Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hijabi for a Day



[The following is an article my daughter has written for the newspaper of her Jewish community day school of which she is co-editor. She asked me to thank the many people who helped her with interviews. She would have liked to use all the words of everybody if only time and space would permit. She looks forward to your comments.]


Hijabi for a Day
by Sara Weissman


WHY HIJAB?

From the businessman’s suit to a goth’s band T-shirt, we all know that clothes are more than cloth. What we choose to wear is a sign of who we are, what we aspire to be, and how we choose to represent ourselves. So imagine wearing your heart on your sleeve, or rather your religious devotion over your head. The concept of hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women, is less simple than it seems.

For this month’s Challenge to the Editor, I wore hijab for one day. Hijab, which literally means “to veil,” is the code of modesty for Muslim women past puberty. The requirements for hijab consist of covering most of the body including hair and avoiding perfume and tight, transparent, or flashy clothing.

The choice to try wearing hijab for a day was as much as an internal experiment, as an external one. Considering the scary and relatively new phenomenon of Islamophobia, part of it was to see if people treated me differently. But more than that, it was a way to take a tiny glimpse into something larger, a practice meaningful to millions of people and the idea that, though the clothes don’t make the woman, they can say a lot about what she believes in.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND:

Before taking scarf in hand, I wanted a better understanding of where the idea of hijab comes from. Though there are multiple references to hijab in the Qur'an, in al-Ahzaab 33:59 it says, “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allaah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” Another, al-Noor 24:31, says, “And say to the believing women…that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers…” and it goes on to list others.

After reading the above paragraph, your inner American, feminist may be a little miffed. Mine was too. In fact she grumbled quite a bit about the seeming patriarchal tone, the same I struggle with when discussing women’s modesty in my own religion. But many Muslim women feel very differently. In fact, they feel quite the opposite, embracing hijab as a freeing as opposed to forced expression of their faith.

“For me, the hijab is more than modesty; it is a liberating fact,” said Sara Khalil, 25. Born in Saudi Arabia, Khalil lives in Canada and has been wearing hijab since 2005. “It has allowed me to perceive myself as an individual outside the bounds of physical beauty and attraction, and further project a confidence that is independent of others' judgment,” she said. Samara Gabriel, who converted to Islam in 2010 and runs a blog called ImInItForTheScarves.com, holds a similar view. “My body is a private thing. Mine,” she said. “Not to be shared with the world. It also means that I dress to please God, not men on the street.” Gabriel’s beliefs were reaffirmed by an incident with her editor, when she worked for a local newspaper. “The editor angrily made the comment ‘What if I WANTED to look at you?’ As if it was his right. That is a good example as to why I love wearing it. I don't feel anymore as if I need to flip my hair around or show off my boobs or my butt to get attention. I love Pink's ‘Stupid Girls’ as an example to what I mean,” she said.

Zara Asad, 19, explained that hijab for her is also an expression of her spiritual struggle. “It’s the covering, the cloth that protects my heart from any filth coming in,” said Asad. “It’s my shield. Everyday is a battle against improving myself and fighting distractions around me. It’s a very vital part of me.” Asad began wearing hijab when she was 17. Though both her mother, originally from Pakistan, and her sister wore it, she was afraid of what her friends and predominantly white, New Jersey community would think. But after she wore hijab, Asad said she could never go back. “When I first wore the hijab I felt like myself, a Muslim, for the very first time in public,” she said. “I felt like I could breathe for the first time.”

Others also relate to this sense of identity that comes with hijab “Our hijab is both our modest covering and a badge of our identity, “ said Rania Abuisnaineh, a 20 year old from Minnesota with family from Hebron. “People immediately recognize us as Muslim when they see our hijab, just as they recognize a Jewish man from his yarmulke or a Sikh from his turban.” However for her and others, hijab’s meaning lies in more than identity and modesty, but in the belief that it is a law from God. “When people ask me why I wear hijab, my first response is always this: ‘Because it is a command from Allah; and He knows what is best for His creation more than the creation know what is best for themselves,’” Abuisnaineh said.

