This story owes much to Bo Emp. He provided a lot of insights into how to bring Chelsea along the path to becoming a “black ghost.” These included both the change in her mindset (attending the class) and the gradual adoption of more concealing clothing. The ending is radically different from what I originally wrote and we have Bo to thank for what I think is more a interesting and exciting ending and tale.
Chelsea stepped outside, her black niqab concealing her as much as any other woman in this deeply conservative neighborhood. Irshad led them to their car. Chelsea was quick with her strides, the heat was already unbearable and being covered completely in black did not help to mitigate it. Chelsea got into the back passenger side as that was her designated place. Irshad got into the driver’s seat in the front as he always did. He started the car and pulled out into the street. They drove in silence. Irshad did not like talking while he drove and he forbade music to be played in his presence.
Chelsea simply sat in her seat as Irshad took them to their destination. She looked down at her gloved hands. She flexed the fingers and watched where the creases developed. For some time now, whenever she had gone outside, her hands had been hidden from her view. Chelsea looked at her reflection in the rearview mirror. It was difficult to see it as everything was shaded black due to the extra veil covering her eyes. What little she could see in the rearview mirror was of a woman concealed entirely in black. Never over the course of her life would she have ever thought that she would be in this situation. She thought back to how her life with Irshad had been at the beginning, when he had seemed so normal, almost Westernized.
Chelsea tore herself away from the veiled woman in the reflection to look at her husband through her shaded vision. When she had first met him he wore Western clothing and was clean shaven. Now his beard steadily grew from his face. Irshad had an intense look on his face. The look of a man in deep thought. He often had that expression on his face. Chelsea could often tell when he was concentrating on issues related to the Quran and Sunna.
Chelsea looked away from her husband and at the streets of the city. There were mostly men walking about, what women there were were concealed in black, just as she was. In the years that she had lived here she had seen more and more women dressed this way. Chelsea had seen news articles about women from the Middle East and had always felt sorry for them and been grateful that she had not been born into those circumstances. Little did she know that years later she would be concealing herself from the stares of men. She was married to a man who thought that a woman’s place was in the home and she had come to accept these beliefs too, and she concealed herself under niqab on those rare occasions when she was out of the house, an invisible black ghost.
Chelsea thought back to how she had come to this place…
The campus parking lot was already full of cars when Chelsea arrived on campus. She moaned at the sight of it and began to methodically drive down the line of cars until she found an open spot. Once she was parked she pulled her backpack from the back seat and got out of her car.
Chelsea Miller was starting her second year of college. She had spent her first year living on campus. For her second year she was living in an apartment. She had not realized how pressed the parking situation was until this moment. As she began the long walk to her first class of the day she reminded herself that she was going to need to leave earlier to find a good space.
Chelsea did not have to run to make it to her class on time, but she did have to walk straight to the building without stopping in the student union building where the previous year she had started out her day by eating in the dining hall. As she approached the room her class was scheduled in some students were already entering. The last student saw her approaching and held the door open for her. He was Middle Eastern looking and kind of cute.
“Thank you,” Chelsea said warmly as she entered the class.
The class was a mathematics course but Chelsea spent much of that first class meeting studying other things, like the guy who had held the door open for her.
Eventually the class ended and Chelsea was disappointed to see that he was not going the same way as her when they exited the class.
Later Chelsea met up with her old social circle from when she lived in the dorms.
Kristin and Tanya were a couple of beautiful women who dominated the social scene in the dorms. During Chelsea’s freshman year they had taken her under their wing and insured that she was friends with all the right people and invited to all of the significant parties. Even now they were getting ready for the night’s social scene, putting on outfits with low tops and barely there skirts so as to show off their cleavage and legs.
“So are you coming out with us tonight Chelsea?” Kristin asked as she studied her makeup in the mirror.
“I don’t know, I’m not really dressed for it.”
“Chelsea, you know you can borrow some of our clothes.”
Very quickly the two girls had Chelsea out of what she had worn to campus and dressed up the same as them. First they went to a party in a house next to campus. The house was packed with students and already the alcohol was flowing freely. Both Kristin and Tanya found male companions with whom they were grinding along with everyone else in the main room.
Chelsea drank from her beer as she watched them. Many of her evenings during her freshman year had been spent this way. She had thought that she was going to put some of this behind her and focus more on her studies. Yet, it was just so easy to slip back into things. Coincidentally a young man approached her. He was handsome in a rugged sort of way. They chatted for a while and before she knew it she was being led upstairs. They found a room that was not occupied and immediately proceeded to make use of it.
The next morning Chelsea awoke to find herself in a strange bed with a strange man. She looked at the guy she had given herself so freely to the previous night. Why had she been so quick to give it up? The guy, she did not know his name, slumbered contently on his side of the bed. Chelsea hurried got out of the bed and searched around for her clothes. Once dressed she quickly left the house.
