This week at market she strolled by unaccompanied, at a time when my booth wasn't very busy. So I took a risk and stepped out to flag her down as she passed.
"Hi," I said. "I just wanted to let you know that I always feel happy when I see another woman dressing according to her faith rather than fashion."
She was puzzled when I first approached her, but when I made that awkward statement she visibly relaxed and smiled. "Yes," she replied. "I've noticed you, too. I feel the same."
We smiled at one another in silence for a few moments. It was still awkward. After all, in other parts of the globe people are killing people who wear different religious dress than their own. But I wanted to show my friendliness. Even this many years after 9/11, I imagine she gets more than her fair share of hatefulness because of her religious dress. Every moment of being in public must be a certain act of courage for her, in this country...especially in the full-length abaya. Other Muslim women in town mostly just wear the hijab with more modern slacks and shirts.
She continued after a few moments. With a little laugh, she said, "People don't understand. Sometimes they think I'm a nun." I shrugged that shrug that says, in some cultures, "Well, what can you do? Ignorance knows no bounds." As I stand close to her and hear her speak, I realize that she is probably a melting-pot American like myself, not a foreigner. My respect for her grows. For an American woman to wear the abaya is very unusual; I had expected her to have been raised in a strict foreign country.
"I came to it late in life," she said. "So it's especially meaningful to me." "Me, too," I replied, nodding. We understand each other in a way others can't possibly. We know nothing of one another's stories, but we know them none-the-less. We were each raised some other way, a different faith or no faith at all...certainly no deep religious practice involving anti-fashion statements, modesty or anything like that. Somehow we have each been led on a unique spiritual journey, drawing closer to a Deity that has claimed us for his own, and we have each answered "YES" to that Almighty. I imagine she, like me, has had the experience of reading our scriptures for the first time as an adult, and puzzling over them, and eventually coming to those "ah-hah" moments that, like bricks, have gradually formed a strong foundation for the practice of our faith in a largely faithless world. It's a very different journey than that of someone who was raised in either faith, learning it as the language of daily life from the moment of birth.
I struggle to put all this, and more, into words to this total stranger who is in some odd way a spiritual sister. "I guess it's about faith. It's wonderful to see other people who are willing to put their faith above fashion. In this world [I roll my eyes around at the scantily clad, tatooed, pierced, high-heeled, coifed, heavily booted, crudely t-shirted, etc. crowd passing us on both sides as if we do not exist] I think ANY faith at all is so important. So many people don't believe anything." She agreed, smiling again. We smiled a few moments longer and I excused myself to return to my booth.
Meeting other kindred spirits at Market, I always offer my contact information. But somehow it was not important to keep in touch with her through worldly means. We did not even ask one another's names.
We will see each other when Allah and Christ see fit. And the merest glimpse of the other will enrich our day and encourage us in our faith.