The Burqa Experiment: Introduction

The Burqa Experiment: Introduction January 17, 2013

by Calulu

(Editors note: This is my newest project and while it’s not strictly Quiverfull I have had some extraordinary experiences so far that I’ll be chronicling here and on the website The Burqa Experiment)

Who am I and why am I doing this?

My name is Suzanne Titkemeyer and I’m not a Muslim. I am the mother of three fabulous grown children, the eldest being a massage therapist, my middle child is studying film studies at George Mason University while my baby also studies Business there as well. I’m 52 years young, was raised and educated in South Louisiana and have been married to the same wonderful man, my best friend, for 26 years now. I live a life I could not have imagined as a child, very blessed and happy.

I’m a Virginia woman that works as the editor and admin for the Patheos website No Longer QuiveringNo Longer Quivering is a website and community dedicated to helping women and men suffering from spiritual abuse at the hands of those in their spiritual lives. Most of the people at No Longer Quivering are coming out of the Quiverfull Patriarchal Evangelical Fundamentalist Christian movement, however we also have members that are from other faiths beside Christianity. Vyckie Garrison is the brave woman that started No Longer Quivering. We are dedicated to helping people heal from spiritual abuse.

Not that long ago, around six years, I came out of a poisonous cult of a church. Actually I was drug out by my husband, he had the sense enough to know that the situation we were in was not right for us. Our old church was such that some there would be heard to refer to  Muslims by highly offensive names such as “Camel Jockeys” and “Sand Niggers”. Even as I was extremely indoctrinated into that particular flavor of Christianity I flinched inside when hearing those derogatory remarks roll off the tongues of one of the church deacons and some of the members. I remember thinking that there should be no place in our church for hatred and intolerance. Once 9/11 took place the race bashing/baiting got worse, with narrow-minded people taking over leadership through several splits. They are still where they were with the same deacon that liked to use those insults still one of the church leaders.

No one should have to tolerate being called names like that because of their race or religion.

As part of my own recovery from spiritual abuse I’d started to explore other faiths and see what they’re all about instead of hearing someone else put their own spin on them. I’m still a Christian but a very different kind than I used to be. One of the big things that has changed for me is that I try not to judge other religions.

In the past six months I’ve felt a great need to pray for the women of Muslim faith. My prayers haven’t been those standard, “I pray for so-and-so to come to know Jesus.” Mostly I’ve felt compelled to pray for blessings, peace, protection, abundance and love over them. As I’ve contemplated my sisters in a different faith I’ve started to feel a connection to them, which has led me to researching about their lives and culture, which leads me to the hijab and the burqa.

During my years in Evangelical/Fundamentalist churches there was a faction at my former church that believed literally that a good Christian woman should cover her head in public. This group wore head scarves not much different than the hijab scarves worn by Muslim women. I confess though I did not believe as those ladies did I did try out head covering a few times very halfheartedly.

There are many Christian groups that believe in veiling or head covering as part of their worship of God.

After my experiences with head covering, racism and judgmentalism occurring around me I started to wonder if perhaps devout innocent Muslim ladies arrayed in everything from the lightest hijab through a full body burqa were being treated differently than the average American woman who wears nothing on their head. I suspect they face treatment that most would not believe is taking place in America, the Land of the Free. I hope I’m wrong.

And that is at the heart of my project. I want to explore what types of treatment Muslim women who do veil receive. Is there a subtle or overt bias against covered women believed to be Muslim? I also seek to honor their commitment to devout modesty and humility. What is it like to stand out as covered in a world of people wearing minimal clothing? What are my own prejudices and preconceptions?

I hope to learn a great deal and confront my own beliefs by veiling or wearing a burqa in public. I will be chronicling what happens here in this blog and over at No Longer Quivering as well.

Comments open below

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 blog is Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • Sal

    This sounds really fascinating, and I’ll be following along with interest.

  • I have a friend who converted from Christianity to ultra-conservative Islam. When my dad died last April, she came to his funeral dressed in her head and body coverings. No one in my family would shake her hand when I introduced them and they spoke to her minimally and most would not even look at her very long as if she had some disease that was catching.

