Burqas on Brondby Beach

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Burqas on Brondby Beach

by Kirsten Nielsen
July 22, 2014


BRONDBY BEACH – From the top of the line of low dunes there is a great view. You can see for kilometres in both directions. Because of the heatwave the beach was unusually crowded, but although there were many Muslim women sticking out from the large majority, who was wearing as little as current decency dictates, two women strolling along the waterline immediately caught full attention. They were neither showing arms, feet nor face as they were covered in ground sweeping black dresses, waist long head and body covering “bed sheets” (khimars to be correct) and niqabs hiding the entire face including the eyes. The khimar is not an unusual sight in Brondby but you never see anyone here covering the face. To take a closer look at these two women we took a path down across the beach aiming at a point some meters behind the women.

Black gloved hands showed momentarily as they lifted their arms and with them the khimar to show that having the arms covered didn’t stop their natural gesturing while having a conversation. Walking just about two meters behind them, which they wouldn’t notice as walking in the sand made no noise, and the chance of them suddenly turning their heads in such an outfit seemed unlikely. From there it was just to perceive that they were speaking to each other but the words were not intelligible. With them choosing to walk here in public and chatting like so many others strolling along the waterline it was not unlikely they would talk. After quickly walking around them and turn towards their black fabric faces they were asked why they walked here in these very unusual outfits for a beach. They both stopped and returned the look for the one in the black khimar to start speaking in a clearly young voice, which, although somewhat muffled by the niqab, had an unmistakeable Danish accent from Norrebro.

“I spoke with my friend on the phone where she complained about the unbearably sultry heat in Norrebro. I said she could visit me and we could go to the beach. First she refused because she did not think her family would approve of her frequenting a place with so many almost naked people. Then I said if she did not object herself she could just borrow one of my outfits and no one would recognise her.”

Then being presented for a journalist from ‘Lokalavisen Brondby’ and asked if more questions could be asked and the conversation published made them put their heads close together and discuss the request between them. Almost a minute passed before they turned their heads again for the the black khimar again to speak.

“We will, if you agree on not publishing our real names. My name is xx, use the alias Aisha, and she is named yy, call her Fatima.”

They got a thank you very much and then Aisha was asked if it was right women with their faces covered were never seen in Brondby.

“I think it is right. It’s the first time I’ve worn the niqab here to ensure Fatima’s anonymity. I could neither have a job and would have less than a handful of friends here if I wore the niqab here in daily life, although I certainly would like to. But very often I go to Norrebro where they are used to see fully veiled women. I am of East African descent and in the local community of East Africans, which have a meeting place there, there are five women fully veiled like us. I estimate this to be about a third of the women in the Copenhagen area covering their face. Three of the East African women are my age or just a few years older and they, along with others, encouraged me and let me have some trials walking around Norrebro. Although face veiling isn’t compulsory for a Muslim woman I feel closer to Allah, and as Muslim women cover to hide their beauty from strangers it is evident hiding one of the most beautiful areas of a woman, the face, makes the covering much better. During the trials I felt all the benefits of being completely veiled, and as the East African community, including my parents, found just veiling in Norrebro a fine compromise I have since worn niqab and gloves when there and just a khimar out here.”

When then asked if her mother’s approval meant she veiled as well she said

“No, neither in Norrebro. Her beauty has faded, she says, and she has passed fertility for full veiling not to be necessary. But she approves of young women veiling and she is proud to accompany me shopping or just taking a walk in Norrebro.”

Fatima was asked why it seemed she didn’t normally wear the veil even if living in Norrebro.

“No, I work too, as a shop assistant in a shop specialising in food from the country of my ancestors. In this and other North African countries veiling has always belonged in the cities and my grandparents and their predecessors were peasants. Like Aisha I couldn’t have the job if veiled and besides many of the local community of my country here live here to get away from a strong family control, traditions and to be Muslims without the overhead of society. I don’t mind women veiling though and when Aisha visits me she comes dressed as now without my family or friends taking offence, but of course we mostly meet indoors at women only gatherings and while there she removes her niqab, khimar and gloves to not look much different from the rest of us.”

She was next asked what she thought of being totally veiled right now. It seemed to spoil the purpose of being here totally enclosed in black as one would assume it would more than counteract the difference between the sultry heat in the centre of Copenhagen and the cooler, more pleasant climate here. She answered

“I feel better here even with the full covering and the sea breeze almost absent. I guess the loose layers have an isolating effect, and besides we now and then wet some parts.”

They demonstrated this by both taking a few steps out into the water to have the lower fifteen centimetres of their dresses soaked and then they bent down to soak their gloves and the cuffs of their dresses as well before taking their gloved hands several times up under the niqab to wet their faces. After stepping out of the water Fatima continued

“In general I feel very good wearing this fully covering outfit. It’s much more comfortable than I would ever have imagined. The eye veiling affects the sight less than sunglasses, and it’s really nice that no one stares at me as a sex object because of my good looks, which my normal respectable modest Muslim clothing, including hijab and no makeup, can’t hide; especially because I consider my face my best asset, so just hiding this removes most of my sex appeal. I’ll certainly reconsider wearing the niqab and I’m sure I can borrow one of Aisha’s outfits at other times for us to enjoy walking together in Norrebro both veiled and me coming closer to a decision about the niqab.”

Aisha nodded approvingly. Aisha and Fatima was thanked for giving the readers of ‘Lokalavisen Brondby’ and the people of Denmark in general this fascinating insight into the world of Muslim women. They were asked just one more request: to take a photo to illustrate the article. Fatima immediately said

“We have already been photographed several dozen times more or less discreetly here for us to appear on at least a dozen Facebook pages, so the only difference is that with you we’ll appear in a good shot where we decide how to appear. Please.”

Aisha nodded and the result is shown at the top of this article.

Copyright 2014 Lokalavisen Brondby


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