In the summer of my first year at university, I took a trip that was to change my life forever. And it all began with an innocent invitation to participate in a music festival in Egypt as a Zimbabwean representative, alongside one of my musician friends who was a professional singer and mbira player (a traditional Zimbabwean instrument). Although I was not a trained musician, I could sing and play the African drum, ngoma, as well as perform many traditional Zimbabwean dances.
Egypt was hot and noisy and it bustled in shades of sand and sunlight. Of course, we explored the pyramids, museums and markets as all tourists do. But I also remember being very aware of women in headscarves, in hijab, wherever we went and, quite frankly, I was appalled. All my budding feminist instincts raged against the whole idea of a woman covering herself – I thought it as a symbol of female oppression, of male dominance. But most of all, I thought it made them look terribly ugly. Usually, when we see things that are foreign to us, we base our opinions on our own experiences and knowledge. It is rare for us actually to step outside our own perceptions and try to understand what we see through the eyes of those living it. For some reason, on that trip, I dared to ask about what seemed so incomprehensible to me.
One evening, we were performing at a concert in a village out of town. After our set, I remember seeing a young woman, the organizer’s wife, who was wearing a creamy coloured headscarf – a hijab. It framed her face and then fell in folds over her neck and chest. I looked into her face – she was beautiful. It seemed to me that her face was glowing and, somehow, in some way, the hijab only accentuated that. I was so taken with that sight that I stopped to speak to her. After exchanging pleasantries, I asked her the question that had been burning in my brain since I had arrived in Cairo: ‘Why do you cover yourself? You are so beautiful.’ To this day, her answer hits me with its clarity and simplicity.
‘Because,’ she said, ‘I want to be judged for what I say and what I do, not for what I look like.’
Ever since I can remember, I have been aware of my looks – not so much because I am particularly beautiful (although my friends and family would attest to my vanity!), but because of how people reacted to me. Throughout my teenage years, my friends and I were totally comfortable with the notion of using our looks as leverage, of wielding power over men in this way. In that world, every woman knows the drill: when you go for that job interview, you make sure you look your best, and if it’s a man you’re meeting, perhaps even show a bit of leg, laugh at his jokes, pout a bit to be taken out to lunch – that sort of thing. Most women grow up knowing these tricks and use them both consciously and unconsciously.
So on that night in an Egyptian village, when that lovely woman told me that she was not interested in being judged on her appearance, but on what she said and thought, I had to sit up and take notice! What did she mean? Remove physical looks from the equation? I felt nothing but admiration for this woman. What is it about Islam, I thought, that can make a woman so strong that she no longer strives to be noticed by men, no longer needs the admiring gaze to feel attractive, no longer puts herself on display when the rest of the world is doing just that? These questions affected me deeply. I began to think about my life, about my own self-image and how I wanted to grow and develop. I asked myself whether I had the courage, the confidence, and the self-esteem to get by on my character and intellect alone.
(An excerpt from the book ‘From my sisters’ lips’ authored by Na’ima B.Robert and published by Bantam Books)
NESA (meaning women) specializes in traditional Islamic Women wear. It was incorporated in Dec-2005 by Mr.A.M.Iqbal who is a partner in M.Gani & Co. During the expansion of NESA in 2007, M.Jahir Hussain partner in M/s. Mirage, M/s.Miracles, M/s.Cape Kazuals and GANI (The House of Fashion), K.Samsu Gani, Founder of Gani Shirts, joined as partners for merchandising and globalizing the products – TRADITIONAL WOMEN ISLAMIC WEAR SUCH AS BURKHA, ABAYA, HIJABS, SCARVES, SHAWLS, ETC.. Now, Nesa is gradually emerging as a global brand.
The best burqas, hijabs, shawls and headscarves in Asia are made by Nesa Burkha. After the coronavirus lockdown is over, visit our outlets in different parts of Chennai city.
Nesa, #69, Angappa Naicken Street, Mannady, Chennai – 600 001 Phone: +914442053841
Nesa, #5, Gangatheeswarar Koil Street, Purasawalkam, Chennai – 600 007 Phone: +914442041499
Nesa, #275, Pycrofts Road, Triplicane, Chennai – 600 005 Phone: +914442667119
Nesa, #4/3, Sardar Patel Road, Near Gokul Arcade, Adyar Signal, Chennai – 600 020 Phone: +914442667119
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