It was five years after Julie Fairhill had graduated from college. She had risen to success in one of America’s most successful food processing businesses. She had her own office and was earning not only well about the average salary for women her age, but also well above the average for men. She owed all of her success to a scholarship she received. A scholarship which allowed her to attend a prestigious university and make important business acquaintances.
There were two men in her office.
“We are posting record numbers. Sales for corn, rice and oranges are at the best in years and revenues are sky high,” Mr. Tanner said.
“We are very glad that we took your advice and signed those futures contracts. May I ask you a question, Miss Fairhill? Something not related to the office,” Mr. Rabb asked.
“Certainly,” Julie answered.
“May I ask why you dress like that?” Mr. Rabb asked.
“It’s an interesting story that began almost ten years ago, when I was in high school and looking to go to college. My grades got me into Pricetown University, the third most prestigious university in America. I had money to go to college on, but Pricetown’s tuition was still a bit more than I could afford. I was almost forced to decline going there when I was looking online for scholarships. Then I noticed a special one, one open only to girls in their senior year or who had graduated within the last year,” she explained.
“A scholarship to go to college is the reason you cover yourself in black, including your face?” Mr. Tanner asked.
“What I am wearing over my face is called a niqab. The scholarship would lead to my decision to wear one. To receive the scholarship, we all had to attend a three week retreat, seminar, whatever you want to call it in Texas the summer before our freshman year,” Julie explained.
“That does sound interesting,” Mr. Rabb said.
“The scholarship was offered by a wealthy Muslim man who wanted to teach young non-Muslim American girls about Islam,” Julie explained.
“I arrived in Texas the summer after graduation and before my freshman year at Pricetown, at what we would come to call the Hotel Hadith,” she began the story.
Julie arrived in Texas to the grounds of his mansion. He had a building on the grounds separate from the primary mansion. The mansion was something of a summer home anyway; somewhere for him to stay while he was in America conducting business or on vacation.
It was no surprise that a wealthy Arab man in the oil business would have a place the stay outside of Houston, where most major American oil companies had their headquarters. Normally oil executives had no problem visiting Muslim countries to do business with Saudi or Kuwaiti businessmen or the royal families, but Faisal Abdullah always stayed ahead of the completion. He knew how to show royals and executives alike a great time. Julie had heard he had smaller estates outside New York City and in Florida.
A woman approached her and welcomed her while taking her in.
“Hello. I’m Stephanie Piliafas. I’ll be overseeing the entire seminar. Later you’ll meet Mr. Stanley, who will be teaching all of the lectures, and the sponsor himself – Mr. Faisal Abdullah. But it will probably be a couple of weeks before you’ll see him. He won’t be flying in from Saudi Arabia at least until next week,” she explained.
She continued to explain the details as they approached Julie’s room. Her roommate, Amber Martin, had not arrived yet. They entered the room. There was just a bed, a dresser, and a desk.
“On the bed you’ll find a copy of the Qur’an, the textbook “History of Muslim Civilization” which covers the Qur’an, Hadith, and Islamic history, and software you can take home and learn to use Arabic,” Mrs. Piliafas explained.
“Oh, I already have one of these, but mine was paperback and this one appears to be hardcover,” Julie told the attendant as she picked up the book.
“Oh, good. Did you read through it carefully?” Mrs. Piliafas asked.
Reading the textbook and the Qur’an were required in order to come to the seminar. The other requirements were to have good grades, good standardized test scores, at least three accomplishments outside of required schoolwork, and to send at least ten pictures of themselves.
“Yes,” Julie answered.
“All of the girls here were supposed to read the textbook before coming. But if you didn’t, don’t worry. The material will be covered in the classes,” Mrs. Piliafas explained.
“There will be three tests for you to take in order to receive your scholarship. All of them are pass/fail and you must pass at least two of the three. Any questions about that?” Mrs. Piliafas asked.
“No,” the blonde replied.
“You can breathe a sigh of relief, because only two of the tests are written tests. The third is actually an interview with Mr. Abdullah,” Mrs. Piliafas.
“That’s good to hear,” Julie answered.
Julie heard some girls in other rooms making noise, but tried to focus on the instructions.
“And of course you do know that during the seminar you are required to dress in the abaya and niqab, the traditional Muslim attire for women of the Arabian peninsula,” Mrs. Piliafas reminded her.
“Yes. I remember it caused quite a stir for a little while on national news because of that requirement,” Julie told her.
“In your closet you’ll find three stes of clothing for you, and the other three are for your roommate. With your books are instructions on how to wash them,” Mrs. Piliafas explained.
Julie opened the closet door and felt the fabric of a niqab. She was concerned it would be itchy to put the thing on.
“You can remain in street clothes for the remainder of today, but starting tomorrow you must wear abaya and niqab anytime you are outside of your room unless you are otherwise instructed,” Mrs. Piliafas continued.
“Will you wear a veil? Are you Muslim?” Julie asked.
“No, I won’t be wearing one. And no, I’m not a Muslim. The purpose of this seminar is to educate accomplished young women about Islam and the life of Muslims, especially Muslim women. I’m the liaison, the bridge you could say, between the Muslims trying to teach and the non-Muslims here to learn,” Mrs. Piliafas continued.
“Oh, ok,” Julie replied.
“And finally, you know that we have a profile for each of you girls on our website. You are aware that photographs of you wearing the veil will be posted online, and we may also post up to three videos where you are interviewed wearing the niqab,” the coordinator added.
“Yes, I read that part. Will the interview with Mr. Abdullah be one of those three?” Julie asked.
“No, that is a separate interview. I must go downstairs to help as other girls arrive. You can unpack and go around and talk to the other girls here. If your roommate arrives and I’m unable to assist her, would you go over all the rules?” Mrs. Piliafas asked.
“Sure,” Julie answered.
Julie went around to meet the other girls. Some of them were in a room towards the end of the hallway. Not only was this a chance to make some friends, and friends who were likely to go on to lucrative careers at that, but there was nothing else to do until the next day.
“Hi, I’m Julie,” she introduced herself.
“I’m Erica,” the first girl answered.
“I’m June. Welcome,” the second said.
“Welcome to Hotel Hadith. I’m Isabel,” the third girl said.
“This should be good practice for starting at college in a couple of months,” Erica said.
“It’s good money for paying for college,” Isabel replied.
“It’s also nice to learn about another culture,” Julie added.
“Let’s face it, none of us would be here if it weren’t for the $50,000,” Isabel added.
“I’m going to make the most of it. The thing is, I’m a bit worried about the photo and video requirements. What if people I know see the pictures? What will they think?” June asked.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s just black clothing that also covers the hair and face. They’d might as well ask me to wear winter clothes and a ski mask for three weeks,” Erica said.
“I was a little worried about that, too. I didn’t tell Chad that I’d have to dress up like a Muslim when I was here,” Julie added.
“Who’s Chad? Your boyfriend?” Erica asked.
“Yes,” Julie answered.
“All I know is it’s three weeks of dressing like a ninja and pretending like I care about their religion and then college is paid for,” Isabel brashly stated.
