While most Muslim women wear hijabs to cover their hair, wearing burqas or niqabs (that cover head, face, and body) is not so common outside of the territories where Shariah law is strictly implemented. So when two of the women promoting the Quran in the LA Times Festival of Books appeared completely covered, people stopped and looked.
I decided to ask one of them: "why do you believe you need to be covered from head to toe?" Not even her hands where visible, under the brazing Los Angeles sun. Only her hazelnut eyes made a shocking contrast with the blackness of her attire, and even her voice was hard to hear underneath the thick black veil.
The tiny Afghani woman, who fled her home country with her family when she was only 11, answered with no hesitation. "I feel it empowers me. When I'm covered, people are forced to listen to what I have to say, rather than being distracted by how I look." Asked if she thinks men are superior to women, she gracefully dodged the question, dismissing the premise. "I'm not looking to equalise myself to men. We have different rights and duties."
Her duty at last weekend's L.A. Festival of Books, along with the other Muslim women and men of WhyIslam.org, was to convey a peaceful image of Islam, handing free copies of the Quran and answering questions from festivalgoers. Last year, the organisation claimed to have converted 31 people during the two days of the festival and to have handed 1,500 copies of Quran - around 3 times less than in previous editions, according to numbers by the Islamic Circle of North America.
The Afghani woman of WhyIslam.org, which has participated in the fair for more than a decade, spoke in a very tolerant and patient way to everyone who asked her questions. She did admit believing that all media are biased and only report on terrorist attacks by Muslims, but refused to say if she thinks other terrorist acts are happening and being covered up.
"There's a whole chapter in the Quran dedicated to women. You should read it," she concluded. I did. It informed me that "Men are the protectors and maintainers of women […] therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient and guard in the husband's absence what Allah would have them guard" (Quran 4:34). #Religion