Thursday, July 19, 2007

Behind the veil

I stood and spoke with Sarah Zitterman for several minutes Wednesday night, and I have no idea what she looks like.

All I could tell for sure is she has fair skin and blue eyes that crinkle when she smiles, and she's about 5'6". Her nails might be painted bright red or her figure might reveal that she's had two children or she might have great legs. But all of that was hidden under a flowing gray dress and black veil.

The observant Muslim woman came to speak to the class I've been taking. By her own choice, she covers her entire body aside from her eyes when in the presence of men she is not related to. It forces you to notice that she's very smart and a wonderful advocate for her faith.

As part of her presentation, she talked about it, and said it was one of the first things she loved about Islam before she converted. "It means (the wearer) is protected. She is not judged by what she looks like." In our super-sexualized world that's actually pretty appealing.

I have to admit I was fascinated. Although I have visited the local mosques several times and I even have a scarf to cover my hair when I go, none of the women I have met cover their faces. To see it in person, in this country, surprised me and brought both the silly and sincere questions to mind. Was it hot or annoying? Is it strange to talk through? Why is it necessary to take the requirements for modesty that far?

But her first half-sad, half-funny story about the veil reminded us all not leap to judgements. On numerous occasions, she has been in Wal-Mart only to hear people right behind her talking about her and her clothing because they assume she doesn't speak English. She grew up in California.

"On good days, I turn and say 'May I answer some questions for you?' And on bad days, I don't say anything - hopefully."

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