Ahmed

      June 13, 2010 at 3:38 PM

      Asalam ALikum Sister Bahjeh,

      I am so very sorry to hear about this incident and my blood was boiling as I read it. You guys were WAY too accomodating, Masha Allah. Here is my advice:

      1. Call the police and file a hate crime. It would have been best to do this at the bank the first time and in the future you should call the police to the place of discrimination. Even if it turns out not to be a legal hate crime, the police will have to investigate and it is enough to scare the bank. This has worked very nicely for me in the past.

      2. Your husband should IMMEDIATELY withdraw all his money and close the account at the bank. This would also have been best to do during the first incident. You should not continue to do business with such a place.

      3. I am assuming you are American? Call your nearest CAIR branch and file a report with them. They have sent letters in the past for my family and I threatening legal action due to the dicrimination. Employees have been fired and we have been given compensation in response to past incidents.

      4. Find a civil rights lawyer and discuss if you have a case with him.

      5. If you feel comfortable, contact your local media (they all have news lines you can find on their websites) and tell them what happened. This is a great dawah opportunity to explain Islam and Muslim women. I have done this in the past as well and it was very well received by the local tv station.

      Finally, remember how much reward you get everytime you suffer for obeying Allah. Believe that He is giving you an opportunity for Ajer. And many times it is the observers who benefit from watching this type of treatment of Muslims, it helps to soften hearts.

      May Allah increase your reward and strengthen your resovle insha Allah.

      Love,
      Hebah

      • Bahjeh

        June 13, 2010 at 4:13 PM

        Assalamualaikum,

        May Allah reward you for your sincere advice. We actually went to a different bank (Bank of America) and Alhamdulillah they added me to my husband’s account in just 10 minutes without any problem what so ever! And my husband actually called TD Bank (where we were discriminated) and filed a complaint against them last week. But these people didn’t even bother calling us back to apologize or anything. He’s been very busy with community work but did get chance to talk to an attorney, and he will be closing his account with TD…and I left a message with CAIR Philadelphia Chapter. Subhana Allah my husband was saying the exact same thing that contacting media would act as a good opportunity for da3wah as well.
        I’m actually Palestinian but born & raised here in USA. I was getting very angry but MashaAllah my husband kept telling me to remain patient and not to react in any foolish way. Alhamdulillah a small benefit of being married to a da3ee!

        Once again, thank you very much for the advices. :)

        • Javid Abdul-Razak

          June 15, 2010 at 5:45 AM

          Assalamualeykum Sister Bahjeh

          You said

          “Alhamdulillah a small benefit of being married to a da3ee”

          Subhanallah ! If sisters knew what are the great benefits in this life and in akhirat for marrying a daeee, all sisters would be seeking out daees as partners for life and after death.

          Wassalam,

          Your brother in Islam

          Javid
          Lancashire, United Kingdom

          • who?

            August 4, 2010 at 3:35 PM

            i think what you mean to say is if brothers new what are the benifits of marrying and taking care of nikabi sisters, all brothers would be seeking out nikabis for partners

        • Sabah4Allah

          June 16, 2010 at 5:11 PM

          ASA Ukhti Bajeh:

          Bank of America is your best bet. They have a good record and many Muslim customers all over the US. I am so sorry for your horrible experience. But remaining calm is a good example to the non-Muslims that we are peaceful even when we are discriminated against. If we were to react in a negative manner then the non-Muslims would say ” See, those Muslims are all violent and aggressive”. But what happened to you should not be forgotten nor dismissed lightly. I too was born here and am discriminated against almost daily. People yell obscenities, rude comments, “Go back home”, traitor and I have had eggs and rocks thrown at my van.

          You are doing the right things, changing banks, file formal complaint with the bank’s headquarters and contact CAIR.

          My prayers are with you & your husband. May Allah (SWT) make this difficulty easier & give you the strength and courage to forge on.

