An Unexpected Encounter


So, I was in the food store yesterday during the busy early evening crowd. We were expecting snow, so many people were out stocking up. Then, I saw her. Walking with her husband and with a small child in the cart. She had on a full burqa with even the small slit area that allows her to see through was heavily netted. I have to admit, I was “taken aback” by the site. Except for the fact that the woman was wearing the color brown, it was exactly like this photo above.

You could sense the climate in the store. While our community is racially diverse, this encounter was unique. However, for me and I suspect for some others, it was the first time I’ve ever seen a woman in this type of dress. People noticed and some people were exchanging “did you see that woman?” glances. The family wasn’t doing anything different than everyone else in the store. They were discussing meals, looking at labels on products and filling their cart with everyday staples. However, she was wearing “that dress”.


Up until that moment, I considered myself to be this super tolerant woman, enjoying the friendship of many people of all races, religions, backgrounds etc. I have a Muslim friend and she wears hijab, the head covering seen most frequently in public. I enjoy my conversations with her, learning about the beauty of her culture, the traditions and holidays/celebrations that are so different than my own. She is a loving, peaceful mother and has an infectious smile and laugh. So, why was I so absolutely stunned by this woman’s attire?

I had some time to think about it upon coming home. The media bombarded us years ago with horrific images of what the Taliban was doing to their women. We saw stories of women in burqas being stoned to death, beaten, forced to stay indoors, extremist, violent and ultra-strict interpretations of their beliefs. So, for me, my first time seeing a burqa was connected with that violence, hatred, intolerance and so many other negative emotions I’d seen all those years ago. My mind seemed trained to think of the husband as controlling and forcing his wife into submission. Then, I looked at her and she was walking around just like me, discussing which chips to buy, appeasing their child with a snack. Why did I feel this way?


The friendly person in me wanted to walk up to her and say hello and introduce myself. However, we don’t live in the type of community that typically acts like that. Also, I wondered if my approach would have been welcome. I was afraid to say hello. I wish I would have. I would have loved to have asked about the burqa in a respectful way and help understand it. Who knows, I may have even made a friend or perhaps an acquaintance.

When I see people I call friends post hateful “memes” and other quotes that all Muslims are terrorists and such, I wonder if those intense and awful statements are a remnant of that time long ago when we saw these women so mistreated. In this changing world in which we live, our diversity is ever-blending and changing so fast. For many, they claim it is too fast and that is their right. However, I don’t think I will forget about the woman I saw in the burqa yesterday anytime soon. I wonder if I saw her again what I would do. Would I say hello this time or keep passing by, trying to avert my eyes like everyone else?

I would truly like to hear opinions and understand what happened yesterday. What could I have done better? What can I do next time?

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