“Is the Hotel Hadith the actual name of this place?” Julie asked.
“No, I made it up. June mentioned something called the Hadith earlier. I thought it sounded like an appropriate name,” Isabel answered.
“The Hadith is a collection of Muslim teachings that goes along with the Qur’an,” June explained.
“Yeah, I read that in the textbook,” Julie replied.
“You actually read the book?” Isabel asked.
“Yes,” Julie replied.
“What a waste of time,” Isabel said.
“There are going to be tests on the material. She said they would cover it in class if we didn’t read it,” Julie said.
“Ok, I guess I’ll try to stay awake when some guy in a beard is up there telling us about people who lived over a 1,000 years ago,” Isabel stated.
“There are two written tests and the third is an interview with the sponsor of the scholarship. You have to pass at least one of the written tests to get the scholarship,” Julie warned her.
“Yeah, I’ve got a system. I’ve made it through plenty of tests without studying. Never failed one,” Isabel replied.
“You should take this seriously. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity here,” June reminded her.
“I’ll be fine. Three weeks of dressing like a ninja and then we get the money. Have you seen the ridiculous things we have to wear?” Isabel contemptuously said.
“Let’s try and have some respect for how these people live. I wouldn’t wear it to the prom, but the veils are pretty well sewn,” Erica stated.
“I hope they aren’t itchy,” Julie worried.
“They’re fine. I tried one on before I left my room. They have a good inside that feels great against the skin,” June explained.
“He really spared no expense putting all this together,” Erica noted.
“That woman who is running things, will she be dressing like us?” June asked.
“I asked her. She won’t be,” Julie answered.
“I wonder why that is,” June asked.
“Something about how she is the bridge between Muslims and non-Muslims,” Julie answered.
“If you ask me it’s just about getting a bunch of young American girls to dress like they’re in Saudi Arabia,” Isabel answered.
“Let’s assume good faith. I think he really wants us to learn about his culture,” Julie added.
“We’d might as well be dressing like clowns and learning about Bozo as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to call my friends back home on my cell phone. If there’s no television and no way to leave at least we can do that,” Isabel declared.
Isabel left the room.
The remaining girls chatted further. Having discussed the elephant in the room, they chatted about high school, their former and past boyfriends and their hopes for college and the future.
Julie returned to her room.
“Oh, hello. I’m Julie. We’ll be roommates,” Julie introduced herself.
“I’m Amber. What do you think this is going to be like?” she asked.
“It will be ok. Hopefully fun. I’m going to bed. We have our first class tomorrow,” Julie explained.
Julie awoke and got out of bed. She went to the bathroom next to her room and showered. Knowing the rules of the seminar, she dressed as a Muslim woman for the first time. She decided to wear only her bra and thong panties underneath the abaya for the first day. She felt the niqab against her skin and against her face. In the mirror she adjusted it so it lined up with her eyes.
“That looks great,” Amber told her.
“Thanks. You’d better get ready. We can’t be late to class on the first day,” Julie said.
Amber got ready and the two went down to the conference room for orientation and the class. They took their seats.
“Welcome, ladies. I’m Mrs. Piliafas, the coordinator of this seminar. I’ve spoken to most of you individually to go over the expectations, rules and requirements to receive the scholarship, but I will go over them one more time just to make sure everyone has the information,” she began.
“This seminar and scholarship is presented by the Foundation for Teaching Islam. There are three tests each of you must pass in order to receive the scholarship. Two of them are written and the third is an interview with the head of The Foundation. You must dress in your abayas and niqabs unless you are in your room or heading to the restroom or shower, or unless you are otherwise instructed. You will also have to pose for pictures and be interviewed for web videos. Finally, you must stay at the seminar until dismissed in order to receive your scholarship,” she continued.
“The teacher for Islamic history is on the way. Until he arrives, get up and introduce yourself to those around you,” Mrs. Piliafas concluded her introduction.
Julie got up.
“Hi, I’m Julie,” she introduced herself.
“I’m Melissa,” one of the other girls told her, holding her veil from her mouth in hope of the sound getting out better.
“What do you think so far?” Julie asked her.
“Putting this thing on this morning was kind of weird,” Melissa told her.
“Tell me about it,” Julie replied.
“Where do you plan to use your scholarship?” Julie asked her.
“I was accepted into Bale University but chose to go to Pricetown instead,” she answered.
“Pricetown? I’m going to Pricetown! As long as I get this scholarship, I mean,” Julie answered.
“Awesome. I hope to see you there,” Melissa replied.
Mr. Stanley arrived to teach the fifty girls.
“It is my pleasure to introduce Mr. Herbert Stanley,” Mrs. Piliafas announced.
“Hello all. I trust that you all did the required readings?” Mr. Stanley asked.
“Yes,” several of the girls answered.
“Good. I wouldn’t have expected anything less. We will be covering the history of the Muslim world during the next three weeks, from a quick overview of the world before the birth of Mohammed to how predominantly Muslim countries interact with the globalized world we live in today. There will also be a review of the most important book to Muslims – the Holy Qur’an,” Mr. Stanley began his introduction.
“Are you all comfortable in your niqabs?” he asked.
“Yes,” a couple of girls replied.
“You fail the course if you call them burqas. Burqas also cover the eyes,” he said pointing towards his own eyes.
“Also we will go over the Hadith,” he continued.
“Let’s start at the beginning. Muhammad, the founder of the Islam and who Muslims consider a prophet, was born circa 570 A.D. in the now famous city of Mecca on the Arabian peninsula,” he taught.
Julie listened as he went over the history of the Arabian Peninsula. She wondered what this bald middle-aged man was thinking as he looked out on the crowd of veiled, college-bound girls. Beyond that initial icebreaking question, he didn’t seem at all phased by their attire.
“The Qur’an is composed of 114 chapters. The first chapters are fairly long but they get shorter as you go and the final chapters aren’t very long at all,” he said.
While the girls were in class, crews set up tables in a nearby room. There were folding chairs for each of the girls. Fifty premade lunches were carted in.
“Ok everyone, now you’re going to learn how to eat while wearing the niqab,” Mrs. Piliafas told them.
“Put the food underneath the cloth the covers your lower face and move it upwards. Be careful not to hit the cloth with the food and to get it in your mouth,” she instructed.
“This should be fun,” Isabel sarcastically commented to the girls around her.
“Don’t put too much food on your fork or spoon at one time,” Mrs. Piliafas continued.
“I wonder if there will be any bacon,” Isabel continued, knowing that Muslims are not allowed to eat pork.
The girls got up, picked up their trays and silverware, and sat back down to eat their food.
“We prepared the options based on your questionnaires you filled out before attending the seminar. All foods this week will be typical American foods,” Mrs. Piliafas explained.
“Next week we will be offering Islamic cuisine from the Middle East, India, Africa, and Indonesia, for those of you who showed an interest in trying such. All foods prepared, whether American or Muslim, are appropriate according to the Qu’ran,” she continued.
“I’m glad Japan isn’t a Muslim country,” Julie said.
