The mothers’ choir sings at St. Gebriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church on Easter. While at church, women cover their heads with long, handwoven scarves called natellas and small headscarves called shash. Metti Mulugeta, a volunteer with the Ethiopian Community Center, says the scarves are worn for the sake of modesty. Traditionally, they were styled in different ways depending on occasion and age of the woman.
Photographs Copyright: Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times
Earlier this year, a few colleagues and I started to explore the reasons why women in our community wear head coverings and veils.
Head coverings transcend the boundaries of religion and culture. They can be found in many religions, including the three Abrahamic faiths — Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Some women cover full-time. Others reach for their scarves or veils only when going to the temple or cultural gatherings, or to mark certain auspicious occasions. Modesty, faith, respect and identity are some of the reasons for covering.
Muslim women were the most common group we saw dressing modestly and wearing headscarves, or hijabs. However, we soon learned that women cover their heads with scarves or hats in certain Russian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Catholic churches in our area. East Indian women dance with colorful dupattas at some cultural gatherings. And Jewish women bring their wigs to be styled at a hair salon in Maple Leaf.
In a time when so many things divide Americans, I hope that the photos, captions and video can help increase some cross-cultural understanding. The photos and video span from brides in boutiques to Sikhs in processions. First communions to Sabbath preparations. Somali shopping malls to pastoral homes to Eastside mosques.
The photos and video are not fully representative of all religions and cultures. Instead, this is a collection of some local women’s perspectives.
I want to thank all the women who agreed to participate in the project. It’s not easy to put yourself in the public eye, especially for those who deeply value modesty and humility. I appreciate your willingness to share your beliefs and time with me and with others.
Choclit’ Angel Handley, a 27-year-old convert to Islam, struggled with a positive self-image before covering. Before, people could say her hair wasn’t straight enough or her waist not small enough, she says. But the covering “allows me to build self-confidence from within.”
Thousands walk in Renton’s Khalsa Day parade. Sikh men, and some women, wear turbans as one of five external articles of faith called the five Kakars. Women also wear long headscarves called dupattas at religious ceremonies to show respect.
Marian Ali, wearing red, cheers with family and friends during last year’s Seattle Somali Youth Soccer Finals at Chief Sealth High School. Most of the Somali women at the event wore the hijab, or head scarf.
During Pentecost, members of Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral decorate the church, including Mary. “She is revered higher than the angels in the Russian Orthodox Church,” says Natalie Kotar, a member of the congregation.
Amani Elaameir, 11, from left, Dana Elaameir, 18, and Randa Mustafa, 17, read the Quran during Ramadan at Redmond’s Muslim Association of Puget Sound. The hijab is not only a headscarf and a modest style of dress, but also reflects a woman’s conduct and actions, says Dana Elaameir. “It’s my responsibility to accurately represent my religion and how proud I am of it,” she says.
First communicants wear veils at North American Martyrs Parish in Seattle. Many of the girls and women at the Catholic church regularly wear the mantilla, a symbol of sacredness. Rev. Gerard Saguto says he sees more women gravitating towards the veil and dressing conservatively as a response to the moral climate in society.
Charlene Smucker and her husband John Smucker milk the cow at their home near Arlington, Wash. Charlene, a follower of the Anabaptist faith, wears a head covering as a sign of modesty as well as a symbol of submission to her husband and obedience to God.
During her riding lessons at Brackenhollow Stables, Heba Bakhach, 25, wears a loose-fitting shirt, riding pants and hijab instead of her regular jilbab, or long dress. To preserve her modesty, she works with a female instructor in a private setting.
Arielle Tant fixes her daughter Taelyn Massey’s princess veil at Camlann Medieval Village near Carnation, Wash. Tant says the princess veil is rich with symbolism. She thinks her daughter, 3, gravitates toward the garment because it is a symbol of beauty, glamour, fantasy and dreaming big.
Pam Thind, left, adjusts her son Arvin Singh’s turban during the Khalsa Day parade in Renton. Sikh men, and some women, wear turbans as one of five external articles of faith called the five Kakars. Women wear long headscarves called dupattas at religious ceremonies to show respect.
Michelle Mehin, 20, tries on wedding veils at Pearls and Lace bridal boutique in Burien. For Mehin, the bridal veil has special meaning. “When your husband takes it off to kiss you, that means I’m fully his. I’m giving my whole self to him,” she says.
Tziviah Goldberg, an Hasidic Jew, wears a wig over her natural hair while out in public and a snood at home, as she does here. “Covering my hair allows me to follow our sacred Jewish traditions, which respect the modesty of married women,” she says. “Modesty isn’t just covering your hair or what you wear. It’s a mindset. The hair covering is just part of the whole picture of faith.”
Inderpal Kaur, 21, wears a turban as one of five external articles of the Sikh faith called the five Kakars. They are physical reminders to do good deeds and to be identified as Sikh. Kaur can put on her turban in about 5 minutes, she says, “Unless I am having a bad turban day.”
Avani Desai dresses before dancing at the Vaisakhi Mela Festival at Pabla Punjabi Palace in SeaTac, Wash. Desai wears a dupatta, or long scarf, during East Indian cultural dances and also during religious ceremonies at the Hindu temple.
Nawal Abdirazak, 2, wears a hijab outside of the Bakaro Mall, a Somali shopping mall in SeaTac, Wash. Abdirazak, who has worn the head scarf since the age of one, visited her grandmother with mom Hamdi Ali.
Rajbir Kaur, 16, left, and mom Harwinder Kaur attend prayers at Gurudwara Singh Sabha of Washington. Harwinder wears the dupatta full-time, while Rajbir wears it during Sikh religious ceremonies and Punjabi cultural events.
A woman bows to an icon of the Holy Trinity during Pentecost at Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Capitol Hill. Women wear headscarves or hats while attending services, but not in everyday life. Members of the congregation do not worship the actual icon, but what it represents.
Choclit’ Angel Handley, 27, picks up dinner in South Seattle. Handley believes her circle of friends–who are educated, single and wear the niqab full-time–are often misjudged or misunderstood. “None of us are married, we don’t have husbands to beat us up and force us to cover,” she says. “My family is non-Muslim. So there is no one forcing me to do this. It’s the opposite. I’m fighting to wear it.”
Women wear long scarves, called natellas, and small headscarves called shash when attending Easter services at St. Gebriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Metti Mulugeta, a volunteer with the Ethiopian Community Center, says the scarves are worn at church services for the sake of modesty.
Nadia Nagatkin attends Pentecost at Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Women wear headscarves or hats while attending services, but not in everyday life. For this holiday, women often wear green, a color that symbolizes life.
Mariam Velez, 11, walks with her cousin Hermione Silva, 5, after her first communion at Holy Family Parish in White Center. Deacon Abel Magana says the veil is still very important to the Catholic community. Girls wear veils for First Communion but women also wear them for weddings and funerals, like Jacqueline Kennedy did when President John F. Kennedy was laid to rest.