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Eye Contact

Jaiah Smith
Advertising and Marketing Communications í13

Thatís quite a look.
Beauty is about more than the physical reality of your features. Iíve worn hijab for a year, and niqab, the face veil, since Ramadan. I have girlfriends who wear all black, but I prefer to dabble with splashes of color. I was voted Best Dressed in high school actually, before I started covering.

Is it weird to wear niqab at a place like FIT?
Not really. You know how, at the end of Sex and the City 2, those women take off their veils and theyíre wearing off-the-runway Versace? Thatís exaggerated. But I do wear a Michael Kors watch and BCBG leopard print flats!

You were raised Christian, in Addisleigh Park, Queens. Your mother was a reverend. What happened?
I had trouble with certain ambiguities in Christianity. I made my shahada, a declaration of faith, three years ago. I went to the mosque uncovered, in jeans, with my hair in a bun. The imam, although polite, didnít make eye contact. Later, I realized this was his way of giving me the privacy I didnít give myself.

You say niqab is about privacy and protection. Please explain.
Men are much more respectful. On the subway, itís ďSister, can I give you a seat?Ē and not, ďShorty, let me get your number.Ē Niqab does for the Muslim sister what the Do Not Disturb sign does for the hotel guest. Wearing the veil puts a limit on me as well; I represent more than just myself. Niqab distinguishes me as a believer and reminds me to resist temptation.

Now that you cover, what sort of reactions do you get?
One time, in October, someone said, ďItís not Halloween yet.Ē I didnít answer. Muslims are instructed to guard their tongues. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has said: He who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good or keep quiet.

Youíre a student ambassador, and give tours for prospective students and their parents. Do you explain the niqab?
I donít. I just say, ďHi, Iím Jaiah. Iím an AMC student.Ē People are curious. You can see it.

I bet. Whatís the biggest misconception about your look?
That Iím oppressed. When actually, Iím so liberated! Iím not worried about blemishes or my waistline. Itís such a relief, it really is. I enjoy the privacy, the mystique. My style is my own. I donít feel the urge to pay exorbitant prices for jeans and handbags. Wearing niqab is totally my choice. And I love it.

Do you ever feel lonely on campus?
At times. Iím very vocal in class. That gives people a better understanding of who I might be. We had to do group projects in a copywriting course, and I was afraid that Iíd get chosen last. But several people approached me right away. People donít know my face, but they know me.

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