As an atheist who grew up Catholic (and I’m not just talking Easter/Christmas Catholic… I’m talking my mother was such a devout Catholic that when I was kicked out of my Confirmation class for arguing for female reproductive rights and the rights of homosexuals, my mother petitioned our local church to start HER OWN class with me as the only student, just so that I could be confirmed into the church…. yeah I was raised that kind of Catholic.) I understand the importance of respecting certain religious traditions when you enter their places of worship. But as conservative and stringent as I thought the Catholic church was, nothing could have really prepared me for what it felt like to be required to wear a burqa merely to enter the grand Mosque in Oman.
This requirement was made even more stark due to the fact that I entered at the exact same time as another tourist, who happened to be male.
He did not have to pay to rent a burqa.
His arms were showing. And it was no big deal.
I had worn an outfit that, to me, was probably the most conservative thing I’ve ever worn in warm weather. But it wasn’t good enough, and I had to don the entire bedsheet-looking get-up that women throughout a number of (not all – and that’s important to note) Muslim countries are expected, or even required, to wear.
And you might be thinking, well that’s extremely disrespectful to refer to their religious garb like that. And all I have to say to that is, yes, yes it most likely is.
But I have no problem questioning region and religious traditions. Just ask my mother. So whether it’s my religion or not, if something doesn’t sit right with me, I’m not going to pretend like it does.
The Grand Mosque in Oman is BEAUTIFUL… and that’s putting it lightly.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more beautiful place of worship. Not Jewish temples. Not Catholic cathedrals. No other religions building that I’ve seen even comes close to how breathtakingly beautiful I found this mosque.
So at the end of the day, would I don the burqa again just for the chance to go in and walk around? Absolutely.
Would it bother me just as much the second time as it had the first? Absolutely.
Now obviously, anyone who has been to the Middle East will know that the men dress VERY conservatively as well, for the most part.
But I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was being forced to wear one, while the guy who walked in at the same time as me wasn’t… simply because my ankles and my arms were showing.
Apparently men’s arms are more acceptable to God or Allah or whatever each faith calls it, than women’s arms.
I’m sorry, but from my radicalized feminist western perspective… F that.
It was SOOOO hot in that burqa. Taking it off when I left felt better than taking my bra off at the end of the day… yeah that good.
I hated how formless it made me. I hated how, from the back, I looked like any other female visitor wearing one of these. I hated how constricting it was around my neck. I don’t know whether it was too tight around my neck or whether it was due to the heat, but I felt like I was suffocating in it.
When I finally took it off, I felt like I could breathe again. It definitely made me appreciate the utter lack of religion in my life and my ability to wear whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, whether it was appropriate or not.
Shorts and a tank-top in the middle of a mid-west winter? Yup, I can do that. It’s extremely stupid and I’ll probably freeze, but hey, that’s MY choice.
But as I said, the grand mosque was beautiful, and so incredibly worth it (because I only had to wear that thing while I was at the mosque).
I love the architecture. I love the mosaic. I love the domes. I love the way the mosques look rising out among the mountains.
And as stupid as it might sound saying it, I have to admit that the mosques reminded me soooo much of the palace of Agrabah from the Disney movie Aladdin that it made my tiny little childish heart so happy.
But really I mean that as a compliment because I always thought that palace was the most beautiful of all the Disney palaces.
And I mean c’mon, look at this place! Look at those lamps! This place couldn’t be more beautiful if it tried.
Overall, I recommend not only visiting the middle east, and obviously Oman, because Oman is an AMAZING country and I loved every second of my time there, but I also recommend visiting a mosque. Don a burqa for an hour or two, see what it feels like. Maybe you’ll feel the same as me. Maybe you won’t.
That’s the best part about traveling this world, no two experiences are alike. So don’t take my word for it, see for yourself.