“I would hate to have to eat sushi,” she continued.
“Maybe you’d get to dress like a ninja,” Amber told her.
The class continued. There were breaks to go to the bathroom and also occasionally he would quit lecturing for the girls to get into groups to discuss what they were learning.
The second day was much like the first one. Mr. Stanley gave a lengthy explanation of the division of Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Then there was the conquest of Persia and Egypt, and Islam’s expansion into Africa, India and Indonesia.
The third day Julie awoke.
“All of this history is a bit hard to remember,” she said to Amber.
“I wonder if he would just give us the scholarship if we converted to Islam on the spot,” Amber half-joking told her.
Class that day focused on the time period known to the Western world as the Crusades.
“Saladin defeated the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin in 1187. This prompted what is known as the Third Crusade or ‘King Richard’s Crusade.’ King Richard I of England lead the Crusaders to a tactical victory at the battle of Arsuf, however he failed to follow it up by capturing Jerusalem, and thus Saladin won the strategic victory,” Mr. Stanley lectured.
It continued. She listened to all of the history and all of the facts. Some of the information was interesting and some of it was boring. There were facts which she knew and some which wre new. There were things she knew could come in useful in real life and some things she knew she would never need to know again.
The curriculum for the first week focused on the history of Arab lands from before Muhammad until about the year 1500 AD.
“We have now concluded all of the material for the first week. In the second week we will look at the Qur’an and Hadith a little closer and cover Islamic history from 1500 A.D. to the present. Then we will have the second written test. The third week will focus on Muslim women and women in Muslim societies,” he informed the girls.
It was Friday and time for the first exam. Mrs. Piliafas and Mr. Stanley both warned the students that the test would be heavy on history and would be the most difficult of the three.
“Are you ready for the test?” Amber asked Julie.
“I think so. I read all of this before coming, like we were supposed to, but I’m a little worried these tests are going to be impossibly hard so he can fail us and then not pay out the scholarship money,” Julie lamented.
They brought out folding tables and folding chairs for the girls to sit at. All of the tests had the same questions, but there were four different tests with the questions in different places to make cheating more difficult.
Julie took her test. To her surprise, all 100 questions were multiple choice.
Julie read one of the questions in her head.
“What is the holy book of Islam? A) The Bible B) The Ten Commandments C) The Dead Sea Scrolls D) The Qur’an,” she read.
Others weren’t terribly difficult either.
“Muhammad was born in the year A) 2,000 BC B) 70 AD C) 570 AD D) 1100 AD,” she saw as she looked at another question.
She concluded her test and turned it in. She felt quite confident that she had passed it.
“What did you think of the test?” Amber asked her.
“It wasn’t so bad. It covered the information, but as long as you weren’t sleeping through what he was talking about you could easily pass it,” she told Amber.
That weekend there were no classes. The owner of the estate had arranged for the girls to watch a movie in the theater room of his mansion. The girls left their building, all dressed in their abayas and niqabs of course, and headed for his mansion.
“I hope this isn’t some foreign movie where we have to read subtitles,” Isabel said.
“I heard it’s an American movie. It will be in English,” Cassidy told her.
“It could still be something completely stupid,” June added.
“Ladies, the movie for this evening will be The Highway of Romance. Now, please enter the theater and take your seats,” Mrs. Piliafas told the girls.
“See, it worked out. Not only is it in English, it’s a mainstream movie,” Julie said.
A woman was vacuuming in the hallway in the morning. Class was still an hour from beginning, and Julie knew that some of the women were still sleeping. She wanted to confront the noise-maker, but instead decided on small talk.
“Hi, I’ve seen you around,” Julie said, hoping to talk to the only uncovered woman besides Mrs. Piliafas there while herself wearing niqab.
“Yeah. I’m the janitor,” the woman told her.
“Do you mind if I ask a few questions,” Julie asked, hoping to learn more about the man giving away $2,500,000 to all of these girls, not counting all of the other expenses of the seminar.
“I’m trying to keep this place clean,” the janitor told her.
“It will only take a moment,” Julie informed her.
“I’m not one of the chosen ones. I have to clean up after all of you plus work in the mansion with the other staff. You may be having everything handed to you for dressing like a ninja, but some of us have to work for a living,” the janitor told her.
“Wow. I was only trying to be nice and have a conversation with you,” Julie told her.
“Please go back into your room dear. My job is to clean. Not to talk,” the janitor rudely told her.
Julie returned to her room, and wouldn’t dare leave as long as she was out there.
“Wow, talk about a, you know, horrible woman,” Julie told Amber.
“Who?” Amber asked.
“The janitor. I’m surprised this guy has someone with that kind of attitude on his staff,” Julie said.
“I doubt he knows anything about the people who clean up after him,” Amber informed her.
“As ugly as that woman is, she should be the one wearing a veil,” Julie told her.
When it was time to go to class, Julie hoped she would not see the janitor. And in case she did, she would not make any eye contact.
The girls were in their groups of four. They had their discussion questions.
“When was the first time you ever saw a veiled woman?” Julie read from the list.
“I was watching this western movie when I was little. It wasn’t really a western. I think it was set in the Middle East. It had horses, which I loved. The daughter of one of the men had her face covered. There were also some women in the background. They were all wearing white with their faces covered,” Cassidy answered.
“My first time was when visiting an amusement park. There was a woman wearing black. It was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. I couldn’t believe she was out in the heat in that thing,” June answered.
“I’m not sure. Maybe in a magazine or a newspaper? They might have been refugees from one of the wars in that part of the world?” Amber answered, uncertain of exactly when she had first seen a veiled woman.
“Mine might have been an old Bible movie. They weren’t dressed quite like Muslim women do now, but they were covered up,” Julie answered.
“Ok, next question, what do you think when you see a Muslim woman wearing a burqa or niqab?” Julie read from the list.
“I still think it has to be hot. And if we weren’t in this air conditioned building in the middle of the summer, we would be super hot right now,” June answered.
“Super hot while completely covered up. That makes me think of some model wearing clothes,” Amber replied.
“I think it’s great that they’re following their religion and showing respect to God – they call him Allah – and keeping men from looking at them all over the place and only their husbands can enjoy their bodies,” Cassidy answered.
“You must be really enjoying dressing like you’re from Saudi Arabia here,” Amber said.
“It’s just clothes. I mean, not that far from here there are girls wearing nothing but bikinis and every guy on the beach is seeing just about every part of her body. It’s nice that somewhere in the world they have a different attitude on women’s bodies,” Cassidy told her.
“It’s their culture. They were raised that they should cover their bodies and the men who live in that culture were raised that way too. I mean, that women need to cover and the men can’t look at women who they aren’t married to or whatever. They don’t get to see bikini girls but they can make up for it by having up to four wives,” Julie added.
“That must be fun. You have to cover yourself every time you leave the house and you have to share your man with three other women,” Amber added.
“Let’s move on to the final question. Do you think Islam oppresses women?” Julie read.
There was silence.
“Do you remember the scene from that one action movie? The superhero breaks in and rescues a room full of Muslim women, and tells them they’re free?” June asks.
