A Day in the Life Of…

Social experiments can be so much fun. And apparently journalists seem to agree. A few months ago we reported on one such experiment by Danielle Crittenden. She donned the abaya and niqab to live a day in the life of a niqabi Muslim woman. Well, we’ve come across another similar experiment, this time in Sudbury, Ontario.

In a Sudbury Star article, Lara Bradley engages in a similar experiment in the small Canadian city. She dons the niqab and abaya and wanders around the city for a day. In the article she reports on her experiences throughout the day as she visits a food court, rides a bus, and walks down the street, among other places. She tells the readers about the odd stares, the awkwardness, the uneasy glances, as well as the attempts at extreme politeness.

Bradley approaches this experiment in more respectful manner than Crittenden. She first consults with people in the Sudbury Muslim community. In the process she describes the Muslim community of Sudbury, in turn normalizing them. Though, as all other articles on Muslims, she paints Muslims as a monolithic group. From her conversation with a member of the Sudbury Muslim community she writes:

In Islam, men and women are equal; they just have different roles to play – men the breadwinner and women the nurturers of the children, he said.

This is the common interpretation in Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism etc. Not just Islam. Yet the diversity which exists among these other religious groups is often ignored when it comes to Muslims. Muslims are just as diverse in their belief of and adherence to this concept. By stating this ‘piece of information’ from a Muslim source Bradley forwards the interpretation of Islam, which further instills patriarchy. However, this may be a digression from the main topic – niqabi for a day.

Overall, Bradley’s experience is as one would expect – in a Canadian context. She does not receive very much outright negative feedback. A few glares and head shakes. For the most part she explains how people feel uncomfortable around her.

Although experiments like these provide a brief glimpse into another’s life, they can be quite telling. Bradley does indicate her lack of inner change. In other words, she does not actually become Muslim to conduct this experiment, therefore she is not able to provide a thorough explanation of the experiences of a woman who wears niqab. After all she knew she would be able to take it off at the end of the day. Additionally she also had to deal with the novelty of wearing the niqab and abaya and all the feelings entailed in that. Judgments about the niqab and abaya are made throughout the article, but they come from her non-Muslim, pseudo-niqabi status and this appears clear to the reader. To present a somewhat more accurate picture of ‘a day in the life of’ it would be more useful to recruit an actual woman who wears niqab.

The story Bradley presents is obviously not comprehensive. It is not a psychology paper nor journal article, which would require greater depth, explanation, and rigour. However, for a newspaper article, Bradley does seem to be trying to present a fair picture. By speaking to various Muslims in the community – a hijabi, a non-hijabi, and a man – she tries to present the life of a woman who wears niqab within the context of different viewpoints. By presenting a few different views, it appears that Bradley is trying to create a space for the reader to decide for themselves how they feel about the niqab and not necessarily telling us exactly how to feel.

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  • Melinda

    Well, it’s good to see that Lara Bradley at least knows the difference between “Muslim” and “Islamic,” although her title isn’t terribly creative (“Muslim Like Me”).Why is it always the niqab? The niqab due to its face-covering nature offers interesting and uniquely niqab-related issues to discuss (as a psychology? sociology? professor) did some months ago (I think this was in Friday links). But if the issue is what it’s like to be a visibly Muslim woman in the US or Canada, there are more common ways to go, such as the hijab.But I like the inclusion of quotes from actual Muslims in the article.“What is Muslim? This is Muslim,” said Dr. Shah Nawaz, pointing to the suit he’s wearing.

  • Henry

    Cool! I always wondered why some journalist hasn’t tried that before. Interesting article.

  • Coolred38

    Im curious as to why dressing up “like” a Muslim and filming or writing about that experience is newsworthy any how? Muslims have been around 1450 years or so…they(we) are not some new species recently discovered that needs examining and classifying are we? If a Muslim outside the prescribed Muslim accepted areas (Middle East) is still drawing attention and unwanted reactions today…then that should tell us something about what Islam was to half the world until recently when it was thrown in the spotlight…a fairly quiet religion minding its own business…until mullahs and terrorists decided to spread the message worldwide…just my opinion.

  • Meghan Rose

    It’s an interesting article, I think. I was just going to mention that Aaminah over at writeoussisterspeaks.wordpress.com writes occasionally about her experiences being a niqabi.I have to agree with coolred, though…I’m not sure why this is such an exciting thing for newspapers nowadays. Then again, I usually don’t read the news regularly alhamdulillah, so maybe I’m too out of the game to understand. But I have a roommate (who is Jewish at heart and planning to convert to Judaism at some point) who was one of the ones who began asking me questions about hijab when I reverted and started keeping it. I don’t mind answering questions at all and I really enjoyed the conversations I had, but she said something along the lines of how she’d always wanted to wear hijab for a day to see what it felt like.Honestly, maybe it’s because I’ve been wearing it for two or three months now, but it doesn’t feel that weird (except when, like today, I wear a new hijab that falls all over the place and refuses to stay put). I’m shocked, even, at the lack of negative reaction I get wearing hijab and abaya in a town where there are very, very, very few Muslims. Aside from stares, I’ve only had maybe one or two actual negative comments or bad experiences in the last few months. Since I am considering wearing niqab, I do occasionally wonder what people’s reactions would be, but it doesn’t bother me so much personally.Anyway, I just had to add that I too am kind of intrigued by the fact that people are so taken with this. I guess it’s like the women who dress like men for a month to see what it’s like, or white people who turn their skin black for a few weeks, or whatever. It’s sensationalist and sells books and papers nonetheless. Before I reverted I wanted to keep hijab for modesty reasons and so that I wouldn’t be harrassed (I am sexually harrassed a lot less when in hijab), but I never just wanted to wear it to see what it would feel like or what people would say.

  • Zeynab

    You all make interesting points.Why don’t any reporters try head scarves instead of niqabs? I’d like to see that, if the media is going to just launch a full-scale “Muslim Like Me” experiment for women. The niqab and the headscarf can have different connotations, so it would be interesting to see the reporters who have done this do the exact same thing with a headscarf instead of a niqab.