Young Muslim Women

25 November 2013

This is ‘a big one’, so may as well start these series of pieces with it.

Isn’t it bad when you don’t recognise somebody after they’ve called out to you? You recognise the name, because, well, it’s your name, but that name with that voice sounds funny. It was thanks to a hijab, of all things, that I didn’t look like the stupid arse who doesn’t wear his contacts/glasses that I really am.

‘I thought it was you! How is everything? So good to see you!’

Her and I did our first uni presentation together over a year ago, and we hadn’t seen each other since she spoke too quickly and stumbled over her own words and I stumbled over mine. Now it was just two people wondering how each other’s science subjects differ, and where that will take them. We didn’t actually say goodbye at, because we wished each other well. We smiled and she stood there the way she didn’t over a year ago: arms by her sides and smiling. Two normal people say goodbye after well wishes. So here we were, two normal people, expecting a hug and pat on the back. But was it actually normal?

My mind raced. An honest mistake was not an option, because I’ve spent something over a negligible amount of time in a few Islamic countries. I felt like I should have known what to do. But where are most muslims from in Australia? Lebanon? How conservative is it over there? A hijab is one thing, but a full length dress with long sleeves is another. Is a hug friendly or romantic or just completely out of bounds?

An honest mistake would not involve remembering walking around the streets and noticing women having to sit in the back of the car even though there was no-one in the front. An honest mistake would not involve seeing young muslim women dressing in jeans and untied hair in one part of the country, then seeing near glove-wearing muslim women in another part of the same country. An honest mistake would not involve being given gifts by muslim women for sitting in their mosque during prayer. An honest mistake would definitely not involve having to then make comparisons. But there I was.

The gamble would be over by playing dumb and focussing on the fact that I would never see this person again. So I committed the dishonest mistake and waved goodbye.