Hillary’s Journey Into Purdah
by Emily W
The sound of the rubbish bin being knocked over reverberated through the street. Hillary looked up the street one way and down it the other. There was no one else out except her and the people with whom she was stumbling through the streets in a vague effort to get home. One of them had fallen and crashed into the bin, spilling the contents all over the street. He looked up from the mess he had created and seemed extremely pleased with himself. Hillary looked down at him with mixed feelings. Some part of her was annoyed that he was being loud and obnoxious but the drunk part of her found it terribly amusing.
“Here Edgar, lets get you back up.” She reached down and helped pull him up. Or rather she tried as her first couple of pulls were met with him making no effort to get up. Finally he staggered to his knees and his feet and joined her in walking very unevenly down the street. Another man and woman came tottering past them. Hillary was not entirely sure what their names were. Just that they had been keeping her company for the last two clubs she visited.
The four drunken people kept up their uneven pace through the streets of London for several more minutes. Edgar, who Hillary had only met that night thought it would be amusing to ram two more rubbish bins. Each time he looked up at her like she should be impressed.
Overall it was a standard Saturday night. Hillary spent the better part of every Friday and Saturday night in this condition. Going out and partying was the hightlight of her week. After a dull Monday through Friday spent at an office it was nice to be able to loosen up. She usually brought a male companion home with her during these nights. Sometimes she did not even remember what the lovemaking was like from the night before. But at least it was something that made her feel.
Eventually their companions swayed into their flats, or at least they were someone’s flats. Edgar quickly got the attention of the first cab he saw and soon they were on their way To Hillary’s place.
The next morning Edgar had crawled out of bed and put his clothes on at a snail’s pace. Hillary was too hungover to object or help. She simply lay on the bed and wished the pounding in her head would leave with Edgar. Eventually he was dressed and out the door without bothering to say goodbye or leave his number.
It was several hours later before Hillary finally managed to get out of bed herself. She went to the kitchen and downed an entire bottle of water. She then made her eye over to the balcony of her place. She slid the door open and stepped outside. The grey sky over London was still a bit bright and she brought her hand up to shield her eyes. She looked at the towering buildings in the distance, one of which she worked at as an executive.
Hillary signed. These were the Sunday blues as she thought of them. She had had her fun on Friday and Saturday night but now she would to recover from her hangovers and get ready for another week in the grind.
She slipped back into her apartment and fell asleep on the coach for several more hours.
The next Monday at work seemed to drag on forever. In between the phone calls with clients and the meeting with her colleagues she seemed unable to keep her attention away from the clock. This caused her to be caught by surprise in a meeting.
Trying to avoid looking like she was caught daydreaming she quickly responded, “I’m sorry, I was thinking about the previous subject. What was that?”
“Well you be available to handle this new client.”
“Good, this Arab guy has a lot of money he is willing to through at our company. We need someone to make sure he prefers us over out competitors.”
“No problem.” Hillary relaxed a little, but made a mental note that she had to find out who this new client is from one of her coworkers.
The work week passed by and after finishing her last project on Friday she went home and changed into some knee high boots and a miniskirt. She went out to some of her usual night spots. At one she ran into a couple of her work friends, they were also dressed up with elaborate makeup. They talked about work for a while before noticing the flow of potential male dancing partners. Each woman eventually took a man home with her.
The Monday that followed saw the arrival of Jabir. He was dressed in the traditional white robes and black headband of the Arabian pennisula. Hillary welcomed him on behalf of the company and showed him around. He asked her many questions about the business and listened intently as she explained everything. He was gracious and many times thanked her for her hospitality.
“Well Ms. Baker, I must say that I am very impressed with the capacities of your business and though I do not want to commit myself right now, I think we can do business.”
“Well that is excellent to hear. We would be delighted to handle all of your company’s IT needs. Now…”
“I’m sorry. It is standard practice in my company to take the client to dinner. However, I did not want to create an awkward situation for you if you were not comfortable with that.”
Jabir smiled widely. “I appreciate your cultural sensitivity Ms. Baker. It seems I have chosen the right company. Do not worry, I am not offended. I understand that you do things differently here in the West. Normally I would not have dinner with an unaccompanied woman I am not related to. However, in the spirit of being a good guest in your country I will do so.”
“Oh, excellent. I know an excellent Middle Eastern restaurant in the area. Perhaps we could meet at six?”
“Splendid, it will be a chance for you to meet my wives.”
“I look forward to meeting her.”
They said their goodbyes Jabir was in the elevator and gone. It was only then that Hillary’s eyes became wide. Did Jabir say wives?
Hillary was standing in front of the restaurant when a limo pulled up. Out of it emerged Jabir in long white robes. Behind him emerged a woman who aside from her hands and eyes was covered completely in black. Behind her emerged another woman similarly dressed.
“Greetings Ms Baker.”
“Please allow me to introduce my wives. This is Najiya.”
“Hello, pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“And this is Qamra.”
“Hello, pleased to meet you.”
“And I am pleased to meet you.”
After introductions they were seated in a secluded booth. The Arab waiter seemed perfectly at ease by their presence and soon everyone’s order had been taken. Hillary chatted with Jabir for a while. During the conservation she had to keep herself from looking over at the two veiled figures.
“Jabir, may I ask you a question?”
“You have asked me many questions Ms Baker. Why ask for permission now?”
“Well, it is about your wives.” Najiya and Qamra both shifted a little in their seat but did not say anything.
“Please feel free to ask anything you wish Ms Baker.”
“Call me Hillary, please. I was just curious…why do you have two wives?”
“I married Najiya many years ago when I was a young man. Qamra was married to my brother but he died so I married her to take care of her.”
Hillary paused to reflect on that. It was a little less objectionable that he had married a widow to take care of her.
“You are allowed to marry more than one woman in your country.”
“Yes, my country’s laws are guided by Islam. In Islam a man may have up to four wives.”
“Can a woman have more than one husband?”
