The Burqa Experience: Collinsville, Alabama – Purposely Veiling For the First Time

by Calulu

Today is World Hijab Day. This is how the BBC describes the purpose of Non-Muslim ladies veiling for today.

World Hijab Day is designed to counteract these controversies. It encourages non-Muslim women (or even Muslim women who do not ordinarily wear one) to don the hijab and experience what it’s like to do so, as part of a bid to foster better understanding.

Sadly enough, after my experience in Collinsville, Alabama I think World Hijab Day needs to be a more wide spread thing. The photo here seems to sum up the attitudes of those I encountered in northern Alabama.

The morning after the awkward encounter with the ladies in the elevator I made the conscience decision to veil or don my make-shift hijab every single time we stopped along the interstate. I dressed quite normally for me, khakis, white knit top and a simple cardigan plus the scarf. I live in khakis and comfortable shirts.

First up was the dining room of the hotel, a four star suites hotel that offers a hot breakfast. I came down wearing the hijab, got breakfast and ate in a room filled with other guests. I got a few odd stares, including the type I am starting to find is the most common reaction, a stare followed by an expression change from no expression to a fear/loathing look topped off by the quick whipping of the starer’s head away from me. Then that person will not make any eye contact or look at you again no matter how you place yourself in their line of vision.

We got on the road and didn’t stop again until we hit Collinsville, Alabama. Collinsville is just north on I-59 corridor through Alabama. I’ve stopped at this particular Jack’s Hamburgers before and had a normal unremarkable treatment. Not this time!

While my husband was filling the car with gas I entered the restroom. When I pushed open the rest room door there was a long line of ladies. I’d first heard chatter between ladies but once I was in line it fell silent and I was the recipient of the same stare/glare/ignore I’d received in the hotel dining room.

As I left the rest room the men’s room door flew open and knocked into me, nearly knocking me down. A silver haired man came out, looked at me scrambling to keep from falling from the floor and said, “Good, I didn’t hurt nothing” and walked off! No apology, no concern, nothing but being told I did not matter!… I was shocked beyond belief by the man’s words and actions after knocking me down with the door accidentally.

Incidentally the hallway near the restrooms were crammed with people. No one helped me up, no one asked me if I was alright.

I shrugged it off and went to the front counter to buy a cup of coffee. The large young lady manning the counter took one look at me and suddenly started filling the napkins and straw dispensers, bringing out orders to several people sitting in the dining area, handing out extras, anything she could do to avoid waiting on me I believe. Finally, after about five minutes she realized I was going no where and she waited on me finally, muttering out monosyllabic questions, taking my money in exchange for coffee. She didn’t say thank you, have a nice day or kiss my ass but the look in her eyes was frightening, more like something you’d imagine seeing over a pistol in your opponent in a duel, not in a service worker at a public place.

Such a shame as I’ve stayed in that area many times, taking hotel rooms all along the Gadsden – Fort Payne, Alabama area when I drive down to South Louisiana to see family. I’ve never seen this type of overate racism before in this area.

This almost violent reaction shook me to my core. I had expected that women wearing Muslim head coverings might be treated differently but I hadn’t anticipated quite the depth of resentment I experienced at that one stop!

The rest of the day I got very few reactions as we stopped in Rising Fawn, Georgia, Knoxville, Tennessee and in rural southern Virginia. The occasional stare was the most that came my way unless you count the man that cut in front of my place in the cashiers line at the gas station in Rising Fawn. That seemed more crass rude yuppie than any disrespect to someone in differing garb. Nothing more happened that made me feel such a sense of being so unsafe physically like what occurred in Collinsville, Alabama.

As I’m writing this I’m listening to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. “All You Need is Love”?  Love is great but I am starting to realize it’s useless without understanding, open minds and tolerance.

Part 1 | Part 2

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Read everything by Calulu!

Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago. Her blogs are Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway and The Burqa Experience

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About Suzanne Calulu
  • saraquill

    A hijab is not a machine gun. I find it bizarre so many were scared of it.

  • JM

    I think you might be slightly misinterpreting some people’s reactions. Not that I am defending them by any means, but there might be more reasons than simply fear or loathing that are causing them to act this way. For instance, I think many people that see someone wearing Muslim attire, when they possibly haven’t ever before, or rarely, might assume that because you are Muslim, you are from a foreign country, and because of that you don’t speak English, or don’t speak it very well. This might cause them to be afraid to talk to you, or to use monosyllable (short, small, easy to understand) words.

    Also, when you talk about “the quick whipping of the starer’s head away from me. Then that person will not make any eye contact or look at you again no matter how you place yourself in their line of vision” I think it’s possible that this could in some cases just be the result of people trying not to stare. We are taught from a young age that staring is impolite. But when we see someone with a very obvious disability, or wearing clothes that look very strange to us, or something else out of the ordinary, our first reaction is to examine them closely. Then we remember how “staring is impolite” so we try so hard not to stare that we end up going to the opposite extreme and not even looking at the person again, for fear that we will end up “staring”. This has happened to me before.

    So, while I’m not questioning the fact that many people might have a negative reaction to seeing you dressed “like a Muslim”, I think it’s important to remember that not all of their behavior might be out of fear/anger/resentment/hatred/loathing.

    I find this experiment very interesting, though, and I look forward to reading more about it.

  • suzannecalulu

    I am finding that the closer the community to a large city and/or university the less the reactions at all, even the staring. The more out in the country with a populace that seems to get all their news from Fox News that there are always at least someone that was mutter nasty things loud enough for you to hear them. Not every article will carry a reaction but this particular Jack’s Hamburgers left me feeling very unsafe. My husband witnessed all of it and saw my bruises after.

  • Nicole

    First I’d like to apologize for how you were treated in Alabama, My state is very rarely portrayed well to the nation and many times I cringe when I hear or read other’s reactions to us. We were not all raised that way; I promise. However I think there may be some truth to JM’s hypothesis on the staring. I’ll be honest, I will be 40 later this year and was born and raised in Alabama, I do not ever recall seeing someone wearing any form of Middle Eastern covering here. We simply do not have a large Muslim population.

    As for the horribly rude man in the restroom vestebule he would likely have been only slightly less rude had you not been wearing the head covering.


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