Perspectives: A Peek at Life Through the Burqa

The history of Islamic clothing is a complicated one, often changing with politics, culture and religion. It is quite common for those in the United States and other Western industrialized nations to associate Islamic clothing with a more primitive and oppressive way of life, especially as it relates to women.
The Quran dictates how women should dress, although it remains disputed regarding the extent to which women are required to cover themselves in public. It reads, ‘And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms.’ While many choose to wear the hijab, or scarf, wrapped around the hair, leaving the face visible, others have gone further to require a full-body covering, leaving only a small opening for the eyes.
In recent years, the burqa has been known as a symbol of the Taliban, an Islamic nationalist movement associated with Islamic fundamentalism that ruled Afghanistan before the U.S.-led invasion carried out in response to Sept. 11. As soon as Americans were made aware of the way of life enforced by the Taliban due to greatly increased media coverage of the region, female reporters, like Christiane Amanpour of CNN began filming undercover stories in Afghanistan, forcing these reporters to dress in the traditional burqa and film how women lived behind closed doors.
However, today, many women in Afghanistan still choose to wear the traditional burqa, although they are not required to wear them by their new government. To some, it is for religious reasons and to others it is a form of rebellion against imposed Western ideas of liberation as well as a confirmation of one’s culture. For some, familial pressures force them to abide by these standards of dress. But the concentration on dress is not a concern for most of these women in their day-to-day lives. Indeed, many women would rather put the effort into increasing women’s social and political rights rather than onto what they wear outside of the home. After all, freedom and equality are not merely determined by how one dresses.
Since it is a fairly common sight for women to wear the hijab in Orange County and even at UC Irvine, I wanted to go one step further and experience wearing a burqa while going about business as usual. After purchasing a burqa online from, I bought a long, wide black skirt and a loosely fitting, large black turtleneck, as well as a scarf to use as a hijab underneath the burqa. I even removed my nail polish and cut my nails in order to make the experience more ‘realistic.’
I expected certain things when I went out into public, especially a lot of stares and maybe even a comment or two, yet the unexpected results of this experiment still made me nervous. Different situations ran through my mind: What if someone commented negatively on my burqa? What if they even reacted angrily toward me? I will admit, this seemed unlikely, but I couldn’t help but think about everything that could possibly happen.
I decided to carry out the experiment on a Wednesday. First, I planned to go to the grocery store and purchase items that I was meaning to buy anyway. I planned to shop at my usual store