The next time she was in her mathematics class she was glad to see that the cute guy who had held the door open for her was still in the class. She sat closer to him than in the previous class. Once her class was over they were getting up and then she heard his slightly accented voice.
Chelsea looked up to be met with his gaze.
“I was curious, would you like to get some coffee?”
Chelsea was stunned silent for a moment and then said, “Yes, absolutely.”
It turned out that Irshad was a student from Egypt who was studying Computer Science. the two of them talked for a long time. Then Chelsea asked a question that had been lingering in the back of her mind.
“So, are you a Muslim?”
“Ok, I just wasn’t sure because you seem so…”
Irshad laughed. “Not all Muslims have beards or wear veils. And I’m not a fanatic.” They both laughed. And talked for hours….
They began dating and it quickly took the place of the endless partying the previous year. Irshad was attentive and funny and so, so handsome. He didn’t seem to have any of the cultural hang-ups that other men from his region had. When they first made love it was tender. In fact, Irshad was so inexperienced that Chelsea had to take over and soon he was on the bed while she became the entire focus of his world.
After nine months of dating Irshad had proposed to Chelsea. To her own surprise she had agreed. They were quickly wed and they moved in together while Irshad completed his degree. Chelsea continued to work on her own studies and soon they had both graduated. They lived the normal married life for a couple of modern twenty-somethings. Once they were done with college Irshad informed her that he had been offered a job in his own country and asked if she wanted to come with him while he worked there.
“How long will this job be?”
And soon their adventure began, when their plane landed at the airport she exited wearing a long sleeve cotton shirt and a jean skirt that reached down to her ankles. Even this seemed to leave her feeling a little underdressed however. Upon her observations of the women of Irshad’s country she realized just how different the culture was. Some women were dressed as she was, others wore khimars that covered their entire upper body, most were in long black abayas that covered everything except for their face and hands, and several also wore a niqab and a few wore gloves and fabric over their eye-slits to keep them entirely concealed. She felt so sorry for these women. How could they be so brainwashed into submitting to such treatment.
Chelsea Miller looked around apprehensively as they departed customs and entered the main terminal of the international airport in Alexandria, Egypt. There was a great mass of people making there way through the airport. Irshad and Chelsea had to carefully scan across all of them. Finally, they saw what they were looking for. Holding a sign with Irshad’s name on it was a woman in a black niqab. Next to her was a very stern looking man with a thick beard.
As Irshad and Chelsea approached them she had to resist the urge to stare at the woman in the niqab. When she was in front of them the man spoke with a soft voice, barely loud enough to hear in the ruckus of the airport.
“You are Irshad?”
Irshad nodded and soon they was being escorted outside to a car. The man had not bothered to mention Chelsea, he did not even bother to look in her direction. Their bags were put into the trunk. The man got into the driver’s seat, Irshad into the passengers seat and the veiled woman and Chelsea got into the back. The car pulled out of its parking space and soon they were traveling through the urban metropolis of Alexandria. Chelsea looked out the windows at what was passing by but she was really too nervous and excited to pay too much attention to anything in particular.
Several times Chelsea stole a glance at the veiled woman to her side. Occasionally the woman would look in her direction and Chelsea would shyly look out the window.
The car entered the very conservative part of Alexandria. The women were less present on the streets here, and when they were they were wearing the niqab. Chelsea thought about what it would be like to be completely concealed underneath the black cloth.
Eventually they reached a large compound with a high wall around it. Their vehicle entered a parking lot that was divided from the rest of the compound by another wall. They got of the car and were soon through a gate leading to the main grounds. Chelsea’s heart practically stopped when she saw the grounds on the school. Everywhere there were women under black niqab.
Chelsea could feel the eyes staring at her from behind the black cloth that covered them.
The four of them followed a path to a building. Once in the front entrance they then proceeded down a hallway and into an office. Omar sat behind a desk, Irshad sat in a chair opposite him. The veiled woman stood against the wall at the front of the room and without anywhere to sit herself Chelsea joined her.
“Well, Irshad it is very good to have you here. Your professors spoke well of your abilities with computers.”
“Thank you. Now that I’m here, up until this point you’ve been vague about what this company is.”
“Oh, we are not a company. We are a foundation for teaching the ways of the Salaf.”
“You, you are Salafi?”
“Yes. Do not worry, it is not a problem that you are not. We hired you for skills.” Omar gave a slight chuckle which seemed to put Irshad at ease.
“We normally provide housing to our employees but right now we have a dearth of housing so we will have to put you up into a hotel. I hope that is acceptable.”