          JazakAllah khair.
          La ilaha illAllah Muhammadur RasulAllah.
          Uhkti fi Islam,
          Uhkti Sabah

  8. Linda Hodge

    June 12, 2010 at 9:23 PM

    I am sorry that you and your husband had to experience something like that. This is what you can do. The first thing is that you need to write to the corporate headquarters of the bank you went to and explain what happened. If you do not get a response within a week, then seek the advice of an attorney. It is against the Federal Law to discriminate against a person like that. If all else fails, go to the UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (F.B.I.), they are very professional and uphold all laws of the UNITED STATES. They do protect Muslims from this kimd of discrimination.There is an F.B.I office in your every state. Believe me: THEY WILL LOOK into the situation. I wish you luck.

    • mystrugglewithin

      June 12, 2010 at 11:33 PM

      @Bahjeh .. I read it all and am really sorry to know about what happened.. may Allah SWT protect your family.
      @Linda Hodge .. I can’t agree more!

  9. Shuaib Mansoori

    June 12, 2010 at 11:40 PM

    May Allah reward our sisters immensely. One of the BEST articles I have read.

    TabarakAllah! Eesa is 3 years old already! I remember the time I got Yasser’s email about Eesa’s Aqeeqah…SubhanAlalh those were BEAUTIFUL days in Houston…May Allah Bless your families and grant you highest levels of paradise and May He strengthen all of us in the Deen – brothers and sisters alike.

    JazakiAllah Khair sister Ify for posting this here. Could you please correct the typo in the article’s title to For American Muslims…

    • Ify Okoye

      June 13, 2010 at 7:30 AM

      Wa iyyakum, thanks for pointing that out, it’s been corrected.

  10. Umm Reem

    June 12, 2010 at 11:55 PM

    Good job Hebah!

    Is everyone reading the comments on the NY Times article…i think we all need to leave more positive comments there…

    Also, it will be a good idea to send a “thank you note” to Lorraine Ali.

  11. Amatul Wadood

    June 13, 2010 at 3:13 AM

    In the Name of Allah the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful
    Peace and blessings be on our beloved Prophet, his family,his companions and all the righteous believers!

    Salam wart wabrt!

    @ sister Hebah: mashAllah! loved it! u helped the people who think “how is it like to be veiled ” by giving them a “niqab ride” :D

    Well…but how about like going for a mixed wedding party and you are the only niqabi and all the males and females are looking at u and a relative comes and all of a sudden tries to pull off ur niqaab!!! yeah this happened to me but alhamdulillah i was quick to hold it back…but it was really embarrassing! and only because of Allah’s SWT help i was able to hold back my anger at what she did and to behave in a calm and composed manner!

    it’s difficult when people act indifferently but it’s even more difficult when ur family ridicules and is against you for doing this!

    May Allah Swt grant us all istiqaamah in every good that we do and grant us sincerity and purity of intentions and actions!

    but the only relieving thing is that inshAllah all these are seeds that will grow fruits very soon and when we’re gona have those sweet fruits we’ll forget about the bitter moments of sowing the seeds :)

    “After hardship comes ease, verily after hardship comes ease”

    • BintKhalil

      July 4, 2010 at 3:15 PM

      Walaikum salam warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu

      I have had a relative do that with my hijab. Not to mention the number of times I have had uncles coming in and grabbing my hands to shake for Eid. Subhanallah, relatives are my biggest fitna.

  12. Hasanah

    June 13, 2010 at 4:29 AM

    Masha Allah Heba and her sister. I loved the ending soooo beautiful. I just started wearing the niqab, and some days are people are cruel you do feel like having that break. But subhan Allah you turn repentant to Allah and ask to be saved from the waaswassa of shaiton and you get your strength back. I have a young son too and I want him to see the dignity of the woman, whether he wants a niqabi wife is a different story. But I also want him to see that there is nothing extreme in niqab as these ideas are amongst the Muslims even.

    Alhamdulillah for Allah giving Muslim women the strength to don hijab/niqab and men to wear their beard (for lots of men don’t because they fear of loss of rizq or friends subhan Allah!).