“Having additional wives is a tool to take care of widows or women who are poor or need help. It should not be done for pleasure.”
“I see.” Hillary was not entirely convinced but she did not want to offend her client.
“You have a different view on the matter. That is ok Hillary, you are entitled to live by your ways and I by mine. Do you have any other questions?”
“One, but again I…”
“Why do they wear veils over their faces?”
Jabir smiled and looked at one wife and then another. “They wear veils to protect their modesty.”
“But you do not agree.”
“Listen Jabir, I do not intend to lecture you on how your live your life. That is not my place. But I’m not sure I find these reasons convincing. I was doing research on your island emirate. Women are not allowed to drive there and men are considered their guardians. You have to understand that to my ears this sounds wrong.”
“Of course. We come from different cultures. In my culture the man is expected to be the maintainer and protector of the woman. The laws in my home country that you mention, they are to protect women. Requiring the niqab for instance, this keeps them from being molested on the streets. Have you ever been harassed while walking down the street?”
Hillary thought back to some of her nights out partying, occasionally she had been the target of unsolicted groupings. The awful feelings those incidents provoked lingered.
The conversation quickly turns to other subjects and Jabir and Hillary talk throughout the meal. Afterwards when they are outside and ready to part ways, Jabir says something just as she is about to turn and begin the journey back home.
“Hillary, if you are interested about the life of a woman in my country and in Islam perhaps I could help you.”
“Perhaps you could stay as a guest in my household for a while. I own a house in Britain. My wives could show you what life is like for them.”
Hillary had to pause to review what he had just said.
“Please be aware that I am not trying to lure you into being another wife!” He laughed. “I just thought that if you were interested this might help answer some of your questions.”
“Well it is an interesting idea Jabir but I do not think I will take you up on it.”
The work week passed as normal for Hillary. She had a couple of phone conversation with Jabir to finalize the working agreement. The last of these was on Friday just as she was wrapping up at work. When she was done at work she returned to her flat. She begin her customary routine in preparation for the night’s activities. She applied makeup to her face and dressed in a miniskirt and low cut top.
As she was getting ready to leave she paused to look out the glass at the city beyond. A thought came into her head. Somewhere out there Jabir was with his two wives. Hillary wondered what they were doing. Where they at home together, one big happy polygamous family? She shuddered to think that women were still held prisoner in such arrangements.
Hillary counted how lucky she was to have been born in the West as she stepped out the door.
The club scene was alive and in full swing by the time she reached one of her usual party locations. The men were out in force and she was able to find quite a few dance partners. One guy in particular took her fancy and she invited him to accompany her to another club. As they walked down the street they paused and began kissing. He slowly stepped her backwards until she was against a wall. Their lips continued pressing and then his hand started to slip underneath her shirt.
She pushed the hand away but almost immediately it returned.
“No.” Hillary was willing to bring the guy back to her place for the evening but she did not want to be groped openly in the street.
He did not seem to notice her objection, or maybe he just didn’t care because his hand forced its way under her shirt again and begna fondling her breasts.
“I said no!” She tried to push him away but he only laughed. Everything that happened next was so sudden. There was a struggles, a tangle of limbs. Her shirt was ripped. She broke free and managed to dash away, the sounds of his angry curses chasing after her.
Eventually she reached a corner and not seeing anyone following her she collapsed against a wall and started sobbing. She had been the subject of unwanted gropings before but this was something she had never experienced and it was decidedly unpleasant. She slowly slid down the wall until she was sitting on the ground. The sound of an empty bottle shattering against a wall cause her to jolt. She looked down the street and saw a staggering man examining his handy work. Suddenly the part of London with the clubs she liked to attend did not seem like such a fun place. In fact the fear in her started growing. Everything seemed dark and threatening. so many shadows…
Without even thinking about it she pulled out her cell phone and brought up Jabir’s number. Her hand trembled while she waited for him to pickup.
“Jabir, it is Hillary. Listen, I was thinking…well, actually I just need some help.”
“You have some questions about the contract?”
“No, I was wondering if you could send a car for me and maybe I could come over to your place.”
A limo found Hillary standing on the street corner. The driver who also looked Middle Eastern opened the door for her. She sat alone in the back of the car, occasionally her limbs would start shaking uncontrollably for a few minutes and then stop before shaking again.
She found herself profoundly grateful Jabir was willing to let her come over. Somehow the journey back to her apartment seemed to be a frightening proposition. The trip took a long time as the place Jabir was staying at was outside of the city itself. Finally they arrived at the walled premises of a very large house. The driver pushed a button above him and the gate swung open.
After the limo was parked the driver escorted her to the front door where she found Jabir waiting for her. He led her into the living room where Najiya and Qamra were also seated. They were dressed in black but to Hillary’s surprise their faces were not covered. One of them was in her early forties and the other appeared to be in her twenties.
Jabir must of noticed her shock and he smiled. “They do not have to cover their faces inside. After all, there is only us and you here right now. Please sit.”
Hillary practically collapsed on the far end of the couch, Jabir’s wives seated to her right.
Jabir waited patiently for several moments while she mentally collected herself.
“Tell me, what is the matter.”
“I…I just needed somewhere to go. Somewhere that was not my apartment. I had to be some place different.” At that Hillary started crying. Her faced buried itself into her hands. She felt a gentle touch on her shoulder and knew that one of the wives was trying to comfort her. She looked up at the younger wife and smiled.
“Well, you are certainly welcome to spend the night at our place. As you can tell from the size of this place, we have the room.”
Hillary wiped away some tears and then before she knew what she was doing, “Actually…I was thinking about your proposal. That I live with your wives so I can understand your ways.”
“Can we do that…I mean now.”
“Well yes, I suppose we could. What about your job?”
“Oh…well, tell them you need me to work full time with you on something very important. They are so eager for your money they’ll agree to it.”
