About 7 years ago my husband Jeff and I moved to Amman, Jordan and stayed there for about a year and a half. We started off going over to volunteer in various ways including teaching English as a second language and volunteering a couple of times at an Iraqi refugee clinic. We lived in a fairly poor area of the city called Ashrafiyah, where there was a good mix of Arab Christians and Muslims. In case you didn’t know, the country of Jordan’s population is about 97% Muslim, women who are not Muslim do not have to cover their heads, and not all Muslim women cover either.
Moving to Jordan was an entirely new experience for both Jeff and me. We really knew nothing of Islam or Arab culture, and did not speak the language. I cried myself to sleep the first night we arrived saying, “What have we done?!?!”. Within the first week we started volunteering and met our language tutor, Suhaila, a Christian Palestinian woman, who was one of the kindest people I had ever met. She helped us immensely in learning the language and culture that we had immersed ourselves in.
To say that I didn’t quite fit in in my new surroundings would be a major understatement. I was an outsider. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Being blond haired and blue eyed in Jordan was like standing up and screaming in a library…I was opposite of everyone. I had specific guidelines I needed to follow so that I would be respecting the culture that I was now a part of–wearing loose fitting clothes, covering my tattoos, and not going outside with wet hair. That last one may seem a bit peculiar to you, but seriously, I had to be very conscious of that, and here is the reason…white American women in Hollywood movies always showered after having sex…and that’s what people would think. No joke. These are just a few of the things I always had to keep in the front of my mind out of respect. But no matter what I did it was a daily occurrence that I would get cat-called by more than one Arab man. Talk about awkward.
We eventually got jobs at an Islamic school that was run by HRH Princess Areej Ghazi called The School of Life-Jordan. It was an interesting experience that I won’t get into here, but I made many Muslim friends, both men and women, who I came to know and love dearly. This changed my perspective on life completely.
When we eventually moved back to Peoria, IL we realized that there was a very large Muslim population here. I filled in as a 1st grade teacher for 3 months at our local Islamic school. I was welcomed into the fold quickly and have made many more friendships through my time there as well.
This brings me to the decision I have made for this Lenten season: I have chosen to wear hijab (traditional Muslim women’s head covering) for the 40 days of Lent, whenever I leave my house. Before I fully explain my reasoning, let me tell you how I came to the decision. I told my husband my idea and he encouraged me to do it, but I decided that I needed to ask a local Muslim friend her thoughts on it. She wears hijab for many reasons, I’m sure, but one is identification with her Muslim community. I wanted to make sure that I would not be disrespecting or offending the Muslim community, so I asked her opinion. Her response was this,
“You are a very thoughtful person full of great ideas…I don’t see a reason why people get offended by a very thoughtful, nice, and peaceful act. Our role is teach and educate all people and I’m 100% in support of this idea…My hijab drawer is yours come and pick what u like. If u don’t have time I can bring them to u, just let me know what colors.”
How great is that? I met her at the Islamic school this morning to pick up the scarves and she helped me put on my first hijab for the Lenten season.
So, now I’m committed to the idea. In the States, I am part of the majority as a white, middle class woman. I want to remind myself what it feels like to be an outsider – “the other”. Wearing hijab in the States is like being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman in the Middle East. So, I’m practicing hospitality this Lent by getting into the shoes (or hijab) of my Muslim friends and neighbors. I feel this is especially important now as there is increasing animosity once again from (white) Americans towards Muslims in our communities, which honestly makes me nervous about the idea. Regardless, here’s to learning to love and welcome all–friends, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies. #40daysofhijab