Still, reactions to hijab in the modern world can be mixed and some Muslim women see a disconnect between who they are and how they are perceived. .” Shameela, however, who was born in India and now lives in Qatar, has seen these perceptions overcome. One of few Muslims in her city, she wore hijab since she was 12 and said that when she went to college, her friends saw a new side to Muslims through her activism at the university. “They came to know that wearing hijab is not a sign of oppression, and that wearing it does not make any women inferior.” Hind Yousef Khalifa, who is a resident of Abu Dhabi, also elaborated on this point. “It (hijab) doesn't stop a woman from practicing any aspect of her everyday life,” she said. “We study, we drive, we work, we go out with friends, we volunteer and do community work and are very active in society.”

A DAY WITH HIJAB:

With all of these women’s words in mind, on a Wednesday morning over winter break I decided to put on hijab. I stood in front of the mirror, staring at the red cloth clutched in one hand and three safety pins in the other. Following the careful steps of a youtube tutorial, I slowly wrapped and pinned until the fabric finally resembled a headscarf. I looked up at the mirror, proud and a little unused to the lack of auburn frizz in the reflection that staring back at me.

With some self-conscious jitters, I went about my day as usual. I drove my family to the doctor’s, looked at old pictures with my mom, and spent the rest of the day at Fashion Island, looking for belated Chanukah gifts and hanging out with my grandma. But, I felt different. Even if it wasn’t my own religion, I suddenly felt like I had to reflect what the scarf represented. I tried walking straighter, grinned at strangers, and tacked extra pleases and thank yous on every sentence to the sales clerks at Macy’s. Despite feeling like I looked different, wearing hijab made me feel more comfortable in some ways. It reminded me of those mornings when you put on a favorite a baggy sweater, too relaxed to dress to impress. There was a certain calm in feeling like I didn’t have to look cute for anyone.

At the same time, wearing hijab attracted some unwanted attention. Walking through Fashion Island produced long stares, mostly curious but a few hostile. One man continued glaring even after I looked him in the eye while a saleswoman, chatting up other customers, spoke curtly and would not look me in the eye at all. Still, the amazing thing is the number of odd looks was nothing compared to the number of smiles. Throughout the day, I got wide grins from absolute strangers.

I would like to say I reached some mind-blowing conclusion after thinking on the experience and unpinning my scarf that night. What I came away with was more modest, but I still think entirely worth it. After a day, I can’t claim to know what it’s like for women to wear hijab: how it feels, what they believe, or how they are treated. Still, I ended the day impressed by women willing to hide parts of themselves but at the same time stand out, for the sake of their God and their religion. In the end, the biggest lesson I learned was that clothing can be fabric or it can reflect who a person wants to be. For Muslim women, hijab is a constant reminder that they are always aspiring toward better observance of their religion. The take-home message I got from a day in hijab was we can change our clothes but more importantly our clothes can change us. The question is what do we want them to reflect?

62 comments:

  1. What an insightful and compelling article. Well written and candid; a great read! :)

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  2. Sara, this is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing your journey and allowing us to also understand and learn.

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  3. I have often wondered what it would feel like to wear hijab or niqab, and how I might be treated as I went about my day. I really appreciate your courage to step outside your comfort zone, Sara. It sounds like you developed new insights and deeper empathy and respect for our Muslim sisters. You have shared your learning very eloquently and humbly with us in this article. Thank you and God bless.
    Ashley

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  4. Great post. Thank you Sara.

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  5. This is awesome! The hijab is truly a blessing & I am glad you got to experience it. Well written, great job :)

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  6. Great piece, keep it up! I think it wouldn't be fair if we dont appreciate the man behind this unusual Blog. YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB!

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  7. An insightful piece. Thank you for your courage.

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  8. Very aspiring article, I've really enjoyed reading it .. Very well written and prepaired , felt like I've been with you in your journey.
    Great job and keep it up.

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  9. Nicely written. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  10. This was such an amazing read. As a woman who wears hijab, your insight and background research and knowledge of hijab was so impressive. Loved it!

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  11. Kol hakavod to you for taking this on and for writing so beautifully about it.

    I find that when I wear my kippah, I have a similar experience -- it reminds me of God above, it nudges me to try to live out the best side of myself and to smile at people and to try extra-hard to represent my religious tradition in a positive way.