“When did you see that?” Julie asked.
“My boyfriend wanted to see it,” June answered.
“I’ve never seen that movie. I know there was a disaster movie where they were going to show Mecca being destroyed. You know how disaster movies are, you’ve got to show landmarks everyone knows being destroyed. They didn’t include Mecca,” Cassidy said.
“Why not?” June asked.
“They didn’t want to anger the Muslims,” Cassidy answered.
“Who cares what they think? It’s not like it would be showing in Baghdad,” Amber said.
“We see it as Mecca being included in the major cities and landmarks of the world. They see it as us hating them and wanting to destroy their holy city,” Cassidy said.
“Yes, it’s all about perspective. But let’s get back to the question,” Julie said.
“Someone’s being strict,” Amber said.
“If they ask us about our discussion we should have something about the topic to tell them. We don’t want to get caught goofing off on other subjects,” Julie said.
“We really weren’t off subject…” June began.
“All religions oppress women in some way,” Cassidy answered, steering back to the topic.
“More than Islam?” June asked.
“Have you ever read the Bible? I can remember three verses about women that made me want to puke when I read them,” Cassidy told them.
“The first is Genesis book 3 verse 16,” Cassidy began.
“You remember the exact verses?” Amber asked.
“I memorized a lot of Bible verses growing up. Anyway, it says that Adam will rule over Eve. The implication is that men will rule over women for the rest of history,” Cassidy said.
“Then there’s what Paul had to say to wives in Colossians book 3 verse 18. He tells them to be subject to their husbands, as it fits God,” she continued.
“Yeah that is pretty bad,” Julie said.
“Peter is even worse. In the first book of Peter, verses 1 to 7 say that wives should submit themselves to their husbands ‘in the same way,’ by which he means in the same way as slaves he mentioned in the previous chapter, and tells husbands that their wives are the weaker partner in the relationship,” Cassidy tells them.
“Wow,” Amber said.
“So whatever we think of Muslim women, we should remember that technically we weren’t raised in a culture with a tradition that was much better,” Cassidy says.
“Do you think Muslim women have freedom?” Julie asked.
“I guess, but do any of us really have freedom?” Amber asked.
“They’re free, but they do have to dress the way they’re told and can’t go to the market without a male relative,” June answered.
“We’re told that there are certain standards for dressing in America. And my parents would have gone crazy if I shopped at the mall alone. They would have thought it was too dangerous,” Julie said.
“We’re all free but we do have to live within the rules of our cultures,” Cassidy said.
“I wonder if we should even be asking these things,” Amber said.
“What do you mean we shouldn’t ask?” Cassidy said.
“I mean if they hear us saying bad things about their religion or people they might use it against us,” Amber said.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Julie said.
“Why would they have us get into these discussion groups if they didn’t want us talking about this stuff?” June asked.
“I just think we should all sit here and let them take pictures of us and praise Allah and get out of here with our scholarships. Saying anything bad could affect that later on,” Amber said.
“This is about more than just sitting here and saying good things about Islam,” Cassidy replied.
“Yes. If this was just a giant propaganda campaign he wouldn’t have us sit around and discuss questions like this,” Julie said.
To give the girls a break at the approximate halfway point of the conference, a bus arrived to take them to the beach.
“Isn’t it ironic we still have to wear our abayas and niqabs out here,” Julie asked as they rode the bus to the Gulf of Mexico.
“I think that’s the entire point. To show us what it’s like wearing these things in the sand. And with people looking at us,” Amber replied.
After the girls arrived at the beach, they got off the bus and moved around. It was very hot outside but the outfits handled it well. There were teenage girls and women in their 20’s wearing bikinis. Guys were wearing swim trunks. Many looked at the group, and a few asked why they were dressed like that. One guy said it was cool that they were earning their way through college by doing it.
“I wonder how on Earth I’m going to get the sand out of this thing,” Julie asked on the bus ride back to the mansion grounds.
“That’s another thing we can learn. How Muslim women get real sand off their veils. I almost feel insensitive saying that,” Amber told her.
The group had a special surprise waiting when they returned. A dark skinned man in traditional Arab clothing was standing next to Mrs. Piliafas. He was the man they had all been waiting to see.
It was Faisal Abdullah, the head of the Foundation for Teaching Islam.
Amber’s phone rang.
“It’s from my parents,” she told Julie.
“Hello, Mom. Yes everything here has been fine,” Amber spoke into the phone.
“We’ve just been learning and experiencing new things. Yes, it feels stupid wearing these veils but it’s what the weird guy wants and he has the money,” Julie heard her say to her mother.
Julie started at the ceiling for several minutes during the phone call. She considered leaving, but did not want to put her niqab on.
“I want to talk to Dad. Hi, Dad. Yeah, it’s been quite an experience. No, I’m not praying to Mecca yet. No, no, don’t tell me you saw the pictures online,” Amber told him.
This continued for many more minutes. After she had hung up, she turned to Julie.
“Do you know what my dad just said to me?” Amber asked.
“I was here the whole time. Whatever it was, it sounded like you didn’t want to hear it,” Julie told her.
“He said I should wear my veil to college so they boys won’t be all over me,” Amber said.
“He was clearly joking,” Julie told her.
“He said I’m just so pretty and it would be a good idea if I covered up to keep all the drunk frat guys away,” she said.
“That’s classic. My dad would have just told me if I dated a drunk frat guy I’m out of the will,” Julie said.
The interviews with Faisal began shortly after he arrived. There was no set list of questions everyone was to be asked, but the girls were advised that talking about the Foundation, Islam and Muslims, what they would study in college, their career plans and of course, veiling, were all likely subjects.
Julie entered the room with Mr. Abdullah for her interview. It was going well.
“Hello Mr. Abdullah. I’m Julie Fairhill,” she introduced herself.
“Hello. Each interview has different questions. I’ll start by letting you ask me one,” he said.
“Ok. How can you afford all of this?” she asked.
“The scholarships alone cost $2.5 million each year. Plus there’s the cost of this building, flying us here, feeding us, teaching us, and various other expenses. How do you pay for it all?” she continued.
“This was all originally conceived in the early 1990’s,” he explained.
“Money earned through the sale of oil was invested, and the money gained through the investments was further invested into the foundation. In addition to this, many wealthy Muslims from around the world have donated,” he explained.
“If you get 25 wealthy people to donate $100,000 annually, then that takes care of the $2.5 million right there. But financing anything long-term and expensive is more complicated than that, whether it’s a building or a power plant or a series of scholarships,” he continued.
“Why did you create all of this? Why are you giving this much money away?” she asked.
“To put it simply, the main reason is to improve how Westerners view both the religion of Islam and Muslims themselves. Westerners stereotype Islam as being oppressive to women, but this scholarship takes money exclusively from Muslims and gives it to young, non-Muslim women so they can improve their lives and advance in the world. Westerners stereotype wealthy Middle-Eastern men as greedy and caring only for themselves, but this scholarship shows that we want to help people far away and who do not necessarily share our beliefs,” he explained.