Irshad looked back at Chelsea who quickly nodded her approval.
“That sounds fine.”
“Good. I will show you where you will be working. While we are doing that my wife can show yours around so that she will not be bored staying in the office.”
Chelsea turned and looked at the veiled figure who nodded. The woman then stepped forward and opened the door. Giving a glance over to Irshad for confirmation Chelsea then followed the black ghost out of the room and eventually out of the building. Once again Chelsea was greeted by the sight of many more veiled women. It was such a strange vision. All of these women, submitting to a social convention that forced them out of sight while in public.
“I am Umm Najeedah” came an almost whisper of a voice in decent English.
Chelsea realized this was the first time she heard the woman speak. “Oh-er-hello. I’m Chelsea, it is nice to meet you.”
Chelsea was led into another building. They passed one classroom after another, filled with young women. All of them were covered completely in black. They paused in one room where the women each with a book on a stand in front of her.
“In this room they are doing Quran study. This class is for young women who are not as familiar with the Quran.”
“Who comes to a place like this study?” Chelsea’s voice was one of disbelief, though Umm Najeedah did not discern this as she answered literally.
“It depends, in this class are the young women whose parents have sent them here. Many of them are from Cairo. They have drifted away from The Path and need to be brought back. Many of them wore revealing clothing, drank alcohol or went on dates with boys.”
One of the young women looked up from her book and at the window that Najeedah and Chelsea were looking through. She had a striking pair of eyes. They were fixed on Chelsea who felt a little uncomfortable about the gaze. She wondered who the woman behind the niqab was, what kind of life she had before she was forced to come here. Umm Najeedah led Chelsea away from the class and showed her the rest of the grounds.
“Are there any men studying here?”
“Yes, but their buildings are walled off from these to protect the modesty of our female students.”
Afterwards Chelsea was reunited with Irshad and they were driven to the hotel they would be staying in. To Chelsea’s relief it seemed to be in a much less conservative area. There were plenty of women without headscarves in the hotel lobby.
After they were checked in and alone in their room Chelsea brought up the topic of the place Irshad would be working. “I can’t believe you are going to be working there.”
“Yeah, it was not what I was expecting.”
“That place was totally unreal. With all of those women veiled. It is like something out of the Middle Ages.”
“Yeah,” Irshad answered in a quiet, perfunctory manner.
Chelsea was quiet for a moment. She sensed something in Irshad. Was it…
“You don’t actually think what they are doing there makes sense do you?”
“No…well, I mean I am not a Salafi.”
Irshad looked at her. There was an expression on his face, difficult to pin down.
“What do you think about what they are doing there?”
“Well…I don’t always practice Islam right. And here were all these people dedicated to practicing it right. I guess I just felt guilty seeing them today.”
There was a pause and soon the topic of conversation changed to the hotel and how lovely it was. Chelsea said that if Irshad’s employers were able to pay for them to say here every night then they must be bringing in some serious money.
Irshad and Chelsea first stayed in the hotel while he got situated with his job. Chelsea enjoyed the stay there and would often explore the restaurants and shops in the lobby. In general they had a happy life during the first couple of months.
One thing Chelsea had noticed was that Irshad was praying more often than he had back in the United States. There his prayers had been infrequent, but now he was making sure to pray five times a day. When Chelsea had asked him about it he had replied in an irritated voice, “It is the obligation of every Muslim to pray.”
His tone had taken Chelsea off guard and she had hastily apologized and avoided the topic from then on. She also noticed during this time that Irshad was spending more time with some of his coworkers. He went with them to their mosque, not only for Friday prayers but increasingly he was going there everyday after work. Chelsea had thought to say something, but since religion had become such a tender subject for him she simply avoided the issue.
Eventually Irshad announced that he had secured a place for them and they would be moving out of the hotel. Chelsea asked how he had found it.
“My coworkers were able to arrange it. It is in a good neighborhood.”
“Why didn’t you ask me about it first?”
“Because I am the responsible one of this family. I pay the bills and support you.”
Chelsea stared at her husband, his statement took her by surprise. She was at a loss and soon gave in to their plans to move. When Irshad first took her to their new apartment she found that they were entering the conservative Salafi part of the city. There were few women in sight and what ones that were in sight were covered in black and in the company of either their fathers or husbands.
The streets and buildings were clean, but austere. There was no decoration anywhere. There was also a great abundance of mosques. In her time in the Middle East so far she had seen several of them, but in this neighborhood they seemingly were as plentiful as houses. It occurred to Chelsea that she would probably not be able to go outside much. She wondered if she would be able to use a Taxi to get around town.