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  12. nice story! well written extemely insightful. its great that you tried it our for yourself to get a better understanding!

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  13. This is a very nice piece of investigative journalism, and a well-written article. I'm impressed.

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  14. Sara, you did a wonderful wonderful job! People like you and your dad are rare in this world. Hijab and niqab are a blessing from God. It frees me from the thought of pleasing others and reminds me of my Lord. Great insight and an inspiring article! May God (Allah) bless you!

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  15. thank you And May The Almighty Bless you and your family with his Love and Protection.
    Sadia

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  16. I suspect all the smiles you received were more because you made the effort to smile more, and probably first, than because you were wearing the hijab. Regardless an interesting exercise and great article!

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  17. Salam alaikum (May peace be upon you),

    Thank you for posting your daughter's article. I commend her for taking the time to research and experiment with hijab. The article demonstrates your family's open-mindedness and appreciation for diversity.

    I can relate full well to the complete change of dress from one day to the next. Except that my "experiment" is life long and has progressed to wearing niqab (face veil) as well. What a freeing experience it is! As an American who converted to Islam, I cannot imagine taking it off now, alhamdulelah (thanks be to Allah).

    I'm pleased she took a day to try it and experienced for herself the inner sense of change. May Allah guide your family to HIS path as you continue on your open-minded journey in this life.

    With peace and love,

    -Aisha, Natural Mom

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  18. Great article and observations. As a non-hijabi Muslim woman especially, I appreciated Sara's unique insight and food for thought. G-d bless you both, Sara & Lee, for representing (and actively promoting!) the best of humankind :)

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  19. Wow, this is an incredibly well written article. I commend Sara not only for wearing hijab for a day, but for researching both the ideological and sociological aspects of it. She reached an understanding that takes some Muslims many years to reach! :)

    Thank you
    -Sarah M.

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  20. Thank you for the article Sarah. I feel that the hijab makes it easier for me to behave in a modest way myself, in that men are likely to make advances to me, and its easier to keep things respectful between us.

    Thanks again.

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  21. This article was beautifully written, Sarah! I'm a Hijabi myself, but it's different for me since I have been wearing it since I was nine which is why I think I don't really remember the feeling of worldly sacrifice and personal desire, so to say. I am 18 today and I'm absolutely positive that my views on hijab have grown with me as I have grown older and there is nothing in the world that will ever make me remove my veil. It's refreshing to read about someone who is not a Muslim to feel what we feel. Also, receiving smiles and Sallams when going out to the mall or to a restaurant from absolute strangers is a wonderful feeling indeed.. makes the connection of that sisterhood even stronger :)

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  22. Those women who want to wear a Hijab , it's matter of their individual choice,and they have every right to wear one, and those who don't feel like wearing a Hijab ,then it's their right too.What they choose to wear is entirely their own personal choice,and it's nobody else's business to comment on that.Nothing should to be forced on an individual.

    And we men also have our rights which include ignoring or even entirely boycotting those women who stereotype all or most of our men to be perverted creeps leching after uncovered women all the time.

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  23. I read something profound yesterday, which makes a lot of sense to me, hope it does for you too:

    To make sure a female's personality and profession is acknowledged, her body (as the first point of contact) must be covered in a decent way. Otherwise, her personality will be concealed by her body.

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  24. "To make sure a female's personality and profession is acknowledged, her body (as the first point of contact) must be covered in a decent way. Otherwise, her personality will be concealed by her body." So it's ONLY about women, of course. It is perfectly possible to be modestly dressed without sartorially shouting "I'M RELIGIOUS! CHECK OUT HOW PIOUS I AM!" If you have self respect your day-to-day life doesn't revolve around having to look "cute" for anyone anyway. Wearing a badge - any badge - necessarily sets you apart from anyone who's not of your gang/tribe. It says that you don't think highly enough of those NOT in your unit/group to risk anyone thinking you might be anything to do with them. Even if it's not about internalised repression, it surely can't be a good thing to make the FIRST thing people see about you - before even you open your mouth or make eye contact - is that you are different from them.

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    1. Everyone is different in some way. Unless we all wear the exact same uniform, our clothes do send a message, whether it be hijabi, Hasidic, punk, or corporate America in a budsiness suit.