  • suraiya

    this sounds like an interesting project. I am a muslim woman who wears a scarf and teaches islamic studies in my community and i am a convert to Islam. In Australia i haven’t received to much in the way of negative comments rather strangers brave enough to ask questions to gain understanding. I am looking forward to seeing what experiences you have. I know that there are assumptions made about me and how conservative or fundamentalist i must be just because of the material on my head – not this sister – raised by a new age lesbian feminist mother with an atheist sister to be respectful of the choices we make as an individual as to what we believe and how we choose to live out our spiritual and religious beliefs.

  • SAO

    I find covered faces to be very disconcerting. When my daughter was pink-cheeked, blonde toddler, we were in Dubai. In the market, some older ladies tending a stall waved to her, talking (Arabic, I assume) in a cooing, grandmotherly tone that she recognized and turned with a smile to respond to. One good look at the two figures in head to toe black (one had an eye covering, the other was smiling) and she jumped back with a startled cry and wanted to be picked up by me so she could hide her head from those scary people.

  • Or you know, you could just go read about the experiences of women who wear hijab in America there are literally hundreds of blogs out there, some of which include those of American converts. I find this ‘project’ to be appropriative and silencing of muslim women.

  • Lydia

    While I think your heart is in the right place, I also believe that your approach is wrong. If you want to understand the discrimination faced by covered muslim women there’s something far easier and comprehensive than what you intend to do: listen to the experiences of these women.
    Putting on a burqa or hijab will not give you an accurate perspective on what these women go through because, at the end of the day, you can take it off. What will give you a deeper understanding is speaking to them.
    Projects like this have been done before and while they got a lot of praise from the white community they recieved a lot of backlash from the muslim community who thought it was appropiating their culture and wearing their hardships like a costume.
    If you really want to be an ally for those who have a different faith I’d suggest keeping in mind their wishes and seek their permission before attempting something like this.
    Here’s some reading material if you wish to research this.

  • Nightshade

    To those of you who are against this idea, I would like to ask how is this a bad thing? The way I see it, this is not an attempt to comprehend the entire Muslim female experience, but to discover how these women are treated by others. I’m sure the author is aware that her findings are not going to be an absolute representative of how all burqa-women wearing are treated, and I don’t see anywhere that reading what others have been through is being excluded as a learning method. How exactly is this attempt to understand other women wrong?

  • suzannecalulu

    I’m not seeking to do this in a way that hurts Muslims and yes, I’ve done six months of research before starting this as well as talked to many ladies in the local Muslim community at great length. After what happened to me the first time I veiled I have to believe I am onto something that should be exposed for what it is, unfounded racism, hatred and divisiveness that only hurts the great melting pot that is America.

    The ladies I’ve talked to have shown me that they aren’t any different than a Jewish lady or a Christian one. We all take care of our families, we are all students, mothers, wives, single ladies with the same struggles and hopes and dreams.

    So, if you believe I’m doing wrong then let me know how best I can help?

  • Suzanne, this is a very awkward thing to be doing. Not only is it condescending, it’s also superficial. Putting on a piece of cloth for a short while won’t give you a deep insight into the bigotry that Muslim women experience, because that bigotry is complex and many-layered. You will never know what it’s like to have to look for a job while wearing hijab or niqab, or to seek emergency healthcare with it on, or to be caught between people who pressure you to wear it and people who pressure you to remove it, or any one of a hundred other myriad situations. You will never know exactly what it feels like to have someone insult the Muslim faith in front of you. It might give you a sense of indignation – “OMG, this hurts the great melting-pot that is America!!!” – but you won’t experience the insult as Muslim women experience it because you don’t cherish the faith in the same way as they do, as believers, as insiders. It won’t have anything like the same import.