When they arrived at the apartment complex she found that it had a high wall around it, probably to keep people out. They had to enter in through a gate that had a very stern looking man guarding it. He welcomed Irshad warmly but seemed not even to notice Chelsea. They were then allowed inside. There was a central courtyard for the apartments including a small park where several children were playing in the company of women in full niqab.
When they entered their apartment they found that their belongings had already been moved in and unpacked. Chelsea quickly discovered that some hijabs had been placed with her clothes.
“What are these for?”
“They are for you.”
“This is a very conservative neighborhood. The women are expected to dress modestly. You should wear a hijab.”
“But I’m not a Muslim!”
“It does not matter. You are my wife. If you are dressed immodestly it will look bad on me. Many of my coworkers live here. If you cause problems for me it might threaten my job and my ability to support us. Do you want me to lose my job?”
“Then please do this. I go to work to support us, you can wear the hijab to support us.” Chelsea was going to protest further but she realized since Irshad was working for the both of them she could not really complain too much.
The next day Irshad left for work. Chelsea got up out of bed and got dressed. Since she was not going outside she left off the head scarf.
When she turned on their television she was disappointed to discover that unlike the hotel, which had many satellite channels from across the world, their current programming was all strictly in Arabic. Not only that, they were not really television shows. They were audio only and all of them clearly religious in nature. She turned the television off and sighed.
She got up and went to the window. All of the glass was treated so that while she could look out, no one could look in. She supposed this was one more innovation designed to protect her modesty. She watched the concealed women below in the courtyard. She pitied them and the restricted lives they lived. At least Chelsea was only going to be here for two years. She decided to make the most of her time and resumed her on again/off again studies of Arabic.
Later in the day she began cooking dinner for Irshad. They had shared that duty while in the United States, and when they first arrived in Alexandria they had eaten in the hotel’s restaurants. Now that she had all of the time on her hands she figured she might as well pick up some of the slack for her husband. When he arrived from the mosque and found dinner waiting for him he seemed pleased enough. He ate his entire plate and complemented her on the meal which was nice. And after he got up from the table he kissed her deeply which was even better. He then went to the couch to sit down with his laptop, leaving Chelsea to rub her face where his sharp stubble had scratched her.
Several hours later they both went to bed but before going to asleep they made love. It lasted longer than their love making sessions usually did. It was also different, there was something in Irshad. An eagerness? Or was it some sort of intensity? He seemed to both be in the bedroom with her and somewhere else entirely.
The next couple of days followed the same pattern. Then one day Chelsea realized she had spent an entire week indoors. It suddenly occurred to her that she was sick of it. She went over to her nightstand and put on the headscarf. She paused to look at herself in the mirror. It was a strange sight. Was this really her? When she went out she would be a veiled woman. But veiled or not, it would be worth it to get out of the apartment.
Chelsea stepped out the door and looked around. In the center park of the complex were several veiled women and their children. Chelsea ignored them and headed straight for the gate. The same stern looking security guard was there. He watched Chelsea with a measured gaze as she approached the gate. She reached out, pulled on the handle…and discovered it was locked. She turned towards the guard and in her best Arabic asked, “Excuse, can you open this please.”
The head guard curtly shook his head. “Wife only leave with husband’s permission.”
“Wife only leave with husband’s permission. Your husband need give me note.”
Chelsea stood frozen for a minute. Then she reluctantly retreated to her apartment. As inconvenient as it was to have to go out in a hijab, at least she theoretically could have gone anywhere she wanted. Now she faced the prospect of being confined to this complex. She would speak about this with Irshad when he returned home, hoping that the talk would go well. She pondered that, the fact that she had to hope the talk would go well, whereas several months ago she would simply have assumed it would.
After her husband arrived home she had the simple robes he was wearing at home ready for him when he changed out of his work clothes.
“Yes my wife?”
“Did you know that the wives here need permission to leave the complex.”
“That didn’t bother you?”
Chelsea stared at Irshad. She decided to side step the topic of what he thought of the practice.
“Will you give the guard permission for me to leave?”
“We will discuss this after dinner.” Irshad then turned around and left the conversation to be on his computer. Chelsea decided to go back to the kitchen to finish the meal. They ate in silence, Irshad gave no indication that he was thinking about what she had asked. After the meal when Chelsea had taken the plates away and cleaned the kitchen he announced his decision, “I have decided that you will be allowed to leave the complex.”
Chelsea should have felt glad, but the fact that he was arbitrarily making a decision without discussing it with her had her feeling uneasy. Still, at least she would not be trapped here.
“They have Quran classes at the foundation. One of these classes is in English for reverts from American and Britain. I am sure if I ask they will allow you to attend.”
Chelsea wanted to groan, this was not what she had in mind. Still, the other women there would also be English speaking and some of them Americans. This would be an immense improvement.