“Very well, I will call your boss and let him know you are engaged in something very important. Najiya and Qamra will help you to get settled in here. After you’ve had a chance to get ready we’ll discuss how things work around here.” Jabir stood up and walked out of the room.
Najiya and Qamra both stood up and led Hillary through the house. She learned that they were separate housing sections for both Najiya who was Jabir’s first wife and Qamra who was his second. Each section was its own house that was connect to the main house through a common room. There were additional housing sections that were empty and Hillary would be staying in one of these.
Najiya prepared a bath for Hillary while Qamra departed for a moment, only to return with a handful of black clothes. Hillary looked at them and realized that those clothes were to be hers.
After her bath Najiya and Qamra helped her get dressed. After she had put on her underwear and, black stockings and sandals the helped her with putting on the Abaya and head covering. When they were done they brought her in front of a mirror and she was able to examine herself. The change was dramatic. She was covered from head to toe with only her hands and her face visible. Although she had never found herself interested in Middle Eastern clothing she had to admit that it was exotic looking and for the first time since that terrible encounter on the street she found herself smiling.
The three of them then returned to the living room where Jabir was standing in the middle, waiting for them. Once all three were seated he began.
“I have called your boss Hillary and he was more than happy to ‘loan’ you to me. So I suppose we can now begin. The purpose of this experience is for you to understand what life is like for Najiya and Qamra. You will spend your time with them, doing as they do. Except for those things that would be inappropriate, you will live as one of my wives. For this to work we need to understand some things. First, you are of course free to leave at anytime. Also, you will have to obey me in all things as my wives do. You will also have to dress appropriately when we are out of the house. Are you willing to try this?”
“Excellent. It is time for prayers. Since you are not a Muslim you do not have to participate but I would ask that you stay and watch.”
“Excellent.” Jabir, Najiya, and Qamra got up and brought out prayer rugs. They went to an empty part of the room and aligned themselves with Mecca. As they began to kneel Hillary watched with undivided attention. It was a very foreign sight for her. She had always thought of prayers as quiet whispers said when one is alone. She watched the three of them as they kneeled and touched their faces to the ground. She wondered what they got out of it.
After prayers Jabir returned to his room. Najiya and Qamra brought Hillary back to her apartments.
Najiya explained how the next day would proceed. “We will wake up for the first prayers. This may be earlier than you are use to but you must get up. After prayers you will join Qamra and I in the kitchen to prepare breakfast. Jabir will then leave the house for work. Normally we would spend this time with the children but they are back home at the moment. So Jabir has decided that we will spend this time teaching you about Islam. Do you understand all of this so far?”
“Good. I hope you sleep well.”
The next day Qamra gently shook Hillary awake and helped her out of bed and into her abaya. Hillary watched as the household performed the first prayers of the day and then joined Jabir’s wives in the kitchen. They mostly just gave her busy work while they prepared the majority of the meal. When it was done they all sat down to eat.
“Hillary, Najiya has explained what your schedule will be for today?”
“Good. I will be out of the house for most of the day. I hope you find the experience here enlightening.”
After the meal was over Jabir left for work and the three women cleaned up the kitchen before seating themselves in the living room.
Qamra was the first to speak. “Hillary, the other night at the restaurant who expressed your views on our ways. I am curious, what made you interested in trying them?”
Hillary sat silently for a minute before speaking. “I thought the way things are done in your country were wrong, I suppose I still do. But last night I had an experience…I prefer not to talk about it. It made me more receptive to hearing your point of view.”
Qamra nodded in acknowledgement. “Well, I hope that we can be helpful in enlightening you.”
Hillary felt a twitch inside of her. She did not particularly care for the way Qamra used the word ‘enlightening’ as if by implication Hillary was the one who came from a backwards society and not them.
Najiya spoke next. “Perhaps it would be best for us to answer any questions you have. Is there anything you would like to ask?”
“Oh well, I suppose I would ask what you think about my society.”
“A good question!” Najiya smiled. “I think there are many good things in your society. But I think your society is in error in many ways. There are so many young women who are dressed in revealing clothing. There is too much mixing between men and women and problems can come from this. There are so many rapes in your country that it is frightening. And there are so many women who are forced to work while their husbands stay at home and are lazy. I do not mean to be offensive but I think your society is too repressive towards women.”
Hillary was surprised to hear such a statement. How could her society be oppressive towards women when the sexes were equal in her society?
Qamra spoke next. “I have seen some things that I find very disturbing about Western society. There is so much pornography everywhere. It seems as if men look at women as sex objects and little else. I have seen women in your country walking down the street and be subjected to horrible harassment. In our country when a woman is walking down the street the men are suppose to lower the gaze out of respect.”
Hillary thought about both their comments before responding. “I understand the things that you are saying, but it seems to be that your country does things that are not reasonable. I do not understand why women are not allowed to drive.”
Najiya spoke up first. “This rule is not to oppress women. It protects them by keeping them away from an activity that is dangerous.”
“But doesn’t it imply that women are weaker? How can a society be fair to women if it treats one group as weaker than another?”
Qamra piped up next. “Perhaps I can help you understand Hillary. In your country women serve in the military, yes?”
“But do they go into combat?”
Hillary was unsure on how to answer. The first response that came to her was that ‘combat was dangerous’ but she knew if she said that they would seize upon it.
“There are some things that men have done for a long time that women are just now beginning to do in my country.”
Both Najiya and Qamra acknowledged the response. Hillary then brought up the topic of guardianship.
Najiya was the first to respond. “Guardianship is another way to protect women in our society. It keeps women from making bad decisions that could hurt them.”
“But don’t you find it wrong that a man gets to make decisions for you? Shouldn’t every woman get to make decisions for herself?”
“What if those decisions lead to bad consequences? Think about all the women who are raped or sexually assaulted in this country. Do you think they made the right decision?”
Hillary flashed back to the terrifying encounter from the previous night. The fear and the anguish. She thought back to her decision to go out in the miniskirt and low cut top. To dance with strangers. She didn’t think Najiya and Qamra were right but she had to admit that they did make a point.
