Saw an article today celebrating a lad for sitting next to a woman in a niqab (full muslim covering); apparently other commuters in the subway were choosing not to occupy the seat next to her. The article perplexed me because everyone was assuming the motive of the commuters is negative and that seems unjust and unlikely. If I were in that subway car I would also not have sat next to her, opting to stand, if required. But I would not be doing so out of disgust, dislike, or disagreement, quite the opposite. I would have thought that was the response she desired. Wearing the full niqab strongly suggests that she is very observant/devout, and from what I have gathered there is considerable separation by gender within the observant/devout communities; many women only being able to be seen uncovered by their husband and close relatives, many women only being able to travel when escorted (and only then with a man related to her), women and men praying separately, etc. Why on earth would I imagine that a woman in a niqab would want a male stranger sitting directly next to her? (The general population seems only to barely tolerate strangers sitting next to them.) So, I'm very confused about what one is supposed to do in this situation... The woman in this situation said "thank you", so apparently his sitting there was welcome, but is that generally true?
(I have spent quite a bit of time in Amish and Mennonite country and I do the same with them. They choose to live apart, as evidenced by their ways and dress, so I try and honor their apartness by not forcing myself upon them. The last thing they seem to want is to engage with others who are different from them.)