Muslim Woman

“Please Don’t Take my Photo, My Husband Might Kill Me”

A surprising tête-à-tête at Fête des Tuileries

tête-à-tête: A face-to-face meeting, or private conversation between two people; literally, a “head-to-head”

4 August 2014

There are lights and bells and squeals and cotton candy and sand in my sandals at La Fête des Tuileries 2014. I’ve found a bench at the Formule 1 ride. A little girl is ringing the bell on her truck and looking toward her Mom as she draws near. “Maman! Maman!” Mom at first doesn’t hear her, is too engrossed in her cell phone to notice, and the little girl tries again the next time around, again to no avail. This evokes in me a sinking heartbreak and desperation for that little girl. I want to start clapping for her myself. But she doesn’t want me to clap, she wants her Mom.

She’s the only one on the ride.

Ah! Good! Mom has put her phone away now, is following her daughter with her eyes, and is smiling and cheering occasionally. Good. Better.

When I first entered this Parisian Summer Fair near the Louvre, children were connected to bungee cords and jumping on low-to-the-ground trampolines. They were loving it. Two doggies scuffled nearby.

As I passed these children and the bungees, I noticed a woman dressed head-to-toe in black, her hijab (head covering) leaving only her face showing. She was seated on a bench looking at her cell phone while her child played with his Dad on the bungee/trampoline. My first impression was that – the strict, solid covering notwithstanding – she was beautiful. Her face was impeccably made-up. Her large, almond-shaped eyes and eyebrows were perfectly lined in black kohl. Her lips were full, beautifully-shaped and a deep, flawless red. As I passed her, I stopped in my tracks, turned around, went back, and asked her if I might take a photo of her. She looked at me apologetically and said, “No. I’m sorry. My husband is so jealous and if he saw you taking my picture, he might kill me. I’m very sorry, though.” I told her I completely understood (which was a complete lie), thanked her anyway, and said good-bye.

“He might kill me…”

There was fear as she considered I might take her picture. It was real fear…of her husband. But, there was peace and grace, too. It seemed to me that she understood that this was her life and that this was one of the rules of her life, a guiding principal to cover her hair and head and body. She obviously, though, took great care to lovingly and beautifully prepare that part of her she was allowed to show the world. Although no photos will capture that beauty, that diminishes the beauty not at all. I have deep respect for this woman who consciously creates as much self-expression for herself as possible. Because of this conversation, I no longer view these women as merely oppressed and dark and hidden and shapeless. My eye now sees their intricate and conscious and subtle individualism. And, yes, beauty. And my heart cheers.

It was a life-altering conversation.

29 June 2018 Update: Novelist Samina Ali adds pertinent, meaningful, and courageous input to the discussion above in a TEDx talk at the University of Nevada. I have never forgotten the woman with the hijab with whom I spoke in Jardin des Tuileries.