“Do you want to convert us to Islam?” she asked.
“Anyone of any religious faith who cares about it will want to convert others to it. That is not exclusive to Islam or Christianity or any other faith. But our primary means to achieve the goal here is to educate,” he explained.
“We didn’t offer this to anyone just for converting to Islam. That would be too shallow and would not advance the faith very far. We offer these awards to girls who have accomplished great things and are willing to learn more about Islam. That is why we ask you to learn about the Qur’an and Hadith, Muslim history, and experience wearing traditional Muslim clothing. That is all,” he added.
“Do you hope by educating us that we will convert to Islam?” she asked.
“We are here to make the world more aware of Islam through positive means. None of the girls here were forced to come here, to learn about Islam, or to wear the niqab. When you are done, we hope you will remember this experience fondly and tell others about it throughout the rest of your life,” he answered.
“I have enjoyed it here. In fact, I’m a little worried about what life in a dorm or sorority is going to be like after this,” she added.
“Have we spoiled you here?” he asked.
“Yes. All of the food has been great and I haven’t had to worry about cleaning,” she answered.
“Soon I’ll have to pick out clothes and put makeup on again every morning” she added.
“Why do you put on makeup?” he asked.
She froze for a second. She had never really thought about why she wore makeup, or why anyone else had, either.
“It was nice meeting you, Julie. Please enjoy the rest of this experience, learn about Islam and make good use of the scholarship,” Mr. Abdullah said.
“Thank you for all you have done,” she replied.
She returned to her room. June Morgan knocked on the door.
“Come in,” Amber said.
June came in and took off her niqab.
“Have you done your interview yet?” June asked.
“Yeah I just did mine this afternoon,” Julie told her.
“I’m scheduled for tomorrow,” Amber told her.
“Yes, so is mine. Last night I had the strangest dream,” June told them.
“Is it about Faisal?” Julie asked.
“Faisal? What is he your boyfriend now?” Amber asked.
“No, it was about the future. I was in college walking around, on my way to a class, but I was dressed in this thing,” June said, holding up her niqab.
“What was it like,” Amber asked.
“It was so embarrassing. Everyone was looking at me like I was some kind of freak,” June said.
“It was just a dream. I’ve been thinking about something disturbing, too,” Julie said.
“What?” June asked.
“When I was doing my interview, I mentioned that I wear makeup. You know, like almost every other woman. And he asked me why,” Julie explained.
“I would have just told him to look pretty. I know he doesn’t like looking at women’s faces, but,” Amber told her.
“It got me thinking, why do we wear makeup?” she asked.
“Like Amber said, to make us look pretty,” June told her.
“Why do we want to look pretty?” Julie asked.
“So people want to look at us. Or at least don’t avoid looking at us,” Amber answered.
“But why do we want all that attention. To make men want us?” Julie asked.
“That’s part of it. But we all also want to look good, even if there aren’t any men around,” June told her.
“Yeah, I mean brushing my teeth makes them look good but I mainly do it so I don’t get a cavity,” Amber added.
“My roommate has spent plenty of nights combing her hair and putting on foundation, after veil time is over obviously, and there is zero chance any man is going to see her in this building. Especially one she is going to want to go out with,” June told Julie.
“Yeah and a lot of girls have worn eye makeup here, which they said was ok from the beginning,” Amber told her.
“But do you think we paint our faces mostly just to get guys to like us? I mean, out there, when we’re in the real world? And what about the dresses that show lots of skin? Or the tight clothes? Or the bikinis?” Julie asked.
“I think the propaganda here is getting to you,” Amber told her.
“Even if it’s true that we do all of that for guys the guys do a lot to attract girls. Like become doctors and earn lots of money and buy expensive cars. And they want to look good, too. Like buying suits and going to the gym to bulk up and showing it off at the beach. So I think you’re worrying about nothing,” June told her.
“Yeah, maybe,” Julie told them.
After June left, Amber and Julie went to bed.
The classes, videos, and group discussions continued.
After her interview she only had to stay for a few more days before she could go home.
At the end of their second week, the girls all received a suitcase to take upstairs. They were told that while the three niqabs they had been given were all for them to keep, the clothes in these suitcases would have to be returned.
“What’s this?” Amber asked as she opened the suitcase in her room.
“The blue thing is a burqa. Like what women in Afghanistan wear,” Julie explained.
“Wait, here’s a paper. It says what they are,” Amber said.
‘In this suitcase you’ll find four veils to wear throughout the rest of the week. The first is a burqa, as worn in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. Wear this on Monday. The second is the veil worn by women during the height of the Ottoman Empire. Wear this on Tuesday. The third is a yashmak, which even covers the eyes. This is sometimes worn in Yemen. Wear this on Wednesday. The fourth is a white veil worn by women in modern Palestine. Wear this on Thursday. All veils in this suitcase must be returned at the end of the seminar. Wear your normal niqab on Friday. The three niqabs you were given at the beginning of the seminar you are encouraged to take home with you,’ Julie read from the note.
On Monday there was a great deal of light blue in the room as Mr. Stanley gave an introductory lecture on women in Muslim cultures. He mentioned many famous Muslim women, the types of veils worn across the Muslim world, and the stereotypes of Muslim women in Western culture.
“This thing is a little bit harder to breathe in than the niqab,” Julie mentioned to Cassidy.
“It feels a little heavier as well,” Cassidy added.
“It’s more difficult to identify anyone by their eyes because of the mesh screen,” Julie said.
“Yeah. A lot of women in Afghanistan kept wearing these things, even after the Taliban was defeated and they were told they didn’t have to,” Cassidy explained.
“I guess they were just used to them,” Julie responded.
Tuesday began like many other days. There was another lectures, and all of the girls dressed like Ottoman women. They formed groups after the lesson.
“I heard somewhere that veiling the face in public is now illegal in Turkey. Is that true?” Amber asked.
“I don’t think so. He didn’t mention anything about it,” Julie noted.
“It’s amazing. I mean, three hundred years ago women all over that area were dressed like this,” Cassidy pointed out.
“Don’t tell me you’re ready to convert,” Isabel gripped.
On Wednesday, three documentaries about Muslim women were played on a screen in the large conference room.
“These yashmaks are difficult to breathe in, and a little harder to see out of,” Julie said.
“Yeah, they are definitely my least favorite,” Cassidy added.
“I kind of understand why they want their women to be covered. A little bit, I understand, I mean. But they have to let you see and breathe out of the things!” Erica told the girls around her.
“I can’t tell who anyone is,” Julie declared.
“What did you think of the documentaries?” Amber asked.
“Yes, yes, more about how Muslim women are treated well and aren’t oppressed. I get it. Tomorrow’s veil is much lighter and should be more breathable. I can’t wait until I’m wearing it,” Erica answered.
“Yeah, watching the videos instead of listing to that old man was a big bonus,” Cassidy answered.
Thursday a movie set in the Arabian Peninsula was played for the girls. They wore a white niqab like the ones worn by many Palestinian women. It left only a little bit of the eye area visible and the large hijab accompanying it covered the hair completely. The position of the nose bulged out of the white veil covering the lower face.
