When I reviewed my last blog post, I realized that I had neglected to share an experience that is important to acknowledge and explore.
Curious to see inside King Abdullah I Mosque, I eagerly followed my classmates, awaiting the hijabs that would be provided. But instead, my female classmates and I were taken to a separate room, where we were instructed to put on abayas, long black hooded gowns. I had expected that I would wear a hijab, and I had covered the rest of my body appropriately for the occasion. But sporting a robe was not part of the plan. Still, I hastened to zip up the robe, and rejoined my male friends. I could tell they were taken aback by the drastic change in clothing, but made no overt comments were made in front of our tour guides.
As we walked towards the prayer hall, I adjusted the abaya, trying in vain to cool off. It was eighty degrees, I was wearing two layers of clothing, and I was sweltering. Soon, my discomfort was manifested through the beads of sweat pooling at the back of my neck, under my armpits, and upon my forehead. It was mentally exhausting trying to focus on the tour while feeling like a human radiator, but thankfully, once I stepped into the prayer hall, I cooled off.
The abaya affected my experience at the mosque – I had expected to cover my head, not my entire body, and when I had veiled, the discomfort of being covered in a dark robe in hot weather stayed with me during my visit. As a result, in the aftermath of the visit, I felt frustrated and irritated. These feelings didn’t stem from veiling, but from the contradictory nature of the situation. Despite that I believe that women have the inalienable right to wear as little or as much clothing as they desire, I didn’t feel empowered when I veiled. How can I identify as a feminist, and support women of different backgrounds, when I don’t feel comfortable in a controversial piece of clothing that is considered both oppressive and empowering? My feelings could be interpreted as a confirmation of the belief that veiling is oppressive.
However, it is important to be discerning. My experience veiling is vastly different from other women’s experiences. I, a Christian woman, was asked to veil out of respect for my Islamic surroundings. Meanwhile, Muslim women veil for a variety of different reasons, whether it’s their religion, background, or culture. Muslim women choose to veil (barring the minority of Muslim women who veil because the government stipulates it). I chose to visit the mosque, and implicit in this decision was a pledge to respect Islam.
Even after reflecting on this experience, I still feel unsure as to why I felt uncomfortable wearing the abaya. Was it because I suddenly found myself outside my comfort zone, as I had originally expected to only wear a hijab? Or was it due to Western feminist beliefs that clung to my consciousness, namely that the less clothes women wear, the more freedom they have? The most difficult part of exploring the world is not discovering the answers to tough questions, it’s realizing that there is no concise answer.