- StyleThe Conversation
Muslim women who cover their faces find greater acceptance among coronavirus masks – 'Nobody is giving me dirty looks'
Americans began donning face masks this week after federal and local officials changed their position on whether face coverings protect against coronavirus. This is new terrain for many, who find themselves unable to recognize neighbors and are unsure how to engage socially without using facial expressions.But not for Muslim women who wear the niqab, or Islamic face veil. Suddenly, these women – who are often received in the West with open hostility for covering their faces – look a lot more like everyone else. Targeted for their religious dressI interviewed 38 British and American niqab wearers for my upcoming book on Muslim women who wear the niqab in the United States and United Kingdom. Almost all of them were British and American citizens, but they came from all across the world and all walks of life. They were converts from Christianity, Judaism, former atheists, white, African American, African, Arab and South Asian women. The niqab – a garment that is not required by Islam but is considered recommended in some interpretations – is usually worn with a loose, coat-like garment called an abaya and a hijab, or headscarf. Some women pair it with a long skirt and tunic to conceal the body shape.All the women interviewed for the book felt the spiritual benefits of niqab-wearing, which makes them feel closer to God and deepens their practice of Islam. But wearing it in public often subjected them to Islamophobic, racist and sexist street harassment. Research confirms that Muslim women who wear Islamic dress in non-Muslim majority countries are frequently subjected to abuse. In a 2017 American study of 40 Muslim women, 85% reported verbal violence and 25% had experienced physical violence. Wearing the niqab, the most conspicuous form of Islamic dress, is most dangerous. Eighty percent of British niqab wearers interviewed for a 2014 report by the human rights group Open Society Foundations had experienced verbal or physical violence.The perpetrators tend to perceive niqab-wearing women as oppressed, backward, foreign, socially separated or a threat. Attackers often excuse their actions by citing security and immigration concerns. ‘Everyone suddenly understands it!’Now, in an unexpected turn of events, people across the West are jogging in face masks and grocery shopping in bandannas tied across their mouths. That’s making public life in the niqab much more pleasant, say Muslim women.“There’s a marked difference to the way I’m being perceived. Nobody is giving me dirty looks because of my gloves and the covered face,” said a woman I’ll call Afrah, from the the U.K., in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Everyone suddenly understands it!”I use pseudonyms to protect the identify of the women in my research, as talking about niqab use is a sensitive issue.“I was wearing a handcrafted niqab today and it was amazing,” Jameelah wrote to me from France, where the niqab is legally banned in most public spaces. “Because of the situation, I didn’t receive malicious glares.” Fashion designers are even trying to make face coverings look stylish – an effort that has Muslim women long perceived a security threat rolling their eyes on social media.Rumana, a Muslim from Croatia, told me that the growing acceptance of face covering has helped her overcome a reluctance to use the niqab. “I am usually an anxious person who doesn’t like to attract attention so that was always the biggest issue. Now that face coverings are seen everywhere,” she says, “I have finally found the courage to wear it.” Even some non-Muslims are interested in the niqab as a means of protecting against coronavirus. Afrah, from the U.K., told me that her non-Muslim aunt wants to use a niqab now because she finds regular face masks uncomfortable. And Sajida, an American Muslim, spoke of a convert friend whose father – a vehement critic of Islam and believer in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories – now encourages his daughter to wear a niqab to prevent the spread of coronavirus.The niqab alone is not sufficient protection against influenza-like viruses because it is not airtight. Mosques are warning women who wear the niqab to additionally wear a mask underneath for more effective protection. However, the niqab, like any cloth face covering, is likely to protect others from the wearer’s sneezes if worn snugly around the eyes, ears and nose. Experts in face coveringThe niqab-wearing women who commented for this story recognize that the improved perception of face covering comes at a time of crisis, when ordinary social norms and interactions are suspended. “I’m wondering if this empathy will continue or will it disappear as soon as the pandemic’s over,” Afrah said via Facebook Messenger. I wonder if people will keep this reflection, this need to protect oneself, no matter the reason.“The same question holds within Muslim communities. "I hope the sisters who were previously anti-niqab and then embraced it in a time of need and fear don’t return to their niqab-shunning ways,” Sajida said via email. For now, niqab-wearing women say, they are in high demand as experts on face covering. Muslim and non-Muslim friends donning the niqab for the first time need their help tying the it securely, and ask whether it’s culturally appropriate to cover just the nose and the mouth – rather than the whole face except the eyes.Women who wear the niqab can also speak from experience about communicating with a covered face. Many people unused to wearing masks find it difficult to convey emotions or pick up on social cues. But niqab-wearing women know that face coverings don’t prevent effective communication. “Smile! Facial expression is easily and quickly noticeable because of the eyes,” Asma recommended. Research suggests that detecting human emotion requires looking at much more than facial expressions anyway. The niqab-wearing women I interviewed for my book “make an extra effort,” as they told me, to communicate. They wave, speak and use body language to connect.“I have to be more outwardly chatty and friendly,” Soraya from Scotland said. “If I’m standing at a bus stop, I say ‘hi.’ You can see I am smiling because my eyes crinkle.” [Expertise in your inbox. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter and get a digest of academic takes on today’s news, every day.]This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * How the hijab has grown into a fashion industry * Why do Muslim women wear a hijab?Anna Piela does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