“But surely not allowing women to make decisions could lead to some bad things as well.”
“Women are allowed to make decisions in our country, just not decisions about very dangerous things. In your country people are not allowed to make certain decisions about certain drugs, why is that?”
“Because drugs can be dangerous and…”
Both Najiya and Qamra looked like Hillary just made their point for them. Najiya spoke up next, “Perhaps we should save the rest of the questions for tomorrow. I think now we introduce you to the most important thing we can share. She got up and retrieved a book from a shelf and when she handed it to Hillary. She saw that it was a Quran.
Hillary knew enough about Muslims to know that the Quran was their holy book, much like the Bible was the holy book for Christians.
“We would like you to read a little bit of this each day. We will help you to understand what it means and hopefully we can introduce you to Islam.”
Hillary opened up the book. On one side there was the flowing script of Arabic and on the other was an English translation.
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah, the Lord or the worlds. The Beneficent, the Merciful. Master of the day of Requital. Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help. Guide us on the right path, the path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favours, Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.
“What do you think about what you have read.”
Hillary looked up from the words to the two women, their faces obviously eager. “I’m not sure I understand it completely.”
Najiya smiled. “Of course, that is why we are here. We worship Allah, the one God who created everything. Allah is eternally merciful and gave us the Quran and the prophets to help guide us on the right path. This book will help you to follow the right path.”
Hillary looked down at the book. She had always been on the fence about God. She supposed that there was some higher power but she had never really thought too hard about it. Her parents had both been members of the Church of England but she could not remember the last time they went to church.
“Do you believe Allah is the only god?”
“We worship a single God. A god that is one. Allah is unique and not like any of his creations. He has no consort and no children. There are no other gods but him.”
“What about the Jewish and Christian religions?”
“The Jews and Christians received the earlier prophets and revelations. However, much of the relevations were corrupted. That is why Allah gave us the Quran. It true and without error. That is one of the miracles, that throughout all these years it is the same as when it was received.”
“So, are they also right in their own way.”
“No. They are part of the family of Muslims but they have gone horribly astray. For instance, the Christians worship the prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, as a god. This is wrong.”
Hillary felt a little uneasy about the conversation but continued. “What about Mohammed, who was he?”
“He was the final prophet. We do not worship him because he was just a man. But he brought us the final revelation. There is a seal on the prophets now as Mohammed was the last one.”
“Do you believe in heaven?”
“All worthy people will reach Jannah.”
Their conversation continued until it was time for prayers again. Hillary watched as Najiya and Qamra kneeled and recited their words. Althought Hillary did not believe that their religion was right, she had to admit that their prayers were beautiful in their own way.
After prayers they prepared dinner. It was ready when Jabir returned home. He kissed both wives and then exchanged smiles and nodded with Hillary. Once they were seated and eating Jabir turned to Hillary.
“Well Hillary, I hope you found today interesting or at least informative.”
“Oh, it was. Thank you.”
After dinner Hillary was allowed to spend some time alone in her quarters. She sat in one of the chairs in the small living room between the entrance to her quarters and her bedroom. She thought about everything she had seen and heard that day. She was not impressed with the differences in the way men and women were treated. But she did have to concede that Najiya and Qamra had made some valid points about how the lifestyle of Western women had perhaps gone to the other extreme. She thought back to the other night…
For some time Hillary had felt an emptiness inside her. Rationally she knew that she was trying to fill it with drinking and partying but it was not working. Was it a lack of spirituality? Or maybe because she did not have a husband? Whatever the reason, she decided she would stay here at least a little longer. She did not think she would be convinced to be a Muslim, but perhaps by contrasting their lives with hers she might gain some insight into how she could improve her own.
After coming out to watch the final prayers of the evening she returned to bed. Her mind filled with thoughts and questions.
After breakfast the next morning Jabir announced that he did not need to do anything work related that day so they were free to go shopping. Najiya seemed pleased by this but Qamra was practically bouncing on her seat.
As Jabir was preparing for the trip the two wives brought Hillary back to her apartment to get ready. They pulled out her face veil.
“Now watch Qamra as she puts hers on.” The younger wife brought the face veil up and secures it around her head. She then adjusted it over her eyes. When it was done only a narrow slit over her face was visible.
“Now you try.”
Hillary brought the face veil up and began to imitate the process Qamra demonstrated. It was difficult at first and Hillary had to correct herself a couple of times but finally it was in place and she was seeing through the narrow slit for her eyes. Through this she watched as Najiya adjusted her own niqab. The two wives then brought Hillary over to the mirror and even though she could not see their faces she knew they were beaming with delight. Hillary examined herself in the mirror. Here she was, covered in black like many millions of Muslim women in the world. She wondered what people would think when they saw her like this.
They rejoined Jabir in the living room and the four of them went outside and got into his limo. Jabir kept himself occupied during the drive by reading a business periodical. Hillary spent most of her time looking out the tinted windows and wondering what the experience was going to be like. She felt nervous which was silly because no one would know that it was her underneath the veil.
They arrived at a very upscale boutique with prices so high only a few could possibly afford it. That probably explained why there were no other customers in the store. The three black ghosts that entered were personally attended to by two of the store’s staff. Jabir parked himself in a corner of the store and fiddled with his smart phone.
First Najiya and Qamra went over to the perfume section and sampled some of the fragrences. After making their selections the shop workers began packing their choices up. While they were out of earshot Hillary asked a question.
“You are allowed to wear perfume?”
“Yes. but not while we are out or going to a mosque. We wear it at home for our husband.”
After the perfumes they began looking through lingerie so sensual that it made Hillary blush under her niqab. After much insisting from Najiya and Qamra that she should pick something too, Hillary finalled caved in and did. She did not like the idea of having money spent on her this way but she supposed that what she bought would be useful after she was done with this experiment and was looking for a boyfriend.