When Irshad dropped Chelsea off at the entrance of the foundation on his way to work Umm Najeedah was already there waiting for her.
“Greeting sister, how are you?”
“I’m fine.” Chelsea said it but did not really feel that way. She stared at the woman in front of her, concealed entirely in black. Compared to this sight she felt almost naked wearing but a simple hijab.
Umm Najeedah then led Chelsea inside.
“We are so pleased that you will be joining one of our classes. I hope you find it enlightening.”
“I’m sure I will,” Chelsea said, not meaning it in the way Umm Najeedah probably meant.
“I realize you will feel a little intimidated. But don’t worry, the class you will be participating in is aimed at English speakers.”
Soon they reached a door and Umm Najeedah opened it. Inside there were several black ghosts seated at desks along the wall and another ghost in black standing at a table at the head of the class.
“Hello Amal. This is Chelsea.”
“Welcome, please sit.” The woman’s words seemed mostly perfunctory. Chelsea entered the room and sat down at an empty desk. She looked at the niqab clad women. No part of their body was visible. Chelsea wondered about the background of these various western women.
“Welcome Chelsea. If you wish to ask a question during the lecture, please raise your hand. Today’s topic is Islam and the elevation of the status of women.”
“As we all know, in the world today, there are, for the overwhelming majority of humanity, basically two world views. The first world view, which I am sure most of us are aware of, is the Western liberal view. A view which claims to draw its roots from the Judeo-Christian tradition that probably, upon investigation, is more well rooted in the ideas that appeared after the reformation; ideas that are rooted in secularism and the world view that appeared thereafter during the ‘era of enlightenment. The second view is that of the Muslims – the Islamic world view, and this view says that its roots and ideas lie in the revelation given by Allah to the prophet Muhammad. Those who proclaim this view say that it can be used by humanity during all ages and times, and that its relevance and benefit is not restricted to a certain period of time, geographic area or certain race of human beings. Likewise, the adherents of the first view, that of Western secularism and the liberal tradition, believe that their world view, ideas, culture and civilization are the best for humanity.”
Amal continued on for some time and made what Chelsea considered to be specious comparisons between Islam and the West. Everything was backwards in Amal’s perspective. She proclaimed the Western woman as the one who was truly oppressed and the Salafi Muslim woman as the one who was liberated. Chelsea looked over at the other women. Their faces were obscured but their eyes were intently focused on the lecturer. She wondered just how much any of them believed this. Apparently they must of because they had chosen to conceal themselves in black. Chelsea reached up to touch the dark blue hijab Irshad had coerced her into wearing. It was not something she liked but she had to concede that considering the culture they were in it was probably for the best that she wear one.
Eventually the lecturer finished for the day. The women in the class got up and went to their own individual classes in the hallway of the main entrance. Chelsea had attempted to wait outside for her husband to pick her up but had been convinced not to go outside less someone driving by see her immodest dress and get the wrong impression of the school. During this time one of the women who did not seem to have anywhere to go to immediately came up and introduced herself.
“Hello. I am Annelise. What is your name?” She spoke with fluid but accented English. Obviously another European language was her primary tongue.
“I am Chelsea.”
“My name is Annelise. It is nice to meet you Chelsea.”
“May I ask where you are from?”
“I’m from the United States. How about yourself?”
“I am from Denmark.”
“Oh. That’s nice. I’ve never met anyone from Denmark before.”
“Then it pleases me to be the first. Chelsea, may I ask you some questions?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“I am curious. Why are you here, I mean, at the school? Most of the women in the class had already accepted the Salafi way in their home countries. But you only wear a hijab so I assume you have not.”
“Actually, I’m not planning on converting to Islam. I live with my husband who works for the foundation. We live in a complex nearby where women are not allowed to leave without their husband’s permission. I was getting tired of being stuck at home so I agreed to take this class.”
“I see. Well, I think you shouldn’t be tired of being at home. There are many duties a wife can perform in the home while her husband is at work. But, since you are not yet a Muslim I think it is good that you are here and will be able to learn about Islam. I will pray for you to be shown the way and revert.”
“Oh. Thanks, I suppose.”
Chelsea looked intently at the woman in front of her. Annelise wore all encompassing black so there was no way to know what she looked like. Up close, Chelsea could just barely discern the outlines of eyes underneath that dark cloth. She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be stuck underneath such a thing. Even more than what the young Danish woman looked like, or rather how she had no idea what she looked like, Chelsea was amazed by her attitudes and beliefs. This woman seemed to have accepted the ridiculous notions of this place. Chelsea wondered how anyone could fall for such propaganda. She was not able to talk with Annelise for long because Irshad soon showed up to bring her back to their complex.