  13. Sadaf Farooqi

    June 13, 2010 at 5:10 AM

    Barak Allahu feeki Hebah. May Allah make you a beacon of light where ever you go. May He keep you steadfast and strong in faith. Ameen.
    P.S: Your kids are really, really cute, masha’Allah!

  14. Sally

    June 13, 2010 at 7:27 AM

    @ hebah: Great article.. inspiring even for me as a hijabi! :)

  15. Mohsin

    June 13, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    SubhanAllah. May Allah accept the sacrifices of these sisters. It’s so much easier for brothers in terms of dress and public image. This verse comes to mind:

    Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah ” and then remained on a right course – the angels will descend upon them, [saying], “Do not fear and do not grieve but receive good tidings of Paradise, which you were promised. 41:30

  16. Hebah Ahmed

    June 13, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Asalam Alikum we rahmat Allah we barakatu,

    Jazak Allahu Khair for all of your duaa and comments. After reading some of the comments on the NY Times page I started to feel down but everyone’s comments here have lifted me so high. Thank you to all of you for reaffirming our blessed way of life. May Allah reunite all of us in Jannat Al Firdous Insha Allah and protect our children from straying from the path. Ameen.

    PLEASE e-mail the reporter, Lorraine Ali, directly and praise and thank her. She has written several positive pieces about Muslims and she very rarely gets the Muslim support, so let’s flood her!!!! :)

    Here e-mail is lorraine@lorraineali.com.

    • Shuaib Mansoori

      June 13, 2010 at 11:31 AM

      An Excellent idea! Let the FLOODING BEGIN! :)

      P.S.
      Just sent my email :)

    • Amad

      June 13, 2010 at 12:12 PM

      I’ll be sending one in inshallah
      I encourage everyone to… doesn’t matter if you support niqab or not… its about Lorraine, who constantly does positive pieces about Muslims.
      With Shuaib’s +1, we’re now at +2
      Can we go to +50????????????

    • Sayf

      June 14, 2010 at 3:25 PM

      sent!

      • Mohammad Sabah

        June 14, 2010 at 3:41 PM

        Salaam alaykum. +1.

        • Amad

          June 15, 2010 at 12:14 AM

          great, we are +6 now mashalah.

          • sabirah

            June 15, 2010 at 1:06 AM

            7.

    • Javid Abdul-Razak

      June 15, 2010 at 5:51 AM

      Assalamualeykum

      I wrote an email to Lorraine and got a very nice reply from her.
      Javid

  17. Laila

    June 13, 2010 at 11:56 AM

    “No matter how smart I was, I wasn’t getting the respect I wanted,” she said. “They still hit on me, made crude remarks and even smacked me on the butt a couple times.”

    Wearing the niqab is “liberating,” she said. “They have to deal with my brain because I don’t give them any other choice.”

    I find it troubling that the only option available to this lady against harrassment was to put on more clothes, did the men then stop sexually harrassing her or did it change to another form of harrassment? The message that is being sent out to women is that unacceptable behaviour from men is their fault and its them that need to take action, its women who need to wear more clothes, change their behaviour, but the perpetrator goes on to freely harrass another smartly dressed women. There is nothing liberating i find about the niqab. If a man was to smack me on the butt, he will have my fist in his face and a lawsuit.

    • Hebah Ahmed

      June 13, 2010 at 3:56 PM

      Thank you Laila for your feedback. Unfortunately since the article has a word count limit, the reporter could not explain every aspect of my decision to quit my job and the outcome of that.

      First, understand that the decision to dress modestly and wear niqab is a product of many factors, not simply to avoid harrassment. Above all else, I wanted to do things that I believed would be pleasing to God and follow the example of the pious women before me. Second, I found the niqab to be so elegant and dignified and it appealed to me. Third, I found so many personal benefits to wearing niqab. It reminds me to keep my actions in line with God, to refrain from cussing, to speak softly and with manners, even when attacked, and to check myself with the opposite sex. It was very easy for me to fall into inappropriate situations and this reminded me to speak in a dignified manner. It also has done so much to raise my self confidence level and to accept my body for what it is, no longer caring how I compare to others. It has added respect and value to my marriage. My marriage is that much more special since my husband and I only dress for each other. There are so many more benefits that I have found over the years.