“You are expericing what life is like for us, that means being able to have things purchased for you as well.”
They bought a variety of other things. It seemed strange that to Hillary that these two women should spend so much time shopping for things they would be unable to wear or use outside of the house.
During the shopping trip Hillary paid close attention to the clerks. She was curious what their thoughts were of these veiled women in their shop. They were very perfunctory in their duties, but Hillary could tell they were also a little uneased. They avoided making direct eye contact, almost as if they were shy or embarassed.
After the shopping trip was over they returned home, the limo’s trunk filled with a variety of things for the three women. Hillary put away most of what had been purchased for her in the closet of her apartment. She really had not desired any of it but she allowed them to be bought for her to be part of the experience. The rest of the day passed the same as the first with meals and prayers and discussions.
“Qarma, may I ask you a question?”
“Of course Hillary.”
The two women were seated in the living room. Najiya was spending time with Jabir so they were left to themselves.
“Jabir said that you use to be married to his brother but that he passed away, is this correct?”
Qarma nodded. There was a hint of sadness in her eyes that anyone who had lost someone they loved would recognize.
“And now you are married to his older brother. How do you feel about that.”
“At first I was very sad over the loss of my husband. I still miss him but it has been a few years and my heart is beginning to heal. Jabir was been a good husband, he treats both of my sons as if they were his own.”
“And you do not mind being married to a man that is thirty years older than you?”
“What is there to mind. He is older and as a result he is better able to provide for my children.”
“But…wouldn’t you rather be with someone younger?”
“Why, because of looks?”
“Looks are only on the outside. What matters most in a husband is what is on the inside.”
Each day that passed that week was like the previous day. Hillary gained new insights into the lives of Najiya and Qarma and experienced what life was like in their shoes and under their niqabs. Finally Friday had arrived and the household was heading off to the mosque. Jabir had explained that since Hillary was not a Muslim she could just stand in the back during the prayers and watch.
When they arrived at the mosque there was a swirl of people. They were of various ethnicities. Jabir’s wives had explained ahead of time that the mosque they were going to was very conservative so many of the women would be wearing niqabs. Hillary saw that this was in fact the case. Not a majority but a large minority of them had their faces veiled. Najiya and Qarma led her down a hallway to the room for the women to pray. They explained this was so that bad thoughts would not be thought by the men and women present who should be focused on praying.
Hillary lingered near the back of the room while the women performed the prayers, the voice of the Imam coming in on loudspeakers. Following the prayers there was a sermon of sorts for about an hour. During that time Hillary looked at all the pious Muslim women seated on the floor.
Once they were finished they piled back into Jabir’s limo. On the ride back he made an annoucement.
“I was speaking with the Imam before we left and I mentioned our experiment to him. He was very fascinated by it and has asked permission to come over for dinner tomorrow. I have agreed.”
Hillary remained seated and silent, not sure of what she should say.
It turned out that the women in the house would have to wear the niqab while the Imam was over. When Hillary asked how they would eat Jabir’s wives proceeded to show her how to bring food up to her mouth underneath it without showing her face.
When the Imam arrived Hillary was glad she was wearing the niqab because it helped make sure her staring was not visible to the others. The Imam had a long beard that seemed to reach down to his chest. Beside him was his own wife who in addition to the niqab wore gloves and a gauze material of her eyes so that none of her body was visible.
After the greetings they eventually sat down to eat. It had been emphasized heavily to Hillary that it would be best if she not speak unless the Imam asked her a question. As a result the table’ conversation was mainly between Jabir and the Imam.
They discussed several of the latest events at the mosque and other business until the Imam asked Jabir. “And how is your houseguest adjusting to the life of a Muslimah?” His question was about Hillary but he referred to her in the third person and directed the question to Jabir.
“She is learning. I think it has been a radical change for her.”
“I imagine it has been. To come from an existence where women are not valued and to suddenly be in an environment where women are the most honored has to be a shock.”
Underneath Hillary’s niqab her faced reddened with anger and her fists began to clench. “I don’t think my existence is one where women are not valued!”
The table was silent for a horribly long moment. Without raising his voice Jabir said, “Hillary, please wait for me in your room.”
Hillary stared at Jabir for a moment, then for want of anything else to do she got up and stormed off to her room. Once in there she sat in a chair steamed. She clenched and unclenched her fists. After about an hour the Imam and his wife must have gone home because Jabir appeared in the room.
“Jabir, I am sorry if I embarassed you in front of the Imam.”
“It is all right Hillary. You are hear to learn. You understand that if you were my wife and had done such a thing I would have had to lecture you sternly. I do ask that you sta in your room for the rest of the night to think about what you have done. This is to give you an idea of what it would be like to be my wife.”
“Good.” Jabir than turned around and left, closing the door behind him.
The rest of the night Hillary felt a mixture of anger at the things the Imam said and guilt in causing a scene in front of Jabir’s family.
“Najiyah, do you believe the things the Imam said.”
“Because they are true. The Imam is a very wise scholar and has studied the problems of Western society.”
“I do not think he is right about everything.”
“Yes, you were angry last night. But we often become angry when we hear the truth for the first time. Frotunately the Imam was intrigued by your outburst.”
“What do you mean?”
“He wants to speak with you the next time we visit the mosque.”
The next Friday Jabir is waiting against the far wall while Hillary is seated on the ground, the Imam opposite from her.
“Hillary, if I understand correctly you believe that Islamic society does not treat women fairly.”
“Would you be interested in some things about Islam and women.”
“When the Mohammed, peace be upon him, brought the Quran to us he confirmed that women are full human beings, just like like men. And because women are full human beings like men they are also equally obligated to follow the way appointed by Allah.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that like men, they are required to testify that there is none deserving of worship other than Allah and the Mohammed, peace be upon him, was Allah’s messenger. They are required to pray , to give to charity, to fast and to make the pilgrimage to Mecca if they have the means.”