“What did you think of the movie?” Cassidy asked.
“It was ok,” Julie said.
“Only ok?” Cassidy asked.
“Good, great. I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t have paid for it to see it in a theater,” Julie answered.
“Ok, so we discuss the movie and what our outfit of the day is, then we have whatever for tomorrow and Saturday we go home, right?” Amber asked.
“Yes,” Julie answered.
Amber’s green eyes were visible, surrounded by white veil below and the white scarf above.
“A lot of women who protest the actions of Israel wear veils like these,” Cassidy said.
“Yes, if you ever look at pictures of the protests you can see women wearing these white veils,” Julie pointed out.
“Should they even be protesting? Can’t they move somewhere else?” Erica pointed out.
“Hold on, let’s not go into that. I don’t think we should be taking sides in a conflict like that while we’re here,” Julie said.
“Sorry I brought it up. What about the movie?” Erica asked.
The day before they were all scheduled to return home, a guest speaker came to address the girls.
“Good afternoon, ladies. I want to introduce to you our guest speaker, Mrs. Hebah Madari,” Mrs. Piliafas said.
Hebah wore a light purple veil covering her hair and lower face. Her eyes were visible. Her outfit was simple; like what many women across the world wore. The niqabs the girls were wearing were clearly sewn together but Hebah’s was more improvised. One cloth covering both hair and face.
“Hello ladies. I’m Hebah Madari. I’ve come here to talk to you today about Islam and living as a Muslim woman. I’ve been a Muslim my entire life and I do dress in traditional Muslim clothes, even in public,” she introduced herself.
“This final week of the conference you’re focusing on what life is like for Muslim women. Women make up 50% of the population in every culture in the world, but they’re often given less than 5% of the attention when covering any given culture. I think it’s like that with women in Muslim countries, too. And when Muslim women are discussed, the discussion usually focuses on how they dress,” Hebah continued.
An interruption occurred outside the conference room.
“Where are you going, Miss Saxon. Why aren’t you wearing your niqab and abaya?” Mrs. Piliafas asked.
“I’m out of here just as soon as my ride arrives,” Isabel told her.
“Please keep it down. There is a speaker in the other room. You should be in there and dressed appropriately,” Mrs. Piliafas told her.
“Screw your speaker and screw this whole get together of freaks,” Isabel told her.
“If you don’t calm, you lady, and put on your abaya and niqab and go to the conference room to listen to the speaker then I’m afraid you’re going to be disqualified for this scholarship,” Mrs. Piliafas told her.
“I already failed two of the tests. I’m not getting the scholarship anyway. I’m out of here,” Isabel told her.
“I’m sure that Mr. Abdullah might still consider your scholarship if you can explain why you failed the tests,” Mrs. Piliafas advised her, trying to keep calm and handle the situation.
“Screw him. I’m an honors student and I failed two stupid tests because I didn’t know stupid things like which countries have mostly Shia Muslims or whatever stupid thing it was. Besides, I just heard I got this other scholarship. Full ride. And it didn’t require dressing like I’m in the Stone Age to get it,” Isabel told her.
“Miss Saxon, I must say after your behavior here that there is no way he will consider you. You were to complete the seminar in full to receive the scholarship. I’m afraid you’re now disqualified,” Mrs. Piliafas told her.
“Good. I don’t need your freak scholarship. And one more thing, if I’m not getting any money, take all the pictures and videos of me off your website,” Isabel told her.
“I will let him know your wishes. Goodbye,” Mrs. Piliafas told her.
Isabel’s cab arrived and took her away.
Hebah continued to tell the remaining girls about life as a Muslim woman.
“I’m sorry that we all had to hear all of that. I hope the rest of you have better opinions of Islam and Muslims and are doing more here than trying to get money. You’ve been presented with a valuable learning experience, and I hope you’ve taken full advantage of it,” she continued.
“Tradition has it that Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad, wore a veil over her face,” she taught.
Hebah continued teaching about Muslim women, foreign women living in Muslim cultures and about the veils Muslim women wore in different parts of the world.
Hebah then took questions from the audience.
“My father was a soldier in Operation Desert Storm. While he was there, some Saudi Arabian women wanted to drive but they weren’t allowed to. What do you think of that?” June asked.
“I believe it was for their own protection. Driving is dangerous, and letting women drive without any training would have been very dangerous. The media may have shown it as women being oppressed, but it was really about safety,” Hebah answered.
“What do you think of American celebrities who dress like Muslims?” one girl asked.
“That’s a great question and I had planned to address it later. A number of famous female Americans, celebrities, have dressed like Muslim women recently. Some have stayed true to Islamic fashion and have worn the veil as a Muslim woman would. However, some have altered the niqab or burqa and turned them into mockeries. They cover their faces and then expose large parts of the rest of their bodies at the same time. Often secondary sexual characteristics. The veil in Islam is about modesty, and Muslims do not appreciate such things,” Hebah explained.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” the girl replied.
“However, I think it is a positive sign that Americans are interested in seeing veiled women. The fact that prominent female celebrities are covering their hair and faces to get attention shows that Americans and others all around the world want to see them with their hair and faces covered. They wouldn’t be doing it if there wasn’t a market for such attention,” Hebah continued.
“Do people ever give you strange looks when you’re out shopping or in public?” another girl asked.
“Sometimes they might look at me longer than they would normally look at a stranger. It is probably because they just aren’t used to seeing such a thing. There have been times when people have told me to take it off or something else which is horrible, but that is rare. Just as many may ask me something about what I’m wearing or seek to become educated about it. Houston is a large city with much diversity. I’m not sure what it would be like in smaller communities?” Hebah explained.
“Do you think women in Muslim countries have the same rights as Muslim women here in America?” a girl asked.
“There are some nations which are mostly Muslim where women don’t have many rights. The men living in them do not have many rights, either. And there are nations like that of all religions of large numbers. Christians, Muslims, even Buddhists. But there are Muslim nations where Muslim men and women live good lives,” she answered.
“I know they covered this in class, but some Muslim scholars say the Qur’an doesn’t command women to veil. Do you agree with them?” Julie asked.
“I agree with the scholars who say the niqab is fard, or obligatory. The Qur’an says that wives and daughters of Muhammad are to draw their cloaks over their bodies. And the Hadith has many references to covering the face. I won’t bore you with the exact verse numbers, but I’m aware they have been given in the materials you were given for the seminar,” Hebah told her.
“At what age do you think a girl should wear a niqab?” a participant asked.
“Normally it is not advised that a woman wear it before she is comfortable. In nations where there are many Muslims the age of 14 or the beginning of puberty are two commonly used markers. In America, I am not sure if that would be a good time to start. It would be up to the girl and her family,” Hebah answered.
“If you could, would you require every woman in the world to wear a veil?” a girl asked.
