The sight of a woman wearing an entirely black abaya dress complete with its veil became the center of attention in the Itkeskus mall in Helsinki, the biggest city in Finland. No one knew that the person behind the niqab was not a true Muslim woman, but a journalist, a non-Muslim from the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, one of the leading newspaper in the Scandinavian region.
The name of the journalist is Katja Kuokkanen. She purposely disguised herself as a Muslim woman because she wanted to feel herself how it is like to wear the Islamic clothing's complete with its veil in the midst of the society in Finland which is still foreign to Islam, how does it feel to be stared at with a strange and terrified gaze from the people around her.
Kuokkanen wrote about her experience and feelings during and after she put on the niqab.
This is what she wrote¦
The black niqab made from chiffon material sometimes dropped and covered both of my eyes. At one time, I tripped and hit the shoulder of a guy in an ethnic goods store. The man gesticulated apologetically - in the usual slightly absent manner.
Then, he looked at me and realized that I am a woman dressed in a black abaya-niqab, the dress specific to Muslim women. Suddenly, the man nearly bowed and renewed the apology. I think he is an Arab, through the dialect when asking for the apology. I had never been regarded with such great respect before.
From the ethnic store, I headed for the Metro station. When I got onto an orange metro car, I received an unexpected reaction. A drunken man shouted to his three equally wasted friends in the crowded carriage:
'Hey, that is one hell of a sight!' the drunken man yelled.
Hearing that scream, the other passengers skillfully avoided looking at my veiled face. But suddenly a middle-aged woman said to me, 'hey, you dropped your thing,' while giving me my hairpin that had dropped on the seat behind me. I could not say thank you to the woman as I could not decide whether I could speak Finnish and blow my cover.
Next, a young Somali girl who worked as a shopkeeper, helped me fix my veil. She said that it was unusual for a Muslim woman in Helsinki to wear the dress like I was wearing. The Somalian girl also said that she, as much as possible, tried to abstain from wearing an all black clothing. She considered the color black as dramatic, attracting a lot of attention. Cheerful multi-coloured scarves are better, she said, adding that in Finland Muslim women are allowed to decide themselves how much of their face they want to cover.
And at the Itkeskus mall, I noticed many people staring at me with a strange or even frightened look. A young man with a can of cider in his hand loomed up from behind a column and almost spilled his drink in panic.
I began to get myself used to wearing the abaya and veil. I myself begin to get used to the garment. It was light and yet warm, though it was difficult to see properly from behind the veil sometimes.
Then, I decided to drop in to a flea market located in the car park on the roof of the adjacent Puhos mall. On the Turunlinnantie pedestrian crossing, I suddenly met an elderly Somali woman who says in a quiet voice: 'As-Salamu Alaykum' , an Arabic greeting used by Muslims which means 'Peace be upon you'. I was touched by her greeting. I do not usually have any contact with Muslim women. The same is repeated many times: Muslim women of different ages and from different ethnic origin wearing various styles of niqab greeted me using words that I do not understand at that time, but I eventually found out that the utterance consists a prayer for prosperity and safety.
Later on, another man was hanging out at the door of an ethnic store and shouting: 'Hello! Hey! Wait!' I did not wait. I felt that a fully-covered Muslim woman would not respond to such a call as she always look after her honor very much.
Some hours later, I decided to take the Metro back into town, to the downtown Kamppi Center.
Usually I have to run away from eager cosmetologists or hair stylists who are badgering me with their sales pitch at the mall. Not this time. If you are wearing an abaya-niqab, you are left in peace.
Along the course, the journalist was reflecting on her experience throughout the day, on the reactions of the people towards the abaya and veil that she donned and she herself felt that wearing the abaya and veil was not as bad as many people think. She then without hesitation affirmed that wearing the abaya and veil, 'is absolutely not bad at all. If you wear it you would feel peace.'
This story becomes an irony at a time when the European countries are racing towards banning the jilbab and niqab. Those who are imposing the restriction should be reading this story of the journalist from Helsinki, so that there should no policy of prohibiting the jilbab or niqab, which originally was imposed due to the Islamophobia attitude of the western society.
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