“If women are equal to men than why do they not have equal rights?”
“They do have equal rights. But you can agree that women are not physically the same as men, yes?”
“Good. Allah lifted women from the obligation of working to provide for herself. It is the duty of men, who were made by Allah to work to take care of women. When a woman is a child she is cared for by her father, when she marries it is her husband’s obligation, if she does not have a father or husband it is her brother or closest male relative. If she has no relative then it is the obligation of the Muslim community.”
“But I still think it is unfair to women.”
“Young lady, it is unfair to men. A man is obligated to provide wealth for women, But women have no obligation of maintaining men with their wealth. Does that sound fair to the man or the woman?”
“Well, I suppose when you put it like that it sounds unfair to the man but-”
“Good. Why do you think women were relieved of this obligation?”
“I don’t know.”
“Because Allah has made them biologically different. The female biology is the only one capable of pregnancy, birth, and breast feeding yes?”
“Do you think it would be fair for a women to perform all of that and work for money while the man just lays around.”
“No, but that is not-”
“Good. This is why women only inheirt half of what men inheiret. The man just take half of what he gets and spend it on women. Thus what he receives is really equal to the woman. Islam required that women be given their just share of an estate, something that was unheard of before.”
“I guess I see some of what you are saying.”
“I hope so for your sake Hillary. Just remember, Islam was a religion that made women spiritual equals before men and gave them rights long before other religions. Anytime you are having doubts about Islam think about that.”
After a couple of weeks Jabir let Hillary know that he and his family had to return home. He had business to attend to and their children missed them. Hillary understood and they parted ways.
When Hillary returned to her apartment it was Thursday night. Jabir had not yet called her boss to announce he no longer needed he help. She stood in the empty space and stared out at the colorful London cityscape. It had been several weeks since she had been to a club. The terrible incident still haunted her, but time had eased it a little and living an ultra-puritanical lifestyle had made her hungry for some fun. She quickly got dressed into some of her best club clothes.
When she reached the Club Rud she was at first excited. She had not been out in weeks. However, after a couple of dances she found herself seated at a table. She was working on her first drink but seemed to have trouble finishing it. Instead she watched everyone else who was partying. She saw a man rudely grope a woman despite repeated pleas from her to stop. She saw another person throw up on the floor because they had had too much to drink.
Hillary left before finishing her drink.
The next couple of weeks followed a pattern. She would attend work and then return home only to spend hours sitting on the couch or on her bed. The weekends came but she did not go out to the club. Instead she dwelled in her apartment, her empty apartment. Everything felt wrong. When she was in the company of the other women at her workplace something seemed off. These women with fast moving careers and no husbands seemed to have an unspoken sadness hanging over them.
It slowly began to occur to Hillary that spending time with Jabir’s family had allowed her to step outside of her existence and look at it from outside. She had been spending her free time getting drunk and having sex with strangers. She had always known in her heart that this was not making her happy, only deluding her into think as such. Now she intellectually understood that it was not happiness.
What was happiness? Life as one of Jabir’s wives. The idea would have seemed silly except…they did seem happy. Happier than Hillary had ever felt. As much as she had despised the Imam for his backwards views he had spoken a couple of small truths that she could not shake.
It was during this time that her boss announced that an employee would need to fly to Jabir’s country to work on intergrating his systems there. Hillary jumped at the chance.
Hillary looked out the window at the mega city she was being driven through. Just a few generations ago this place had been a small village with buildings made out of earth. The small island emirate had a wealth of oil and used it to transform itself into an ultra modern city. Even more fascinating for Hillary than the city were the people on the streets. The men in their traditional white robes and the women all covered in black. Hillary was wearing western clothes, though of a conservative cut with long sleeve shirts and long skirts. She was a foreigner and not subject to the laws of the emirate but it was also wise not to be offensive with her clothing.
The sight of the women covered from head to toe held Hillary’s attention during the entire car trip. She thought back to her own experience wearing the abaya and niqab.
Hillary had called Jabir as soon as she arrived at her hotel. The building was a towering pillar of glass and steel with a very modern interior. Inside she had seen some other foreign women who were without veils. Jabir was happy to get her call and shortly he had joined her in the restaurant of the hotel. They first discussed the final arragements concerning their mutual business venture. Later they moved onto other topics and Hillary asked how Najiya and Qamra were doing.
“They are very good. They missed being away from the children when we were in London so we are happy to be back home.”
“May I ask how many children you have?”
“Yes. Najiya and I have four children together. Two sons and two daughters. Qamra has two sons from before we were married.”
Hillary thought about a household with six children in it. Then thoughts of her own empty flat in London intruded into her thoughts.
“Maybe I’ll get to meet your children before this trip is over.”
“That may be possible.”
Hillary and Jabir spent the next several days finalizing all the arrangements and streamlining the process. There was little talk of non-business matters during this time and neither Najiya nor Qamra was seen during that time. Hillary was disappointed by this as she really did want to see them. She thought them, having to veil from head to toe when they left their home. If Hillary had been born in this country she would have to as well. What would life be like for her? She would not have the freedoms and opportunities she had in her own country.
A nagging thought entered her head. She had freedoms and opportunities but there was something else. She thought back to the nights spent partying. There was an emptiness about those memories…
A couple of days later Hillary was able to visit Jabir at his home. It was a luxurious mansion. While there she met Jabir’s children. Najiya’s oldest was a son soon to be in his twenties and was currently away at university. Next was a beautiful teenage age daughter in a black abaya. Then there was a young boy and girl, the young girl was too young to begin veiling. Qamra had two boys, Omar and Rashad.
Hillary was able to spend time with the children and found that Omar and Rashad were the most interested in getting to know her. They sat down and began playing checkers with each other. Omar and Rashad would alternate at each game.
Eventually Najiya’s teenage daughter began speaking with Hillary. Her name was Aisha and she seemed to be fascinated by the Western woman in her presence.
“You are a business person, like my father?