He dropped her off and then set out for the mosque. Chelsea looked at the black ghosts with their kids in the play area of the courtyard. Even though she could not see their eyes, she could feel more than one of them examining her. She ascended the steps up to the second level and entered her apartment. She at first began to walk to her bedroom when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She looked at herself in the dark blue headscarf that Irshad made her wear. It made her look Islamic.
With forceful hands she reached up, undid it and threw in down on the couch with enough strength that it if were a harder, heavier object it would have made a thud.
The next day at the class she had to sit through another lecture. It would have put her to sleep if not for the fact that the many objectionable arguments made her sufficiently upset that she listened in sullen silence.
After the class she was approached by Annelise. The two of them greeted each other and began talking. Again, Annelise’s wholesale acceptance of everything being taught here was apparent. Finally Chelsea asked, “Why are you here?”
“I’m here to improve my deen and ensure that I have as thorough understanding of the Quran and Sunna as possible. When I am done, the foundation will find a pious husband for me.”
“No, I mean…why did you come to this place. Why did you abandon your life in Denmark?”
“Oh. You mean why did I embrace the truth of Islam. Well, you must understand that my life was dramatically different than it is now. I lived a very ‘liberated’ lifestyle. I want to lots of parties, I drank lots of alcohol, I used drugs, and I slept with one guy after another. I had a lot of fun doing it, or at least I thought so. But inside I was slowly dying. There was an emptiness that the modern atheist lifestyle could not fill. Then one day I met a Muslim woman in a class I was taking. She was a Salafi and wore a full niqab. At first I felt sorry for her, thought she was so oppressed. But then we began talking and she surprised me when she admitted that she felt sorry for *me*. I was prostituting myself out to men without even receiving money. After my encounter with her I began to question things about myself. And I began to learn about Islam. Eventually I began attending a mosque, wearing the veil and eventually I reverted.”
Chelsea thought about Annelise’s words. It was an interesting story and she couldn’t deny that it didn’t have some power to the personal experience of it.
“How did you come to be here?”
“The foundation opened an office in my home town in which they work with local mosques. I learned about the program provided here and was eventually accepted.”
Irshad arrived soon after to pick up Chelsea. She parted ways with Annelise and joined Irshad in the car. He was mostly silent on the way back to their apartment complex. After they came through the gate and parked he said goodbye, but before leaving he also informed her that there would be no need for her to prepare dinner tonight. He had been approached by Omar about having dinner with him and his wife Umm Najeedah and some other guests. Chelsea would be coming along as well. In order not to offend anyone’s sensibilities Chelsea would have to wear a niqab. He reached behind his seat and brought forward a box.
“You can’t seriously expect me to wear one of those things. I agreed to the hijab but this is too much.”
“You will do it.” His demeanor was serious he stared at her with steely eyes. It was at this moment that she fully could see the change in him. His beard was the longest she had ever seen it. Gone completely was the clean shaven, fun loving man she had first fallen in love with.
“Because I am your husband and you must obey me.”
Chelsea reached out and took the box, if anything just to end the standoff. After Irshad drove away she walked into the courtyard of the apartment complex. There were women about, concealed under the black of their niqabs. Chelsea’s thoughts turned towards the box held under one of her arms and its dark contents.
When she entered the apartment she dropped the box on the ground and threw the hijab against the wall. She then stumbled into her bedroom, collapsed on the bed and began sobbing uncontrollably. The tears streamed down her face, dampening her pillow. How could she have possibly found herself in this situation. This was crazy, stuck in the Middle East, married to an Islamic fundamentalist. How could this have happened. She tried to sort it out, make sense of it. The transition had been gradual. Clearly his exposure to the other people at the foundation had made him more conservative.
The only question now was what she could do. She could leave now, at least she would have been able to if she had any money. He controlled the finances which meant that her departure would require his permission. Would he give it? It seemed doubtful. There was a constraint on his time here. His contract would be up after a certain period of time. Would they go home then? Chelsea wasn’t sure of what she should do.
Hours passed and as the hour of Irshad arriving home grew near Chelsea reluctantly got up and returned to the living room. She looked down at the box. She picked it up and unpacked the contents on the couch. She took off her clothes and began to dress herself for the evening. She pulled up a pair of thick black stockings. Then a pair of baggy black trousers and a long sleeved blouse. Next was black abaya and then a head covering. Two long gloves came next and then finally in those gloved hands she held a niqab. Slowly she fitted it over her face. Peering through the slit she could see, she reached up behind her head and brought the material down to cover her eyes. The room grew dim, everything she saw had a black haze to it.
At that moment Irshad entered the apartment. When he saw Chelsea he exclaimed, “All Glory be to Allah. You look magnificent.”
Chelsea wondered how he could say she looked like anything when he couldn’t even see her.