“Well, um, there are many parts to that question. If you’re asking if I would want every woman in the world – and every man – to be a Muslim, then the answer is yes. I am a Muslim, and I believe it to be the One True Faith. And I would want every Muslim to follow the will of Allah and his Prophet Muhammad. And I believe that Allah wishes for all women, and especially all Muslim women, to cover their hair and faces while in public,” Hebah informed the crowd.
“Would you force all women to wear a veil?” the same girl asked.
“There are many Muslims, both men and women, who would like to force others to become Muslims and live the way of Muslims. I would prefer that women choose to wear the niqab at their own will. But I do believe the world would be a better place if all women in all nations wore a veil,” she answered.
After the speech was over, the girls were dismissed and returned to their rooms.
The three week journey had come to an end. She had her bags packed. All the girls were getting their things as close to the front entrance as possible.
She looked around. It was the first time she had seen all of the girls unveiled during her entire stay.
“Hello girls. I want to thank you all for participating in this and wish you luck in college and in your future careers,” Mrs. Piliafas said.
Faisal Abdullah came out to wish them goodbye. He wore a business suit instead of the traditional Arab clothing they were used to seeing him in.
“Thank you all for being part of this. I’m proud and honored to have all of you here and to contribute to your futures. I hope you learned greatly about Islam and Muslim culture through this experience. All of you enjoy the future,” he told the crowd.
A group of girls went up to the wealthy Arab to talk to him one last time.
“I’m surprised he came out to see us without our niqabs on,” Amber told her.
“He just wanted to thank us and wish us the best on our way,” Julie replied.
“Why would he bring a group of 18 and 19 year old girls here for three weeks, insist we cover ourselves completely except for our eyes and maybe foreheads and then come out to see all of our bare female faces,” Amber asked.
“He’s just trying to teach us about his culture. I’m sure he would love for all of us to convert and keep ourselves covered all the time, but he knows that won’t happen,” Julie replied.
“Still kind of creepy if you ask me,” Amber said.
“He’s helping all of us pay for college, and he’s asked for little in return. In three weeks here we’ve earned $50,000 for college. That would take many years to save away if we were working somewhere for it,” Julie replied.
A bus arrived to take the girls to the airport. Some of them would get to fly home that day, a few would have to stay overnight at the airport hotel, and a few had parents within distance of coming and picking them up.
She wanted to say thank you and goodbye, but there were so many other girls doing just that. She did manage to wave goodbye to him.
Her bags included the clothes she had brought, some bathroom supplies, three niqabs and three abayas she had worn during the weeks, a copy of the Qur’an along with an audio copy, the textbook of Islamic history, and software for learning Arabic.
She got her bags and got on the bus, hoping to talk to someone other than her roommate. She sat next to Cassidy.
“That was interesting,” Julie said.
“I haven’t seen you in a while,” Cassidy told her.
“I saw you when Hebah spoke. You probably saw me, but didn’t recognize me,” Julie told her.
“Yeah, it can be hard telling who is who when everyone is wearing one of those things,” Cassidy told her.
“I don’t think anyone converted. I don’t see anyone wearing their veil here,” Julie noticed.
“It was so odd that he insisted we wear those things for three weeks, and then he came by to see us all without them on,” Cassidy said.
“Yeah. It doesn’t make sense. I think everyone on this bus is wondering that. What was it like when you met him?” Julie asked.
Cassidy flashed back to her experience.
“Hello, Cassidy. I’m Faisal Abdullah, the sponsor of this experience,” he said.
“Hi! It’s nice to finally meet you,” she told him.
“I hope you’re enjoying your stay. As you know, I’m a busy businessman so I must get down to business. No pun intended,” he said.
Cassidy laughed. Faisal loved seeing girls giggle through their veils.
“That’s funny. I have something I’ve really wanted to ask you from the beginning. Why do you want to help us?” Cassidy asked.
“I’m pleased you asked. Many would have simply taken the help and not questioned it. You see, this is about teaching Islam to the world, starting with America. It’s about overcoming the stereotypes that surround Islam. I could have simply given scholarships to Muslim students or Muslim women, but that would not have accomplished nearly as much as what I see happening here,” Faisal told her.
“Well thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome. I’ll start with my first question. What is your opinion of Islam?” he asked.
“Oh, well. I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone says it is. I didn’t really know a whole lot before coming here. I’ve learned a lot. I do think Arabic is a cool language. It’s so neat to read, and I love all the geometric shapes in your art around the building. The moon and the stars is a great symbol,” Cassidy told him.
“What do you think about Muhammad?” Faisal asked.
“I think he seems like a lot of other men in the ancient world. He probably wouldn’t fit into today’s world, but he worked hard and lived in his age. And he had a message that was different from what others thought. A lot of great people are like that,” she told him.
“Do you think his message is true?” Faisal asked him.
“Umm, there are a lot of religions in the world, and they don’t always say the same thing. Some claim things that can’t be true if other claims are true. And then there’s science, which says a lot of it never happened,” Cassidy answered.
“Science? Do you think science is true?” he asked her.
“I don’t know. A lot of my friends don’t agree with what science says about, you know, where we came from. But science has been right about so many things,” Cassidy told him.
“Do you know what the speed of light is?” Faisal asked her.
“You mean how fast it goes? I can’t remember. I know they told me in junior high, but…” she said, trying to remember it.
“It’s 300,000 kilometers per second,” he told her.
“Oh,” she said.
“Do you know something interesting about the speed of light? The Qur’an predicted it, long before Newton or Einstein or modern physics,” Faisal informed her.
“How?” she asked.
“The Qur’an Chapter 32 and verse 5 reveals that light travels in one day the distance of 12,000 orbits of Moon. When the numbers are worked out, it shows the speed of light,” Faisal informed her.
“That’s very interesting. Do you think science is more on the side of Islam than any other religion in the world?” she asked him.
“Yes. I do believe so. I even have some books I could lend you. I mean, I could just give you the copies if you promise to read them. Our mission here is to inform non-Muslims as much as possible about Islam, and what better way than with literature?” he told her.
The two continued the questions and answers. Cassidy asked about Islam, his culture, what he thought of what was going on around the world, and what he would like to see in the future. Faisal was very impressed with her, and she easily aced this part of the seminar.
Cassidy ended her flashback experienced. Julie was looking forward to getting off the crowded bus and walking into the airport.
She arrived at the airport. Most of the participants got off the bus. All of the girls’ skin was paler than when they had started. Julie wondered what others were thinking where all of these pale girls came from in the middle of summer in Texas.
“Are you Julie?” a short blond girl asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
“I’m Danielle. Someone told me you plan to go to Pricetown?” she asked.
“Yeah. Are you going there?” Julie asked.
“Yeah. I’m going pre-med. I want to be a doctor. I hope that guy honors his word and pays out the scholarship,” Danielle said.
“He will,” Julie said.
“It’s a lot of money. I hope this wasn’t all some publicity stunt or experiment. This is the first time anyone has ever done anything like this,” Danielle replied.
“I’m sure he will. Otherwise I’m sure nine out of ten of the girls here will sue him. Classes are going to start in less than two months,” Julie said.