Aisha’s eyes seemed to sparkle with marvel. “Your husband permits you do this?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
Again Aisha seemed extremely interested by what she heard. “Do you leave your home whenever you wish?”
At that point Najiya entered the room and spoke sternly to Aisha who then left.
“I am sorry she was bothering you with her questions.”
“It was not a bother. I did not mind.”
“Yes, but she should not have been asking such questions. She has long had an unhealthy fascination with dangerous things an ideas. Thankfully Jabir is very stern and keeps her from going out at night to parties.”
“There are parties in this country?” Hillary was amazed by this revelation as she had thought of the emirate as a very conservative place.”
“Unfortunately not everyone is as dutiful to their children as Jabir. I have a cousin who was too lax with her children and as a result bad things happened to them.”
Najiya was quiet for a moment and did not elaborate about the “bad things.” Instead she continued talking about Aisha. “Jabir has already arranged for her to marry the son of a business partner of his.”
“Does she want to marry him?”
“If people always did what they wanted it would not be good. This way Jabir can make sure that she has a husband who will fulfill his duties to her.”
“Do you think she will be happy, marrying someone she barely knows.”
“I am. I had never met Jabir until a few day before we were married. But he has been a good husband and has taken care of me and my children. I understand that in the West men sometimes leave their wives and do not support them.”
“Well, sometimes that happens…”
“That is wrong. It probably happens because women are choosing husbands for the wrong reasons. Jabir will choose a husband for his daughter because he will take care of her and keep her out of trouble.”
Hillary knew that Najiya was not considering how much more nuanced things were than that. However, she also could not help thinking about all of the lonely career women she knew back home.
A couple of days later Hillary was done with her work. Jabir arranged for her to be driven to the airport and said farewell to her at the gate. As Hillary began walking towards her plane a dreary feeling came over her. She could feel the happiness she saw in the eyes of Jabir’s children fading away and the bleak loneliness of her apartment in London approaching.
Hillary’s pace slowed and then stopped. Thoughts quickly flowed through her mind. She had already made her decision, she was simply trying to understand it. There had been something missing in her old life, and she never really known what it was. Now, she did know. She turned around began running back to Jabir.
In a few days Hillary was officially married to Jabir. She gave up her passport, in its place her name was added to Jabir’s id to indicate that he was her guardian. She would not even receive an id of her own. It did not disturb her. In the West she had had her own id and been free to go and do as she liked. It had led to an existence devoid of meaning.
Jabir had told her before their marriage that it was her duty to obey him in everything so long as it did not lead to sin. Previously she would have found such an idea repulsive. But now she found that the idea was gradually beginning to appeal to her.
That night Jabir came to Hillary’s apartments. She was waiting for him in the lingerie that she had bought with his money during the shopping trip in London so many months ago. She was a sexy sight in her nylons and frilly black silk underwear. He certainly seemed to approve of it as he took her into his arms and they kissed passionately. Hillary had never thought she would be with someone who was thirty years her senior before. The age difference did not bother her now. Jabir was not a partner for a single night of sex, he would be her caretaker.
They worked there way to the bed on which she laid herself down. She looked up at him submissively. He removed his clothes and proceeded to crawl on top of her. He kissed her on the neck while his hands explored her body. They proceeded to spend hours exploring each other’s bodies.
The next morning there were snuggled up with each other on the bed. Jabir held her close with one arm and gently brushed away the hair from her eyes with his other hand. Hillary rested her head on his chest and smiled up at him.
“Good morning my wife.”
“Good morning my husband.”
“How does it feel to be a married woman?”
Hillary stared up at Jabir’s face for a moment. “I was lost without you.” He pulled her closer and kissed her on the forehead.
Eventually they got up out of bed and got dressed. Jabir had to leave for an important business meeting and Hillary had to get settled in her new life as one of his wives. She helped Najiya and Qamra with the children and the household tasks. Later she was seated at a table with Qamra’s two sons playing checkers like they had previously.
Omar paused during one game and looked up at her. “Are you going to become a Muslim?”
“Now that you are married to my father, are you going to become a Muslim?”
Before Omar could finish his mother came over. “Omar, what trouble are you causing?” The look on her face was stern, that it was the only part of her body other than her hands that was visible somehow made it even more intimidating.
“I was not trying to cause any trouble mother!”
Qamra started in on him in Arabic so quick it seemed like it was just flying out of her mouth.
“I am sorry Hillary, I told him that it is not polite to ask things like that of someone who is now part of the family. Christians and Jews cannot be forced to convert to Islam. There should be no compulsion in religion.”
Omar was made to apologize to Hillary who readily accepted it and proceeded to play some more with him to make the boy feel better.
That night the children were left with a nanny while Jabir and his three wives went out to dinner with an important business contact. Najiya and Qamra readily accepted that their husband had decided that they were going out to eat and Hillary had no choice to fall in behind them. By this point Hillary was aware of the important of avoiding using her voice in a tempting way. She would be silent underneath her niqab unless there was a need for her to speak.
When they arrived at the restaurant Jabir was greeted another Arab man in long white flowing robes. He had two black-clad women with him who he introduced as his wives. To Hillary’s surprise one of them was white. She found herself filled with questions she was unable to ask any as she had to remain silent. The two men discussed business while their wives quietly ate, carefully bringing small portions on their forks underneath their niqab. Throughout the meal Hillary and the other woman frequently looked at each other. Even though they could not speak, their eyes could convey quite a bit. Hillary ached with a desire to get to know this fellow wife to a wealthy Muslim man.
After they returned home from the meal Najiya and Qamra went to spend time with their children before bed. Jabir came to Hillary’s apartment.
“Normally I divided the time evenly between my wives, but since we are recently married both Najiya and Qamra understand that you deserve extra attention.”
Hillary did not actually feel a great urge to make love that night but Jabir seemed eager so she joined him in bed…
Afterwards as he held her close she brought up the topic of his business partner.