      Second, with regards to my job. After quitting, I became a 1st and 8 th grade teacher and loved the new experience of benefitting the youth in our community. It also taught me patience and humility and how to see concepts that I had learned from different perspectives. It also prepared me for my most challenging job, motherhood. After marrying, my husband and I started our own engineering company and I work with him on various engineering projects. It is a much more convenient and comfortable envrionment for me. The key was not that I was dropping out of society or “hiding”, but rather working towards equal rights on my terms, not someone elses. I was no longer willing to compromise or take abuse in order to climb the ladder of success. I will succeed Insha Allah following God’s way without compromising my moral code.

      Third, lawsuits and “forcing” men to respect women and treat them right will never work. I did file complaints but it only made my work environment worse. Also, behind the bosses backs, they would still do what they wanted. The problem is with the thinking, not just the actions. Only Allah can change the minds and hearts of these men. In the meantime, I refuse to subject myself to their abuse in the name of feminism. I encourage you to read “The Return to Modesty” by Wendy Shalit (she’s Jewish). She addresses this in great detail. Islam is about being practicial and dealing with what is, not what it should be. And since I only have control over myself, that is what I choose to change in the situation.

      I am not asking you to agree, but please support my right to this choice.

      • Laila

        June 14, 2010 at 5:58 AM

        Thank you for replying Hebah. Personally i feel you could have achieved your desires by wearing a jilbab. It does not take a face covering to speak softly with manners and to stop cussing, but its something we work towards to by purifying our hearts. Modesty in my view is to not draw attention to yourself, not to be noticed and i would not like small children to be frightened of me.

        I can fully understand why you would choose to leave your job in such an environment, however feminism is not the problem here, its about justice and wrong from right, millions of women choose to work because its their bread and butter, they love their jobs and have studied and worked hard to be where they are. They are not the ones compromising their moral code or giving men “other choices” other than their brain. You had other options in terms of your career, other women across the world dont. I cannot agree or support a choice which hides a woman’s identity- the face.

        • Sayf

          June 14, 2010 at 3:26 PM

          I cannot agree or support a choice which hides a woman’s identity- the face.

          She didn’t ask for you to support her choice, but her right to choose – there’s a huge difference.

        • Hebah Ahmed

          June 14, 2010 at 3:53 PM

          Dear Laila,

          I understand your sentiments since I thought the same way for a long time. It seems that many people read about my individual choice and project it onto themselves. This is not the point. The point is to try and understand a fellow human being’s experiences and choices, even if you do not agree or would make the same choices.

          You say “Personally i feel you could have achieved your desires by wearing a jilbab. It does not take a face covering to speak softly with manners and to stop cussing”. I understand this is how you feel but obviously I did not find this was enough for me, and only I truly know myself and what motivates me. Islamic Modesty is not about becoming invisible; it is about avoiding sexual/objectifying attention, not any and all attention. There is a huge difference. The whole concept of Dawah is to bring attention to Islam and convey the message, not blend in and walk through life without affecting those around you.

          The way to stop children from fearing you is to educate them, not choose your wardrobe according to their limited comfort zone.

          As for other women and their choices, it is just that, their choice. I learned a while ago that each person is a result of their individual environments and experiences and I can never judge them since I have not lived their journey. Instead, I have to give each woman her own voice and allow her to grow in her own way. It is for Allah alone to judge since He alone can fully understand each individual’s life struggles. Perhaps you too could come to the point where you could try to understand my choices without forcing your own views on me or projecting my choices onto every woman. As the article said, I do not presume to speak for anyone else but myself.

