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How Chiberia Changed Perceptions For A Muslim Woman

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Leena wears a knit hat and scraf that covers her hijab. (Credit: Facetruth/Blogspot)

Leena wears a knit hat and scraf that covers her hijab. (Credit: Facetruth/Blogspot)

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By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — Leena Suleiman did something we all did this winter: she dressed in layers, including a knit hat and scarf.

Unlike most of us, for Suleiman, wearing these basic winter essentials was a transformative event.

She started to notice something different, perhaps even a bit odd.

People started talking to her.

At first, she couldn’t understand it.

Then, she had an epiphany.

She realized her layers were covering her hijab.

“My knit hat and winter scarf covered my hijab (the head scarf part) entirely and all that was visible were my eyes behind my wannabe hipster glasses while my skinny jeans tucked themselves into my boots,” she wrote on her blog, Facetruth. “They didn’t even know I was Muslim.

“I found this realization absolutely hilarious. And entertaining. … It was a good feeling. I secretly started looking forward to venturing out into the cold to further explore what it meant to be ‘normal.’

“All the stares were not racially related anymore. I was addressed as “lady” and “little lady,” something I had never heard before. Men would hold doors for me. Women would crack jokes with me. I became respectable, lovable, and accepted.”

With this realization, came another, more sobering conclusion.

“I never questioned that I was being given less respect and love, or that I was not as accepted. I always thought that the type of treatment I was exposed to was just how the world was,” she wrote.

Her blog has led to some revealing admissions from people, especially men, who confided that they avoided Muslim women out of fear of embarrassment–the fear of offending them.

“But I’m not going to lie–when I see Muslim women covered up, I still sometimes get scared to offend them,” one man wrote on Reddit. “Mostly I worry: as a man, is me talking to them immodest? I know this is a completely irrational fear, since the answer is generally no, but it’s crazy how strong of an emotion embarrassment can be.”

Suleiman, whose posting has generated nearly 200 comments, seems to understand this, and hopes it can change.

“I pray one day, and soon, that people will be familiar enough with all other cultures and beliefs that they are not afraid or have reservations, and that the thing that stands out to them is not the wrap around my head, but the smile on my face,” she wrote.

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