“Yes, him and I are collaborating on a project in Egypt.”
“What about his wives, I thought one of them might be European?”
“American. Yes, he married her a few years ago.”
“Do you know much about her?”
“Very little. Like you she was living a bad lifestyle. Malik is a good and pious man though and I think he has been keeping her out of trouble.”
“Do you know anything else about her?”
“Do you want to meet her?”
Hillary felt caught off guard and didn’t say anything.
“If so, he will eventually be coming over for dinner one night. I am sure you would get to meet her then.”
Hillary felt her heart skip a beat. This was almost too perfect.
“Be quiet now dear wife, I was to enjoy your company in silence.”
Hillary barely registered the patronizing way Jabir talked to her, the American woman would be coming over here. It was almost too perfect!
A little over a week later Malik did come over for dinner. During the meal each man’s wives sat in silence. During the entire time Hillary barely broke eye contact with the American woman. Eventually the man retired to a separate room to do business. After cleaning the kitchen the women went into the living room and chatted for a while. Hillary learned that the American woman’s name was Susan. Soon Susan was alone with Hillary in the living room section of her quarters.
Hillary had removed her niqab but Susan kept it on.
“The men are in another part of the house now.”
“Malik prefers me to wear the niqab until we are at home.”
“Oh, I see.”
“I imagine you must have a lot of questions.”
“I do, so many. Why did you marry a man from this island emirate that we now live in?”
“Why did you?”
Hillary paused for a moment. “I…I wasn’t happy. I had a successful career and lots of money but that is all I had. I life felt so empty. I was always out partying and drinking and having sex with men I had just met. None of them ever called me back. I was so sad, I just didn’t know it. Then I met Jabir as a business associate. We talked about Islam and women and he invited me to see what life was like for his wives. I tried out the lifestyle of a niqabi for a while. Then he and his wives had to return home. When I returned to my previous life I found it so empty. So I came here to be with Jabir, for real.”
“I see, it sounds like you have had quite an experience. I suppose my story is similar to yours. I was a very successful executive at a bank. but my life also felt empty. I met Malik through business to and eventually fell in love with him. We married each other in the states and here.”
“Are you glad you did it?”
“Yes. It was difficult at first. I was not use to being submissive to the man in the relationship. But I have become accustomed to it. It seems the natural way to me now.”
“Yes. It has to be. If I was not happy as a career woman, but I am happy as a Muslim housewife surely Allah made it that way.”
Hillary thought about that. She still had not converted to Islam. She had assumed the emptiness in her life had been due to a lack of family. But maybe there was more to it. Maybe the reason she was happier in her new life was because God meant for it to be that way.
“I take it that you converted to Islam as well?”
“Yes. I reverted several years ago.”
“May I ask why?”
“Well, I think at first I wanted to be of the same faith as my children. They are all Muslim of course.”
“Is that the only reason?”
“Well, as I practiced as a Muslim I discovered that it was fulfilling. When I prostrate myself during prayer I feel something that cannot be described.”
Hillary regarded the devout Muslim before her and thought about what she had said. She also thought about Jabir and his two other wives and the prayers they performed…
Once Jabir’s business partner and his family left Hillary found her thoughts preoccupied with what Susan had said. She thought about the change that had happened in her life. Gone were the days when she would go out partying all night, only to spend the next morning alone in her flat. Those mornings always expressed the ultimate emptiness that such a lifestyle held. Now she had a life that was full of meaning and true happiness. But why was it fully of happiness? She thought about Jabir and his other wives praying. In many ways it was the antithesis of going out to a club. If God existed, surely he would make the way he wanted people to live bring true happiness? Hillary’s thoughts were heavy with the implications…
Some Years Later…
Hillary awoke from her sleep. She was alone in her bed. Jabir had spent the night with Qamra. She remained in her bed for a few minutes. Her feet slid over to a part of the bed that was still cool to the touch. She did not like waking up alone. However, Qamra was as entitled to have pleasure with their husband as she was. Eventually Hillary threw back the covers and slid out of bed.
She went to her bathroom to cleanse herself in preparation for morning prayers. This had been part of her daily routine ever since she converted. Once she was ready and her head was covered she performed the prayers. Each action had been performed so many times over the years that she could almost do it by rout. With each movement she felt her connection to Allah grow. Over the years that had passed she had come to embrace Islam as her religion. Its principles were the antithesis of the drunken club life she had previously endured.
After prayers she checked on her daughter sleeping in her crib. Fatima was still slumbering peacefully.
Hillary began to get properly dressed. Soon she was wearing her long black abaya. Only her hands and face were uncovered. After breakfast she would put on the niqaab along with Jabir’s other wives. He was meeting a client who was coming to the house. Before leaving her quarters Hillary paused and surveyed her opulent surroundings. She had everything and yet it meant little compared to having Jabir. The family he provided for her filled an emptiness that nothing else could. She thought her previous life. Memories of stressful workdays and long nights of partying flooded to her. They were a stark contrast to the severe and conservative lifestyle she now lived.
Hillary joined her family for breakfast. After the meal Jabir’s three wives returned to their respective quarters and put on their niqabs. With their faces properly veiled and their modesty guarded they were prepared for when Jabir’s client arrived.
Not too long a time passed before they were assembled in the front hall. Soon a man entered the house. He was a middle aged German man who had his wife with him. Of course the woman could not see the surprise on Hillary’s face, but Hillary could see the look in the woman’s eyes. No doubt she had seen many similar veiled women so far, but she obviously still found the experience disconcerting. After introductions the two men retreated to Jabir’s office to talk business and the man’s wife was left to interact with the three veiled women.
Hillary’s gaze was drawn downwards as she thought of this woman. She came from the West just as Hillary had. Maybe her exposure to the Emirate would make her intrigued by Islam, maybe not. She would likely leave the country unveiled. Hillary would remain though. She would stay in the Emirate for the same length of time that she would remain veiled: the rest of her life.