          Finally, I disagree that a person’s identity is in their face. I was taught that a person’s identity was in their values, manners, and inner substance. Niqab merely challenges those who care to try and understand the real identity.

          Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way.

          Hebah

  18. ummmanar

    June 13, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    Asalamu alikum
    Mashallah Wtabarakallah.May allah (swt) reward our sisters who goes through this hard path with janetalferdus add keep you all strong in this life.

  19. SA

    June 13, 2010 at 5:22 PM

    Any time I see a nikabi on the street it inspires me to strive more despite the adversities I may be facing because I know nikabis in general face more hostilities than I as a hijabi will ever have to face.

    On a separate note people always associate nikabis with Muslims but for a lot of people hijabis do not equal Muslims .At least this is what I am finding. I am a hijabi and instead of assuming I am a Muslim people question me about my faith. It feels weird because all of a sudden I am forced to think that they were not judging me based on my religion but based on how I look.

  20. TBM

    June 14, 2010 at 1:00 AM

    May Allah reward everyone who made this article possible.

    InshaAllah, this article will go a long way and we may not see the fruits of it for many years to come. But, it’s works like these that gets readers to think and talk and share their feelings.

    I’ve read almost all of the comments on the NY Times website and even though a lot of the readers find it difficult to grasp, I belive it’s a first step towards learning more about Islam, and that in itself is all we (as Muslims) could want.

    Join me in this dua (by saying Ameen):
    “Oh Allah, guide those who have read this article and enable them to see the beauty of Islam.”
    Ameen!

    May Allah grant us all sabr & istiqama. Ameen!

    …also, +1 to an email sent to Lorraine.

  21. Amatullah

    June 14, 2010 at 2:05 AM

    Jazaaki Allahu khayran Sister Hebah. This article is such breath of fresh air! Nearly every article out these days on niqab is very negative, this was wonderful walhamdulillah. May Allah grant you and us istiqaamah in our deen.

  22. Muslim Stranger

    June 14, 2010 at 4:31 AM

    May Allah bless u in knowledge, good deeds & sincerity. May u always remain steadfast & may Allah increase ur Iman (Faith).
    Aameen

  23. Javid Abvdul-Razak

    June 14, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    Assalamu aleykum to all believers in allah SWt and His prophet Muhammad SAW.
    Here in UK my wife, I and my 12 years old daughter read the article. We laughed and cried. It is a wonderful article; we thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I am a college Physics Lecturer here in United Kingdom. Two of my students wear the Niqab. I have printed the article for them to read. My daughter and my wife both wear niqabs out of their own choice; I did not insist on it.

    May Allah reward you for your efforts and may He bless you with whatever He bestows on people whom He loves. Amen.

    Yours Sincerely

    Javid Abdul-Razak
    Lancashire, UK

    • Hebah Ahmed

      June 14, 2010 at 3:57 PM

      We Alikum Asalam Br. Javid,

      Your e-mail brought tears to my eyes. May Allah reward you for supporting the Muslim women around you in their choices. Ameen.

      Please give my sincere salams to your wife, daughter and students Insha Allah.

  24. Abd- Allah

    June 14, 2010 at 12:57 PM

    “We think of paradise at that point. Heaven is where we’re supposed to rest. That’s what gets us through.”

    SubhanAllah! May Allah reward all our sisters who wear niqaab or jilbab, and may Allah help out the ones who are still struggling to do so and may He make it easy for them. Ameen

  25. Naureen

    June 14, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    I’m sure this will sound so off topic on this post but as I sit overseas, having moved overseas to egypt a few years ago, sometimes I wonder why muslims put up with SO MUCH JUNK related to their deen in the US.

    Honestly, there is alot of difficulty overseas for ppl who dont have money, in other words dunya related stuff. However, for foreigners who are educated, it is not that diffcult to move overseas and get a decent job.

    But just doing the basics of your deen is simply NOT A STRUGGLE here. You can actually breathe,pray wherever u want, wear what u like, send your kids to islamic/(and academically decent) schools.

