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Behind the Veil
by Lorraine Ali
Hebah Ahmed assessed the weather before she stepped out of her minivan. "It's windy," she said with a sigh, tucking a loose bit of hair into her scarf. Her younger sister, Sarah, watched out the window as dust devils danced across the parking lot. "Oh, great," she said, "I'm going to look like the flying nun."
Hebah, who is 32, and Sarah, 28, do wear religious attire, but of the Islamic sort: a loose outer garment called a jilbab; a khimar, a head covering that drapes to the fingertips; and a niqab, a scarf that covers most of the face. Before the shopping trip, they consulted by phone to make sure they didn't wear the same color. "Otherwise, we start to look like a cult," Sarah explained.
When Hebah yanked open the van's door, the wind filled her loose-fitting garments like a sail. Her 6-year-old daughter, Khadijah Leseman, laughed. Hebah unloaded Khadijah and her 2-year-old son, Saulih, while struggling to hold her khimar and niqab in place.
The wind whipped Sarah's navy-blue jilbab like a sheet on a clothesline as she wrangled a shopping cart. Her 3-year-old son, Eesa Soliman, stayed close at her side, lost in the billowing fabric.
Most people in the parking lot stopped to stare.
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