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  25. it's not that people who dress to impress don't have self respect, they're human beings and we all want approval to some degree from our peers. The hijab is a reminder that the more important thing is our character not our looks. And we don't have to all look the same to equally value each other.

    It says that you don't think highly enough of those NOT in your unit/group to risk anyone thinking you might be anything to do with them.

    If that's the message someone's getting they might be a little too self centered. I dress the way I do for my own reasons. Besides we're all different heights, weights, colours, shades if the first thing someone sees is the differences then once again that says a lot more about them then the person they're looking at.

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  26. Height, weight, colour and shade are not a matter of choice. What you wear (at least in in western democracies) is. If you choose to wear a certain badge (be it about political affiliations, religious belief or what music you like) you can't be surprised if people respond to the badge and not the person behind it.

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  27. I very much enjoyed reading this and am SO glad to see positive Muslim-Jewish relations on this little blog, especially what with the propoganda you hear in the media about Jewish-Muslim relations. I am a Muslim and I thank you and others like you, be they Jewish or Muslim, to take the steps towards better relations between our communities. Salam! :)

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  28. I love that you willingly explored a religion you are not a part of. It pleases me when individuals from different faiths are positively curious about different religions. I enjoyed reading every word! Cheers!

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  29. Outstanding article! As a Muslim woman following Allah's commandment and struggling to understand the importance of Purdah myself, and trying to explain to others sometimes, I feel your article lists all the possible explanations. Knowing the difference between modesty and immodesty, I increasingly feel very disappointed to see how many women are portrayed on our media- merely as sexual objects especially in songs and videos. It is then that I realize how my hijab elevates my standard as a woman.

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  30. This is not the first story I've heard of a non-muslim "trying out" hijab to see what it would be like, and sometimes I find their reasoning or experience very puzzling. Yours struck me as respectful and thoughtful, thanks for taking the time to explore and write it up!

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  31. I enjoyed your post very much. I am an American convert to Islam who wears hejab. I commend you for taking on this challenge and sharing your experience with others. I would love to see it taken one step further. Wear the hejab and ask people why they responded to you the way that they did, be it good or bad. Especially the bad. See what they have to say when they are confronted with their own ignorance.

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  32. It's interesting reading this. I am an ex-Hijabi, and have worn the Hijab out of religious conviction for 6 years before taking it off (and being harassed for that). I guess the part that struck me the most was how, at the end of the day, you can simply unpin it when you're done. That choice is not there for many women in Hijab.

    Of course this article is about "Islamophobia" and the image of Hijabi women. But it's also important to point out that not all Hijabi women are living happily-ever-afters with their Hijabs.

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    1. I hope you are happy with yr choice, sis. I decided to wear hijab because i learn what quran says & hadith says. Allah wants believers (women) to act when they go out, & certain people that can see us without hijab. Im happy because im doing what Allah tells us to do. So far, i wear dresses, parfum, etc at home for exclusive people only (husband & kids). I feel calm cause what im doing based on islamic teachings in quran & hadith. Still, im thirsty of doing kindness to surrounding, improving personal characters. I enjoy my life now cause of my goal, and happiness is in simple things. I dont mind hanging out with non muslim people, helping each other. God and me relationship is very private, and people around can enjoy the impact. No people are too bad to start doing kindness (each version), no body also is too nice to feel stop doing kindness.so, hijab is vertical relationship, and we still have horizontal relationship responsibility. Thats key of happiness in my version, sissy :-)

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  33. amazing! i love it :)

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  34. @Noorjan - And not all non Hijabi women live happily without it either...:)

    Sarah- Being a Hijabi I loved reading this. And Kudos to your parents for this open mindedness.

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  35. This is really beautiful. May God Bless you and your family for this open mindedness...World need more people like you in all faith groups. TO spread love and care beyond the walls of faiths.

    Sarah! Yes, Hijab is a symbol and a freedom. It shows that 'I am completely submitted to God. It also says I am trustworthy.. and I am truthful because I submitted to my God and He asked me to do so". Well, practically there are many who just misuse it also. But no point in quarreling over them.

