Elizabeth Lakey used to be one of the unenlightened. As a student of Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, she struggled to understand why any woman would cover herself in a burqa.
Like many people I know, I feel a frisson of doubt whenever I see these shadowy figures entirely covered up. I struggle daily with these feelings in my studies.
But after a chance department store encounter with a Muslim family, Lakey saw how judgmental she was being. The burqa isn’t just a veil, she realized, it’s also a mobile playground for young Muslim children! Via my Twitter pal @s_dog comes Lakey’s heartwarming tale of “common humanity” inspired by a pair of strangers in identical black burqas:
[A young child] stops, dizzy and out of breath, as her father and mother look on.
But she is caught between the queues, between two women wearing the same burqa with the same gold trim. She is confused. Her head bobs from side to side as the women chortle behind their face coverings.
They are playing a game with her. The one who is not her mother reaches out and calls to the girl. She acquiesces, moving cautiously to this covered mother but still shooting doubtful glances backwards.
Once up close, her uncertainty deepens. She extends a finger and begins to poke this woman gently, as if trying to ascertain her identity by the feel of her veiled flesh.
Her father looks to me and grins from ear to ear. In heavily accented English, he says simply: “Ah, she is very confused.”
No judgment passes between us, despite the fact that I am wearing a short skirt and his wife goes about her day covered from head to toe. I am an unlikely participant in this social play, yet I leave the store feeling somehow enriched.
Ah, yes, the enriching jocularity of the Islamic veil. Is there anything more charming than a heavy black burqa that keeps a little girl from recognizing her own mother?
Andrew Bolt of Melbourne’s Herald Sun summarizes Lakey’s story perfectly: “Whoever wore the burqa was probably nice, but I spoke to her husband instead.” He adds, “What’s she’s indeed forgotten is not that there’s a woman under the burqa, but an individual to whom she did not – or even could not – speak.” Lakey ignores that aspect of her “interaction” with the veiled mother, instead focusing on her burqa epiphany (emphases mine):