Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Day in the Life Of...

Social experiments can be so much fun. And apparently journalists seem to agree. A few months ago we reported on one such experiment by Danielle Crittenden. She donned the abaya and niqab to live a day in the life of a niqabi Muslim woman. Well, we've come across another similar experiment, this time in Sudbury, Ontario.

In a Sudbury Star article, Lara Bradley engages in a similar experiment in the small Canadian city. She dons the niqab and abaya and wanders around the city for a day. In the article she reports on her experiences throughout the day as she visits a food court, rides a bus, and walks down the street, among other places. She tells the readers about the odd stares, the awkwardness, the uneasy glances, as well as the attempts at extreme politeness.

Bradley approaches this experiment in more respectful manner than Crittenden. She first consults with people in the Sudbury Muslim community. In the process she describes the Muslim community of Sudbury, in turn normalizing them. Though, as all other articles on Muslims, she paints Muslims as a monolithic group. From her conversation with a member of the Sudbury Muslim community she writes:

In Islam, men and women are equal; they just have different roles to play - men the breadwinner and women the nurturers of the children, he said.

This is the common interpretation in Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism etc. Not just Islam. Yet the diversity which exists among these other religious groups is often ignored when it comes to Muslims. Muslims are just as diverse in their belief of and adherence to this concept. By stating this 'piece of information' from a Muslim source Bradley forwards the interpretation of Islam, which further instills patriarchy. However, this may be a digression from the main topic - niqabi for a day.

Overall, Bradley's experience is as one would expect - in a Canadian context. She does not receive very much outright negative feedback. A few glares and head shakes. For the most part she explains how people feel uncomfortable around her.

Although experiments like these provide a brief glimpse into another's life, they can be quite telling. Bradley does indicate her lack of inner change. In other words, she does not actually become Muslim to conduct this experiment, therefore she is not able to provide a thorough explanation of the experiences of a woman who wears niqab. After all she knew she would be able to take it off at the end of the day. Additionally she also had to deal with the novelty of wearing the niqab and abaya and all the feelings entailed in that. Judgments about the niqab and abaya are made throughout the article, but they come from her non-Muslim, pseudo-niqabi status and this appears clear to the reader. To present a somewhat more accurate picture of 'a day in the life of' it would be more useful to recruit an actual woman who wears niqab.

The story Bradley presents is obviously not comprehensive. It is not a psychology paper nor journal article, which would require greater depth, explanation, and rigour. However, for a newspaper article, Bradley does seem to be trying to present a fair picture. By speaking to various Muslims in the community - a hijabi, a non-hijabi, and a man - she tries to present the life of a woman who wears niqab within the context of different viewpoints. By presenting a few different views, it appears that Bradley is trying to create a space for the reader to decide for themselves how they feel about the niqab and not necessarily telling us exactly how to feel.