“Yeah, and when we’re on campus, we shouldn’t draw attention to what we did here,” Danielle let her know.
“Are you ashamed?” Julie asked.
“No, but I just don’t want people talking. You know, about covering up like an Arab woman,” Danielle told her, clenching her purse by its straps.
“Don’t worry. The students at Pricetown won’t care. They probably wouldn’t mind if we wore niqabs to class,” Julie informed her.
She boarded her plane, returned home, and that fall went to her university. She, Danielle and Melissa were close friends. One night, they even got their niqabs and wore them in Danielle’s bedroom. With the door locked and windows closed of course.
Julie arrived home and unpacked. She was looking forward to seeing her friends and Chad after the long three weeks in Texas. He came by the afternoon she returned.
“Chad!” Julie exclaimed.
“It’s good to see you, baby,” Chad said.
“How was the trip?” he asked.
“I’m just glad it’s over. It was all classes and discussions and downtime. The only thing there really was to do in my room was call people, which was fine at first but by the end all I wanted to do was go out and buy a cheeseburger!” she explained.
“You couldn’t leave?” he asked.
“Well, we really didn’t have a way to get out. Plus there were rules…” she answered.
“Yeah, I get it. Hey, did you hear that guy and his Foundation are releasing a video game?” Chad asked.
“No,” Julie told him.
“They are trying to get a publisher to accept it. It’s going to be about Arab soldiers rescuing a princess. That’s all I know about it so far,” Chad told her.
“He must be trying to expand teaching Islam to children and teenage boys,” Julie observed.
“That reminds me, I checked the Foundation’s website and found your profile,” he told her.
“Oh, no,” she replied.
“You didn’t tell me you would be covered up for this,” Chad told her.
“Yeah. It was part of the experience,” Julie informed him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.
“I didn’t know what you’d think. I thought you’d think it was stupid,” she explained.
“Well, the guy is a Muslim, and he was trying to teach a bunch of girls about what it’s like to be a Muslim, so it isn’t that surprising,” he said.
“I’m glad you understand. I hope not, when at Pricetown, someone finds the pictures and says stupid stuff to me about it,” she said.
“Don’t worry. The kids who go to Pricetown have better things to do than search someone for embarrassing pictures. That’s the kind of stuff they do at Almond State or somewhere like that,” he told her.
“That’s reassuring,” she said.
“How long did you have to dress like that?” he asked.
“The whole three weeks, starting the day after I arrived. Unless we were in our rooms or playing tennis or some other sport,” she informed him.
“Was it hot underneath it?” he asked.
“Not really. We were in an air conditioned building most of the time,” she told him.
“So you didn’t sweat a lot?” he asked.
“No. They only gave us three niqabs so I’d have to wear one while washing the other two. Plus my T-shirts and unmentionables. So laundry was a pain,” she said.
“What’s a niqab?” he asked.
“It’s what they call their black veils. Not to be confused with burqas. Burqas always cover the eyes and are from Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan,” she informed him.
“Why do they dress like that, anyway?” he asked.
“It’s mainly so women can protect themselves from men who they aren’t related to. They believe it’s what their god – Allah – wants them to do. It’s in their tradition called the Hadith,” she informed him.
“Ok. Whatever. It’s over, and for three weeks of classes and dressing in the niqab – it that what it’s called? – your tuition is going to be paid for,” he reminded her.
“Yeah. It was the deal of a lifetime. And I met a lot of really cool new friends. Some of them are going really far in life. A lot are going to schools like Pricetown,” she told him.
“Is anyone else going to Pricetown?” he asked.
“Yeah, two other girls will be there,” she said.
“You know, I’m going a bit closer to home. Have you ever worried that being so far away won’t be good for us?” he asked.
“That is the tale of the summer camp I attended to get a scholarship for college,” Julie said.
“What a generous man to offer all of those girls so much money,” Mr. Tanner said.
“Yes. The name Hotel Hadith that Isabel came up with became popular with the girls there that first year. It’s been an informal name for the building through every group over the years. More people probably know what Hotel Hadith means than the Foundation for Teaching Islam,” Julie explained.
“The name came from someone who hated everything it was about. Isn’t that odd?” Mr. Tanner asked.
“Have you ever heard of the Big Bang theory? That the universe came from an explosion in space? That was named after someone who thought it was stupid,” Julie told him.
“It’s actually kind of appropriate. The Hadith has much more to say about women covering their faces than the Qur’an,” she added.
“So you enjoyed wearing the niqab, and continued afterwards?” Mr. Rabb asked.
“It was a while before I wore it again. Whenever I had time between schoolwork and other things, I learned a little bit more about Islam, piece by piece. I met with Melissa and Danielle – the two other girls from the seminar who went to Pricetown – as often as I could while there,” she continued.
“Your interest in Islam led to you converting?” Mr. Rabb asked.
“About six months after I graduated, I secretly converted to Islam, but did not dress like a Muslim. About a year ago I began to fully veil. As a successful business woman, no one considers me oppressed or brainwashed,” she said.
“Did you and Chad continue seeing each other?” Mr. Rabb asked.
“No. Going to colleges so far away from each other effectively ended the relationship,” she told him.
“That was a very interesting story, Miss Fairhill,” Mr. Tanner told her.
“We must get back to work. We hope to hear more of your stories from the seminar, and possible about the other participants, in the future,” he told her.
The men left her office.
After the meeting, she visited the Foundation’s website. She looked through the alums of the seminar, until she found her profile. She looked over the pictures of her younger self. A few pictures of just her wearing her veil. A few more pictures of her with her friends, all veiled.
She pulled up one of the three videos she made.
“”How many women do you think dress like this?” Mrs. Piliafas began the interview.
“There are about a billion Muslims in the world and if half of them are women that would mean there are half a billion Muslim women. If half of them wear a niqab that would be about 250 million women in the world wearing a veil similar to mine,” Julie answered.
“If you married a Muslim man, would you dress like this?” Mrs. Piliafas asked.
“If he wanted me to, yes,” Julie answered. She wasn’t as candid as usual, as she knew she was being taped and this was to be posted for all of the internet to see. She didn’t want to take any chances so she only gave safe answers.
“Would you vote for a Muslim man for President of the United States of America,” the interviewer asked.
“I would have no problem with that,” Julie said.
“If you had a free trip to any Muslim nation in the world, which one would you choose and why?” Mrs. Piliafas asked.
“Egypt, to see the Pyramids,” Julie answered.
“How have your views of Muslim women changed since you came here?” Mrs. Piliafas asked.
Julie stopped the video. She now knew how her views of Muslim women had changed. She now was one. She felt that she should email the man who had made it all possible.
“Hello Mr. Abdullah. I just wanted you to know I’m doing well,” she began.
“I’m glad to hear that the scholarship has been a success for many years. Without it I would never have accomplished so much in my education or career. And I never would have learned so much about Islam or become a Muslim,” she continued.
“I have been wondering, how can I contribute to the fund for future scholarships. Please instruct me how. Sincerely, Julie Fairhill” Julie concluded.
The saga is continued in Hadith Styles.