    Sis Noorjan- I appreciate and respect your views. But 'the lack of happiness' is not merely because of 'Hijab' in the society. The main reason for this in Islam is that many Muslim women fail to learn their religion and practice it as it was suppose to be. No point in putting blame on faith for our own faults...

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  36. What a beautiful story! I enjoyed reading it... I feel every day the same you felt with your hijab for one day, FREE! :)

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  37. As a muslim, I want to thank you very much your effort to understand how the life of a hijabi woman can be. But this is very optimistic, though. You were very lucky not finding any extremist insulting you, doing nasty gestures at you, trying to take your hijab off by force, or even reaching to physical attack. These are the things that muslim women wearing hijab and living in western countries are facing nowadays.

    And precisely because of these things, is so welcome your effort of building bridges. When real meaning of hijab is more and more known, the number of attacks, I'm sure, will progressively decrease.

    The more people know each other, the more they will learn to live together peacefully.

    So thank you very, very much.

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  38. Sana Fatima RaheemMay 2, 2012 at 1:15 AM

    Dear Sara. This was a very interesting insight into a hijabi’s world from a non-hijabi. I deeply appreciate it. Thank you :)
    Also, I want to share my experience with you (which is rather brief). I have recently started taking hijab. Being a Muslim by birth & seeing Islam around me (mashed up with culture in our society) since I was a child, I have had my “religious” highs & lows. But it’s only recently that started loving Allah & started praying more out of love for Allah and the fact that it praying calms me than out of an obligation. A few weeks into the Islamic practices, I started feeling the need for covering myself properly & dressing modestly. I felt my body belonged to me & it was my right not to show it anyone/everyone. A few days after I changed my dressing style, I started covering my head too. Now it protects me, gives me confidence & daily reminds me to become a better person. Whenever I am about to stray from the path of kindness (they say, old habits die hard), it reminds me that I have a hijab on my head & I’d be a hypocrite as to not be a good person inside as well as on the outside. I’m still struggling on the right Islamic path. But I must say, hijab makes the struggle easier.
    God bless you Sara :)

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  39. this article has changed many. from the bottom of my heart, thank u, very much. May God bless you. :)

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  40. if you do not mind, i have couple of questions about judaism,which i would like to get an answer from the right person, as opposed to what secular say.
    1.is Judaism a closed religion? meaning no conversion is allowed as i have read?
    2.Do jewish have the attitude of being god's chosen people meaning they are better than gentilis? just by race or from the point that they believe in god as muslims do.
    3.is it true that in jewish faith there is no hell or heaven in the afterlife?

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  41. 1. No. You can convert. I have done a short film explaining this. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4I2EeZhOg8

    2. There are people who do understand the "chosen people" concept in some form of racial superiority terms. That is a pretty profound and dangerous misunderstanding. Chosen means "chosen FOR" a particular discipline ( of 613 commandments) and a particular mission to be a people ESPECIALLY dedicated to God, and in that to be a model for humanity. We have struggled and do struggle with that mission and have not achieved such wild success that we can in any way afford to be arrogant. Unequivocally, anybody who uses the "chosen people" concept as an excuse to denigrate anyone else is in serious error.

    3. Many liberal Jews believe that Judaism is a "worldly" religion without any belief in afterlife, reward or punishment. Judaism does emphasize the importance of taking advantage of being in this world, to do good and avoid evil in your thought, speech and action. We spend a lot of time trying to understand what is the will of God and in doing it and relatively little time talking about ultimate reward and punishment. Nevertheless, normative Judaism does believe in Gan Eden (heaven, paradise) and Gehennom (Hell, usually a temporary purgatory cleansing of the soul) and the eventual resurrection of the dead. (Reincarnation leading to ultimate resurrection is a belief held by many Jews, primarly Chassidic and other Kabbalistically oriented Jews.) But the idea that life ends at death is alien to Judaism.

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    1. Thank you for the informative responds.

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    2. I read a beautiful explanation of the chosen people thing in Bernard Lewis's "The Middle East," "In modern times, those who believe themselves to be in unique possession of the truth are easily convinced that the discovery of this truth was their achievement. For a devout people in ancient times, such a conviction would have been impossibly presumptuous. Confronted with the extraordinary fact of their uniqueness in knowing the truth about one God, the ancient Jews, unable even to consider the idea that they had chosen God, adopted the more humble belief that God had chosen them." As a Muslim, I disagree with Professor Lewis, and believe that God chose the Jews, and because He did, when they mess up it upsets Him more than it otherwise might, but his words have been a great help to me in understanding why the Jews believe God chose them.