Omar lived in an actual house rather than an apartment. On the trip there Irshad had instructed Chelsea that during the dinner and while present amongst the men she was not to speak as it might offend their sensibilities. Omar answered the door and warmly greeted Irshad. He then led them inside. Chelsea was gestured to sit with Umm Najeedah and some other women concealed in black. They were seated at a separate table with a screen between it and Omar’s male guests.
Chelsea meekly sat down. She learned some of the subtleties of eating with a niqab on. But mostly she could only sit and listen as then men talked amongst themselves. Apparently enrollment at the foundation was climbing higher and higher and they had had to buy more land and buildings to expand their campus.
“We have received some substantial donations from wealthy Saudis favorable to our teachings. We will soon be able to expand to other countries.”
“We need to remember that are duty is to change the beliefs and behavior of as many people as possible.”
“The Brotherhood’s mistake was to challenge the rulers. This was no good. It only creates fitna and does nothing to change people’s behavior.”
“We have been so successful so far. Many families are sending their daughters to us to rid them of the corruptions of the current secular world.”
The talk continued for a couple of more hours until Irshad took Chelsea home. When they got home she took off the niqab and put it away in the box before it gave her husband any ideas.
Annelise was waiting for Chelsea after class was over. They talked some more of Annelise’s life and a bit of Chelsea’s.
“Annelise, I do not understand why you would give up all the freedoms you had to come live here.”
“Because those ‘freedoms’ were illusions and lies. They mostly served to allow me to be prostituted out to men for their enjoyment. When I am finished studying here, the man that I marry will be taking responsibility for me and not just have his fun and run off.”
Chelsea tried to think of a reply but could come up with none. The next day during the lecture she found herself listening to what the lead woman was saying instead of just spacing out. Chelsea did not agree with things being said but she could understand the sort of reasoning people might use to come to the conclusions. She still thought they were wrong, but she understood why from their point of view they might believe some things.
The days passed and the classes came and went. Gradually things became routine and normal and Chelsea found that despite her best efforts she was learning about their beliefs in the class and her perspective gradually began to shift. This continued until one point when she was returning to her apartment. As she passed through the court yard she looked at the women completely covered in black. Then she looked down at her own colorful long skirt, her long sleeve shirt and felt her blue hijab. She realized that she felt underdressed.
When she was in her apartment she took out the box with the black clothes. She pulled out the abaya and khimar. Before she even realized it she had them on. She studied herself in the mirror, only her hands and face were visible. This was more modest than she usually dressed. If she went out in this she would be less conspicuous. She tried to tell herself that was the reason she was doing this. She tried to pretend it wasn’t because she was accepting their beliefs.
Her husband made no comment of her change of attire when she wore the abaya to the campus the next time but there was a subtle hint in his demeanor that suggested he approved. Annelise was a lot more vocal in her approval of the attire change. It was nice to receive some sort of positive interaction after many months of isolation with Irshad’s new austere attitude.
The months quickly passed. Chelsea became more engaged in Quran study and subtly, slowly, the line between her doing it for something to do and having a genuine interest began to blur, than disappear. She began to develop a sisterhood with the women in her class beyond Annelise. At home she read the Quran and watched Irshad perform prayers more and more until she began to join in.
Then one day when she got home from the class and was preparing for prayer at home she began to catch herself.
“What am I doing?” she muttered to herself. She wasn’t a Middle Eastern woman. She was an American. Why was she slowly slipping her way into this world. Why was she wearing the abaya and hijab? Why was she allowing herself to be confined in this place. Why was she learning the Quran and gradually adopting these beliefs. This was madness.
And yet she took out the prayer rug. She got down on her knees and prostrated. Each time she felt her forehead touch the ground those bothersome doubts drained away. Was she becoming Muslim. Was she already a Muslim?
When Irshad got home she had dinner waiting for him. Before she could say anything he wrapped her up in his arms and kissed her deeply. She returned his kiss. He held her close. She could feel his beard, longer still than it bad been before. They were soon on their way to the bedroom where they made love. When they first dated in college she had been the dominate one in the bedroom, almost always on top. But now she was submissively the one on the bottom. Afterwards his strong arms held her close. Her protector, her maintainer. This domestic life suddenly seemed so right.
The next day she made her declaration of faith and she made it while wearing a niqab.
Chelsea’s thoughts returned to the present. Their car arrived at the airport. Irshad exited the car and Chelsea followed him. Inside they waited until the arrival of the newest employee of the Salafi organization. Eventually Mazin and his wife Becky arrived on their flight. Irshad greeted Mazin and helped him take the luggage to their car. Chelsea studied Becky intently. Like many western women she dressed in a shamefully immodest manner just as Chelsea had once. Becky’s hands and her entire head were uncovered, free to be gazed upon and lusted after by any man who would pass by. Becky for her part looked a little overwhelmed by the new sights around her.