    It just pains me reading alllll these articles about this discriminatory thing and that and that and the other.

    anyway, im not saying that everyone needs to pack up and leave. but for a lot of ppl, especialy those raising young children, it would really help in alot of ways to lay the foundation.

    • Hebah Ahmed

      June 14, 2010 at 3:35 PM

      I understand your sentiments completely Naureen! We have actually tried several times to move overseas for our children but Allah has not willed it for us AlhumduliLah.

      I did come to realize though that maybe my role is to stay and make dawah. Everytime a new Muslim takes their Shahadah or a non-Muslim’s eyes light up after hearing a talk about Islam, it makes up for the difficulties. Many immigrants say they did not truly embrace their deen until they came to a place that made them struggle to practice it. I have come to believe that sometimes it is better to have suffered injustice, adversity, and oppression in order to learn compassion then to have an easy life in which you may become the oppressor and/or take your deen for granted. Allah knows best.

    • F

      June 15, 2010 at 9:32 AM

      While on the surface it might be easier to practice the deen in countries such as Egypt, it is a very well known fact that if you tried to hold a big conference, you’d either be put in jail or thrown out of the country. So living in a Muslim country has its disadvantages and advantages.

      Moving ‘back’ is not a solution other than for a few. What’s needed is to increase our iman and attachment to Allah(swt) regardless of where we reside. For many, West is much more beneficial in the deen than the East and vice versa.

    • Mohammad

      August 11, 2010 at 4:38 AM

      I think SIster Naureen is paitning an overly rosy picture of life as a Muslim in Egypt; should we ask those brothers who have been harassed for simply practising their religion in Egypt? Or should we ask those sisters wearing Hijab but are nevertheless subjected to crude harassment by some Egyptian men ?

  26. Umm Amin

    June 14, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    Masha’Allah, a nice story. The only thing is that it makes me sad — although I don’t wear niqab I admire those sisters who want to follow in the way of Aisha may Allah be pleased with her. I think all too often, Muslims themselves try to appear more “mainstream” and they forget that some of the most honored women of our religion wore face coverings. Niqab, whether you wear it or not, should not be viewed as something outrageous, but something honorable. We have great scholars of our Ummah that say all but the hands and face are okay, but there are also obinions that if there is a fitna or doubt that the niqab should be worn. May Allah forgive us and make it easy on us. May Allah raise in honor both the sisters that wear hijab and the sisters that wear niqab. May Allah raise and honor the sisters that do not wear hijab but are holding onto their faith.

  27. Umm Amin

    June 14, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    I also wanted to add, one time I had a couple I got to know the wife. I was the first Muslim she had ever met. So she kind of got used to me because I wear hijab and asked me lots of questions. That set the stage for her family to be curious about Musilms. So her husband ran into some niqabi sisters while traveling and wanted to ask a lot of questions because he had never seen a woman dressed that way. He was not Muslim, so he didn’t know it was not ok to approach these women. The woman’s family took it in great stride, the husband and male relatives invited him to coffee, gave him oudh, and talked to him about life and Islam. They were so kind to him, that it really impacted him in a positive way about Islam. And even though they are not Muslims, the nonMuslim woman was so excited when her husband gifted her a jilbab and a niqab. May Allah guide them, but should they not become Muslim just being Muslim and behaving with strength and integrity in the path of your beliefs brings out respect and love for Islam.

  28. hal

    June 14, 2010 at 8:11 PM

    mashaAllah, may Allah increase you in good.ameen

  29. Aliyah

    June 14, 2010 at 10:38 PM

    Bismillah.
    Assalaamu alaykum sister Heba!

    Thank you for having the courage to wear niqab and to speak about your life with it. LOL at ‘windy days’ :) I wear niqab too, and understand exactly what you mean about the stares and comments – I’m still not used to the reactions. Since being blessed with a daughter, I question my ‘selfishness’ for wearing it, thinking that I may put her in danger, may Allah forbid – I recently had something thrown at me while out. But then I read that you go out with your daughter and son with it on and that made me feel stronger.

