I did not know the girl behind the veil. I could barely see her eyes. Yet, I could feel her humiliation, her disgrace, her indignation. It stabbed at my heart to see her being treated as an outcast. These strangers treated her with contempt, simply because of her dress and her foreign tongue. A compulsion came over me. I needed to experience this persecution for myself so that I could better understand, so that I would never forget that an individual should be judged by their actions and values, not by their outward appearance.
It didn’t take long for me to understand the scrutiny the girl endures on a daily basis. It began with a notice in my mailbox. The parcel needed to be picked up at the post office. The notice, however, gave no explanation as to why this was so. I assumed it was simply too large to fit in my mailbox. Upon arriving at the post office and presenting the notice, I was looked at, to put it mildly, curiously, by the clerk. It is, after all, a very small town. The kind you’d miss if you sneezed. The clerk handed me a slip and asked me to sign as he went to retrieve my parcel. He returned with a small, Mylar package, not much bigger than a legal-sized envelope. It would have easily fit in my mailbox. It was covered in Arabic writing and the postmark was from Egypt. I wondered right then if I had been put on a terrorist watch list, or at least whether Homeland Security had been notified.
I got home and eagerly tore open the package. I thought the garment was just beautiful. It was an authentic Muslim niqab. After some fiddling in front of my bedroom mirror, I finally figured out the proper way to wear it. Gazing upon myself, I couldn’t help but think that if everyone walked around this way, humanity would be forced to use more meaningful criteria than looks, stereotypes, and religious preferences upon which to base their opinions. I went to my closet and selected a long-sleeved, ankle-length black wool dress and modest black flat slides. I was ready to put my friends and neighbors to the test.
They did not disappoint. Or rather they did, gravely. Some stared so hard it seemed that their eyes were piercing my very soul. Others just completely averted their eyes, seeming to know that upon eye contact they’d be unable to mask their disgust and hatred. I could read their thoughts, which were written all over their faces. “Who was this stranger anyway? What business did she have shopping amongst us good, patriotic Americans? They don’t even sell halal food here.” I purchased my merchandise and rushed home before they could organize a posse.
In the days that followed, I overheard bits and pieces of the gossip and speculations of the locals. It was as though Yeti himself had been spotted. It was truly disheartening. After all, some of these same people had brought comfort, kind words, and casseroles into my home when my mom was dying. I was disappointed. The girl with the veil was no different than I, or any of the other townsfolk. She has dreams and feelings and beliefs and aspirations. She bleeds when cut just like you and I. But I was forever changed just by only briefly experiencing what she has no choice but to contend with. That, for me, was the sad part—that I could experience such prejudice by literally walking in her shoes. And it didn’t take a mile.