Hailey Woldt put on the traditional black abaya, expecting the worst.
The last time she’d worn the Muslim dress that, with a head scarf, covered everything but her face, hands and feet, she was in Miami International Airport, where the stares were many and the security check thorough.
This time, she was in a small town called Arab. Arab, Alabama, no less.
“I expected people to say, ‘What is this terrorist doing here? We don’t want your kind here,’ ” said Woldt, a 22-year-old blue-eyed Catholic, recalling her anticipation before stepping into a local barbecue joint. “I thought I wouldn’t even be served.”
Instead, Woldt’s experiment in social anthropology opened her own eyes. Apart from the initial glances reserved for any outsider who might venture through a small-town restaurant’s doors, her experience was a pleasant one.
On her way to the bathroom, Woldt said, “One woman’s jaw dropped, but then she smiled at me. … That little smile just makes you feel so much better.”
This unexpected experience has just been one of Woldt’s takeaway moments on her current journey. She is one in a team of five mostly 20-something Americans, led by an esteemed Muslim scholar, who are crisscrossing the nation on an anthropological mission. Their purpose: to discuss American identity, Muslim identity, and find out how well this country upholds its ideals in a post-September 11 world. (Full Story)