- U.S.The New York Times
NEW YORK -- One Saturday afternoon in late March, as the coronavirus pandemic flooded hospitals across New York City with desperately ill people, an 86-year-old lost her bearings and started wandering the emergency room at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in Brooklyn.The woman, Janie Marshall, who had dementia, grabbed onto another patient's IV pole to regain her balance and orient herself, police said.The patient, Cassandra Lundy, 32, had apparently become irate that Marshall had broken the 6 feet of personal space recommended to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, law enforcement officials said. Lundy shoved the older woman, knocking her to the floor. Marshall struck her head and died three hours later.Marshall's death underscored how hospital officials are struggling to keep order in health care facilities overrun by the pandemic, as crowding generates a new level of fear and anxiety.Initially, hospital officials handed Lundy a summons for disorderly conduct. But a week later, after the medical examiner ruled Marshall's death a homicide, police charged Lundy with manslaughter and assault."How do you put your hands on a 86-year-old woman?" said Marshall's grandniece, Antoinette Leonard Jean Charles, 41, a medical student in Tennessee. "I also understand the fear level of every person in New York has. There is a notion of every man for themselves. But attacking an elderly person? That went too far."A spokesman for Brooklyn Defender Services, which is representing Lundy, declined to comment.New York officials imposed social-distancing rules -- maintaining space between people to stop the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus virus -- in mid-March, shortly after the metropolis became the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States. The virus has claimed the lives of thousands of New Yorkers in a little more than a month.In a statement, Woodhull hospital officials said they were cooperating with investigators."We are terribly saddened by this death," the hospital said in a statement. "We are committed to ensuring a safe, health-focused environment in these very demanding times so our heroic health care workers can continue to deliver the quality, compassionate care New Yorkers need more than ever."The events that led to Marshall's death began March 27, when she told her niece she had a piercing stomachache. The niece, Eleanor Leonard, 72, called an ambulance, which took Marshall to Woodhull, where she had been treated for similar symptoms earlier in the week.In the crowded emergency room, Marshall was diagnosed with a blocked bowel, and doctors said they would admit her, Leonard said.But the hospital, in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, did not allow Leonard or other family members to stay with her in the emergency room. Leonard said she could do nothing but wait by the phone for updates.The next day about 2 p.m., Marshall, disoriented, began walking around the emergency room, police said. She crossed paths with Lundy, and the women -- both from Brooklyn -- got into an argument before the younger woman pushed her to the ground.Marshall hit her head on the floor, lost consciousness and died hours later, investigators said. Lundy told detectives she had shoved Marshall because she "got into the defendant's space," according to a criminal complaint. The attack was captured on surveillance video, the complaint said.Unaware of Marshall's injury, Leonard kept calling the hospital that day. She finally reached someone shortly after 5 p.m. who told her that Marshall was with a nurse receiving medical care."I thought, 'That's great. She's being tended to,' " Leonard recalled. "I didn't know she was dead already."Leonard went to sleep feeling hopeful. Her phone rang at 3:30 the next morning. A doctor told her that Marshall had gone into cardiac arrest. "Are you telling me she's dead?" Leonard recalled saying. "What happened?"Leonard said she went to the hospital later that morning but after several hours of waiting was sent home without an explanation."We thought it was weird, cardiac arrest?" Jean Charles, the grandniece, said. "She had gone in for something completely different. She suffered from dementia, bowel blockage, not heart problems that we knew of."Then a cousin on Long Island called Leonard with troubling news. He had seen a news report online. "Did you know your aunt was murdered?" the cousin asked.Leonard then searched her aunt's name on Google and saw news accounts. "I was so stunned," she said. "It just tore at my gut that something like this would happen."Leonard wonders why hospital officials did not inform her about the incident when it happened. "I understand we are in the middle of a pandemic," she said, "but to say nothing?"Lundy has previous arrests, including charges of drug possession in 2018 and 2019, according to court records. It remained unclear why she had visited the hospital that night.Marshall was born in Abbeville, South Carolina, in 1934, the youngest of 12 children. Her parents died when she was young, and she followed some of her siblings to New York City, settling in Williamsburg, family members said."She arrived with big dreams and wide eyes, ready to take on the world," Jean Charles said.She became a successful accountant at a time when few black women practiced the profession, eventually working for the Social Security Administration and earning a bachelor's degree from Queens College. She never married or had children, but she was a role model to her numerous nieces and nephews, her relatives said."We don't want to remember her as a victim," Jean Charles said. "She always told us, there is no shame in being the first African American in any field. She was a leader."As it has become customary during the coronavirus pandemic, Marshall's relatives and members of her church, Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, were planning to attend a virtual funeral service Tuesday to abide by social-distancing rules, her family said.Leonard said she planned to ride in a limousine by herself to Pinelawn Memorial Park on Long Island and bid her one last farewell from inside the vehicle."We want to obey social-distancing rules, and yet she died because of these social-distancing rules," Jean-Charles said. "It's ironic in a very sad way."This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
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