Irshad drove the couple to the hotel where they would be staying. After they were checked in and settled he then returned to the compound where they picked up their young son Ahmed from the school for children. Irshad then dropped them off Chelsea and Ahmed at their home in the complex before returning to work. As he drove away Chelsea felt such admiration for the long hours he worked for his family. Her protector and maintainer.
When they entered the apartment Ahmed immediately went to his room and began playing in there. Chelsea was about to take off her niqab, but caught sight of herself in a mirror. She approached the reflection. Her sight was blurred, but then all she was looking at was a black ghost anyway. It was amazing. To think of the path her life had taken. Never would she have thought that she would be a veiled Muslimah. Allah had truly blessed her in a way so many other women would not be blessed.
Chelsea finally removed the niqab and looked at her reflection in the mirror some more. Now her face was visible, the only part of her body visible. The rest was covered in black. Her piety on display for any who might see it, not that many people saw her nowadays. She examined her face. Her eyebrows unplucked, her face free of cosmetics. Then she pictured how she might have looked years ago when she was still partying. Her face painted to be pleasing to men, her body on display for their pleasure. Chelsea shuddered at the thought. It was so terrible to contemplate. She wondered what had happened to Kristin and Tanya. She had turned herself into a prostitute for men’s enjoyment. They had gotten from her what they wanted and then left. She had had no value to them other than a momentary enjoyment. But now, now she lived in the grace of Allah. Islam had given her dignity and worth.
Chelsea went into the kitchen and after taking off her gloves she began to prepare dinner. As she got out the flour and began making the dough she thought about Irshad. When she had first met her husband he had been virtually indistinguishable from any Western man. But now he was as devote a brother as could be found. His devotion to his work was more than just doing a job for pay, he was working to help spread the Salafi message. Every year more students came through the doors of the school. Their organization grew and the campus expanded at a steady pace. Chelsea thought with some satisfaction about all the young women who now concealed themselves completely from the view of men.
Eventually Irshad returned home and their family ate dinner together. Afterwards Irshad spent some time on his tablet while Chelsea helped Ahmed learn more of the Quran in addition to what he was learning in school. The young boy was quickly memorizing the passages which always made Irshad so proud.
They then performed Isha’ prayers before putting Ahmed to bed. Then Irshad and Chelsea retired to their bedroom where they listened to an hour long lecture by the Shiek who ran their school. He stressed the importance of spreading the Salafi message. He condemned those who engaged in terrorism and reckless violence for creating fitna in the Muslim World. It was important he stressed, not to rebel against rulers. Rather Allah would bless his people with a just ruler once they started to live truly just lives.
When the lecture was over Irshad turned off the tablet and they made love. The next day after Irshad had left for work and Ahmed been dropped off at school Chelsea performed her daily cleaning duties in the house. Once she was done with these She put on her black gloves and niqab and stepped outside. She descended the stairs down into the courtyard and approached the central play area. Here on shiny new equipment those children too young to attend school played while their veiled mothers sat on a bench. As Chelsea approached one of the women turned to look at her.
“Good morning Umm Ahmed.” Chelsea was referred to as the mother of Ahmed rather than her original name. It had taken some getting use to but she found she rather enjoyed it. It helped to emphasize her role as a mother and bearer of children and to disassociate herself from her previous life.
“Good morning Umm Maddah.” They spoke together in Arabic. Communicating in nothing else and intensive and unrelenting study of the Quran had helped her learn enough to be able to communicate in it with ease.
The two women discussed the latest in their work as mothers. Umm Maddah’s smallest boy played on the equipment. Her two other children attended the same school as Ahmed. They discusses cooking and cleaning and the various adventures their respective children had gotten into. Eventually they both took out a copy of the Quran and began reading it as many of the women seated on the benches did. Seeing the text through the black fabric that concealed her eyes was a bit of a strain but Chelsea was able to read it steadily enough.
Eventually she returned to her apartment where she prayed the midday prayers. Irshad and the other men at the campus would be performing their prayers in a mosque on campus. However, it was not practical for him to come by and pick up Chelsea and bring her by and then return to the complex to drop her off. Besides, in the hadith it was advised that it was better for women to pray at home so that they would not be molested. Chelsea removed her niqab and gloves for the prayers. Each time her forehead touched the ground she felt a connection with Allah. After prayers were done she began some of the preparation for dinner. Here she was. An American woman who now lived in the Middle East as a devout Salafi Muslimah. Even in her own home she only wore black and kept her head covered. A constant reminder of her devotion to Allah and her submission to his will and to the will of her husband. No man other than her husband and children would ever see her without a black shroud ever again.