      By the way, I love what you're doing here. We need more dialogue, and less hateful monologues.

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  42. Well, I love your article =) no need to go in to HOW much i love it cuz you have already gotten MUCH praise for it =)What i would like to add, is that that verse about "cover your bosoms" which hurt your inner feminist, there's something which you apparently don't know =) BEFORE this verse, there's a verse telling men to lower their gazes. Yes, men are ordered to lower their gazes FIRST and then it is said to women to dress modestly =) So there's nothing anti-feminist about it.

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  43. Kol hakavod to you Sara. Thank you for such a wonderful well written article. Like father like daughter. what a great family.

    Iyad

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  44. Dear Sarah, it rings in my mind always: what we want them to reflect??. Good question. My answer: we want people not to judge others by physical appearance (pretty face,jewelleries dont represent pretty heart), modesty ( no need to show off what you have ), challange on racism issue ( to accept, respect people from differrent beliefs,etc), and new thing to learn in social interaction (just like with catholict nuns- the way they dress). I learned that mostly hijabi i've met are master degree students, PHD, and have normal life (sincere, fun people to hang out with).

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  45. This was an unbelievable read. Thank you so much for being so open-minded and trying this experience. There's so many things I could say about the level understanding present in this article and the beauty that lies within your act of opening yourself up to this experience, but I just can't express them all.

    Thank you again for this. Sara Weissman, you seem to be such a kind and amazing young woman; I wish nothing but the best for you, iA.

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  46. For me there are so many reasons I wear hijab. I am sorry for every rude look you got, they are aggravating and I am glad for every smile. There are the occasional rude people but nearly always just mild curiosity and curtsey. i find it interesting, living near an Air Force base that I can tell the men that have been over seas. They do not try to maintain eye contact but have good manners (Islamically). I always appreciate that and hope they know I am grateful people are willing to protect my home.

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  47. I just wanted to add my voice to those that have already contributed. I think this was a very thoughtful and respectful way of approaching the questions you had about hijab. I believe that you will always benefit from trying to put yourself in the shoes of other people. Today, I can imagine what it's like to be a very awesome girl like you!

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  48. good article!
    good to see how the general public is supportive of different styles of clothing. for me personally, i love wearing loose or baggy clothes. maybe it's insecurity or something, but I hate wearing skinny jeans and/or baby tees thinking that some guy would probably stare at that and make a judgement (even though it's in their mind; even though it might be a complimentary comment). So I'd usually buy a longer shirt and drape it over the buttocks and that made me feel so much confident.

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  49. Brilliant, loved this. Thank you!

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  50. masha Allah, this is awesome...
    good job Sara!

    Sulyman

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  51. Sara, undoubtedly, whether consciously or otherwise, you have engaged in an act that is worthy of rewards from Allah, the Creator, who rewards both believers and non believers in this world with justice; He will surely grant you this reward Here. What I would like to request him further is that, out of his Mercies and Grace, let him find a way of legally extending your reward beyond this world. Regards.

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  52. Covering or hiding parts of our bodies are all part and parcel of Tzniut (Jewish modesty) and there are explanations from the Written and Oral Torah on what constitutes ervah (nakedness). Today's issues of the generation are the tight clothing that are being marketed and are a challenge to those who don't sew their own clothing. Many people cover their hair but still wear these tight clothing which doesn't make any modesty sense. Some people cover their hair and wear pants which also don't make any sense.

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  53. Thank you, Sara! It's really inspiring to read about your experience.

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  54. Too bad Sara will never get a shiddach, unless it is to a Muslim man

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  55. I'm pretty late in finding this article, but I, as a writer, loved the honesty and voice. As a human, I appreciate the decency, courage and call to something broader than the narrow world I often settle into. I'm not sure what you and your family read, eat or say at home, but broadcast it to the world... We need more of you! Blessings, Stephen (Twitter steve_mcgrath)

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