    May Allah protect the Muslim women who cover themselves (with scarf or with niqab too) from those who wish us harm.

  30. Muslimah stanley

    June 15, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    Mashaallah! This is a beautiful article. Being a niqabi, I relate to this a lot. But with the niqab I use this as a way of giving dawaah to non-muslim women. At my college, I wear my niqab proudly and with no shame. Some are intimidated but others ask questions. I like those who ask questions; it helps kill the ignorance and hatred, alhamduliah.

  31. Amad

    June 15, 2010 at 1:38 PM

    Email from Lorraine in reply (posted with permission), highlighting how important and beneficial it is to acknowledge and appreciate (or criticize) authors’ works. I can attest to it… all authors crave for feedback as it offers a sense of reward/encouragement (or in my case, many times the opposite :) ).

    Well respected authors esp. need to hear from Muslims when they write something positive:

    Amad,

    What can I say? Thank you so much for getting the article out there through your site. In all my years of writing about Muslim-American issues, I have NEVER received so much feedback from the community.

    And as for the comments following the story, it’s true that some are pretty awful, but there are far more thoughtful and positive posts there than I expected. I really believe that Hebah and Sarah’s humanity came through, and that in itself informed at least some of the conversation.

    Regardless, I really appreciate your support and the support of your readers. It makes all the difference.

    Best,
    Lorraine

  32. dayana

    June 15, 2010 at 11:47 PM

    assalammualaikum

    keep istiqomah sister^^

    Visit me too at @ http://www.unand.ac.id/arsipua/datastaff/
    Trimakasih^^

  33. saarah

    June 17, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    mashAllah. the story reminds me soooo much of the days my sister and i go out together. even though, i don’t wear the niqab, i keep telling her she gets more attention than i do :). really admire my sister’s strength; yours too- heba and sarah. may Allah not deny us all the reward of all our good deeds. amin

  34. Abdulmujeeb

    July 3, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    Salamalykum everyone.
    this was a wonderful article. I know doing practising the deen the way it should be is difficult and one becomes a STRANGER but let’s remember GLAD TIDINGS TO THE STRANGERS. I read in one article that they call those that use the niqab dementors(harry potter). i think those that use the niqab are NOT DEMENTORS BUT THE MENTORS. They are the mentors to every woman. i have noticed that it is not the non-muslims that hinder peo[ple from reviving the sunnah but MUSLIMS. Many muslims hinder people from the path of Allah. They look at you differently when you start using the niqab or jilbaab,or you start keeping your beard or wearing your pair of trousers above your ankle. even if our faith has not made us to start practising the deen then let us hope that one day we would be able to and support those that have started. WE SHOULD NOT HHINDER PEOPLE FROM THE PATH OF ALLAH.
    we should rember this ayah in the Quran: “Those who would hinder (men) from the path of Allah and would seek in it something crooked: these were they who denied the Hereafter! Q11.19

  35. Saifullah

    July 5, 2010 at 1:29 AM

    Assalaamuwalaykum

    MashAllah! I loved this article!!

    and Ameen to all the du’as!

  36. Bint Alam

    March 20, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    Sister Heba, may Allaah grant you all more closeness to Allaah and Jannatul Firdous without any reckoning sis. This article brought me down to tears, as it reminded of my days of wearing niqab and till today how people have to give rude comments and stares, but it’s not all about rude comments and stares, there is so much positive sense in this dress code. I too want to share my stories in as a teenager wearing niqab insha Allaah, I did come across some amazing experiences, Alhamdulillah!

    BarakAllaahu feekum all.

  37. Khojestah

    July 10, 2011 at 12:49 AM

    I think women who wear niqaab are really strong! It must take guts to walk out the door! May Allah reward them for their struggles!!!

    And so agree, abaya + wind + snow = complete disaster!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

MuslimMatters NewsLetter in Your Inbox

Sign up below to get started

Trending