Monday, April 28, 2008

Morning in an abaya

I went on a mosque tour with a friend the other morning. We were told to dress modestly (of course) and to make sure all of our curves were covered (I think I have about one), as well as most of our skin and all of our hair. I was lamenting to a neighbor that I had nothing to wear and she said I could borrow her abaya, which she had received during a mosque tour. Problem solved.

Before we went into the first of the three mosques we visited, I climbed out of the van and slipped the abaya on then struggled with the head scarf. The Muslim women leading the tour were so delighted to see me in it, I felt comfortable immediately. Except, of course, for the heat factor. It was in the 90s and sunny, and I was wearing a long skirt, a t-shirt, and the abaya and headscarf. You do the math.

Which brings me to this post.

5 things I learned in an abaya:

(1) It's hot in there. I don't care how loose the arms are or how flowing the gown itself. It's hot. My friend asked why the men get to wear white thobes but the women must wear black. She said that those are simply the traditional colors here. In other countries, it may be blue or white or multi-colored. She also said that black is less noticeable than white, and women should be inconspicuous when they go out. Ron and I suspect it's also a means of convincing the women to stay home, which is where we were told our place is. Men are expected to attend the mosque for the five daily prayers because their place is outside the home. Women are not expected to attend because their place is inside the home. More and more mosques today, however, have women's sections--generally a balcony area--since it has become more acceptable for women to work, shop, and socialize beyond the boundaries of their own homes.

(2) I didn't feel invisible. Of course, I didn't feel like people were staring me either--at least not past the initial reaction of the women leading the tour who were so excited to see me in the abaya. I realized that I don't pay a lot of attention during the day to who is or isn't looking at me when I'm out shopping or running errands or walking the kids to and from the bus stop. It was a nice realization, even if a bit delayed. Must mean I'm growing up.

(3) I have a small face. When that's all that's peaking out, ya kinda notice it.

(4) There's a reason God gave me hair. I look much older without it.

(5) You have to believe in something to put an abaya on every morning before leaving the house. And you must really want to leave the house.

One of the women guiding us was a Filipino convert and was a Catholic nun before converting to Islam. She wears gloves and socks as well as the full body and face coverage. She said that if men see even a little bit of skin on your hand or foot, they will be enticed to wonder what the rest of you looks like. I realized that some of these women must really live in fear of what the other half of the population is thinking about all of the time and must feel incredibly objectified. Another woman there said that Westerners "teach their daughters from a very young age to dress provocatively." (Apparently she never saw the clothes my mother bought me when I was a teenager.) My initial reaction was to feel defensive and a little bit slapped in the face. But frankly, how many of us buy bikinis for our toddlers and think it's adorable?

So I bought an abaya for myself today, as well as one for Emma. But I won't make her wear gloves--at least not in August.


Ron said...

Great post! as always.

I feel a little "curve deprived" here, especially now that my wife wears an abaya all the time. Looking forward to coming home and going to SandCastle ;)

Brigid said...

I wish you'd posted a picture. I'm having a hard time picturing what you're talking about. Time to do a google image search...