    Secondly, bigotry towards Muslim women doesn’t just stem from what they wear. Making the project all about putting on a ‘burqa’ (you are aware that ‘burqa’ usually refers to a very specific type of face veil, and that most niqabi women don’t actually wear burqas, right?) just reinforces that presumption. Muslim women from immigrant communities suffer racism that can’t be detached from religious discrimination – people assuming that they don’t speak English well, that they are unemployable because they must have huge families and will be wanting maternity leave all the time, that they must have been circumcised and it’s OK to ask them intrusive questions about their genitalia, and so on. This is a sort of offensiveness that can only be properly understood if you live with it day after day, with no escape; and how it affects each woman will vary depending on her culture and ethnic background. For example, Muslim women from certain Muslim-majority cultures would find it particularly humiliating to be asked the unfortunately too common invasive questions about marriage and sex, perhaps a lot more so than you would. Meanwhile, white convert women get judged as brainwashed and it’s assumed that they must be converting for a man. Their intelligence and agency are routinely denied. If you do face such attitudes, what will you say? That you’re not really a Muslim and you’re just doing this for the ‘experience’? Then you’re missing out on the ‘experience’ – the experience of having to defend something that to you is well-thought out and precious, the experience of feeling violated by a stranger, of not knowing how to politely get out of the conversation, of simultaneously feeling that you have to be a good representative of your faith and at the same time wanting to protect your privacy. The list goes on. Putting on a ‘burqa’ isn’t going to teach you this.

    The experiment you’re proposing isn’t new or original. Dozens of well-meaning non-Muslim women have latched on to the idea as though it’s something really radical, usually giving it some nauseating title like ‘Behind the Veil’ or ‘Unveiled’. (And when criticised, they get defensive/passive-aggressive – they know Muslim women who don’t mind the idea, they feel a sisterhood with them, they only want to HELP!) But what exactly is this help supposed to achieve? We already know that Muslim women face discrimination and prejudice. Plenty of them have told their stories of it. Yet another non-Muslim playing dress-up isn’t going to teach us anything new. So why not get together with a bunch of Muslim women, hijabi and non-hijabi, niqabi and non-niqabi, and ask them for their own stories in their own words? (Non-hijabi Muslims exist and they face oppression too, another reason why ‘burqa’ experiments are problematic – they ignore such women completely.) Then you could feature each of the stories on your blog. Or get involved with interfaith/intercultural discussion groups that challenge stereotypes. Volunteer with a Muslim charity. The possibilities are endless. But don’t set out on yet another Great Burqa Adventure. Whether you realise it or not, that just makes the whole project centre on you and your thoughts and your experiences, not on Muslim women.

  • Christine

    If this is a project that is important to you, for whatever reason, why not try with a different kind of headcovering? Wear a mesh one, or a Christian-style veil. It would actually be interesting, as that would (most likely) invoke stronger responses – you’d look much more conservative and much more odd (in most places).

  • jess

    Your experiment reminds me a lot of a book I read a few months ago called Cross in the Closet. It was the story of a straight man who chose to live as a gay man for a year in a very conservative year. Sometimes the best way to learn what other people go through is to actually walk in their shoes.

  • Kelley

    People have every right and reason to distrust and reject Islam. Islam is not compatible with Western civilization. Burkas are creepy and should not be legal. I have a right to see who the person is under there.

  • YES! As a niqabi myself (a Muslim woman who wears the face veil), I think this is a great idea. I’m surprised so many comments were against it. Of course one day won’t give anyone a complete experience, but it’s a start! And yes there are many blogs out there, chronicling the ins and outs of veiling full-time (my own included), but there’s nothing like experiencing it firsthand – even if only for a day – to gain a richer understanding of what it’s “really like”. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it, and if you have any questions of any kind, don’t hesitate to contact me ( OR Looking forward to taking a look at the Burqa Experiment blog!

  • Libertad

    I’m confused as to why people are rejecting this so vehemently. As someone who has studied the rejection of Muslims within a sociological context for years, interviewed muslimahs and befriended many of them, I know that nothing compares to the impact of suffering those looks and comments first-hand. You may not learn what it’s like to LIVE like one permanently, but is that any reason to not want to have a small taste of what it feels like to be discriminated?

    It reminds me of a relative who is a politician. He knew about the hardships that disabled people faced while out and about in his city, but he couldn’t quite grasp the frustration and helplessness felt by them until he spent a day in a wheelchair.

    This is not condescending at all, it is an effort to understand things from personal experience, in the only way that is available to you. It is the next step, since we already know you HAVE done several months of research learning about these things SECOND HAND.

  • I don’t totally ‘get’ why I’ve gotten so much grief over what I’m doing. It’s not new or original. I’m just seeking to gain some perspective. Thank you for your kind words