Travelling to India, we had a six hour wait in Abu Dhabi airport for our connecting flight. Even just being in the airport, I was excited to be in the United Arab Emirates, as I had never been to a Muslim country before. I learned a lot just by watching people. Abu Dhabi is quite the hub, with many flights coming from many different places around the world.
I saw a group of women ‘on tour’. They were wearing matching short khimars with something written on the back in a language I didn’t know (similar characters as Japanese). They reminded me of Cancer Research UK’s ‘Race for Life’, when people often run wearing custom-made clothing with the name of whom they were running for (or with) on their t-shirts. T-shirts made to remind them of who they were running for and to encourage them to keep running, especially during that last mile! T-shirts that let everyone else know that they were travelling together. As I saw this group of women in the airport, donning their custom khimars, I knew immediately this was a group of women travelling together. And, from the smiles and laughter, enjoying themselves!
When I studied Islam last year, I learned time and again from talking with Muslims that “in Islam there is no compulsion.” They said that if someone feels forced into doing or wearing something, it is more likely to be a cultural expectation, rather than Islam itself.
In my conversation with a woman last year who chose to wear the hijab in the UK, she explained how for at first she practiced her faith without wearing a hijab. But as she prayed, she chose the hijab for herself.
There is a thinking, feeling, praying, person of faith wearing the hijab/niqab/burka/chador/khimar. This is not some piece of cloth walking around, but is someone’s mother, daughter, wife, friend – a person.
And, at the end of the day, this person is just journeying in faith through life – just like everyone else.