By Mary Grace Richardson, Co-Editor
Amid protests over President Donald Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, women around the world showed their solidarity with Muslim women by wearing hijabs for the fifth annual World Hijab Day yesterday.
Starting in 2013, New Yorker Nazma Khan organized the day in reaction to the harassment and marginalization Muslim women face by wearing the head scarf. By asking non-Muslim women to wear the hijab for a day, she hoped to foster religious understanding and seek solidarity with women worldwide.
“I thought if I could invite women of all faiths—Muslim and non-Muslim—to walk in my shoes just for one day, perhaps things would change,” Khan explained in an interview with OkayAfrica.
Intended to fight stereotypes about women who choose to wear the hijab, the movement has spread across America and then across the world. Women gathered during a time when people are uniting in massive protests for human rights.
Faduma-Dhool Mohamed (MAGAM ’17) organized the day on campus for similar reasons. “In some cases, religion and culture are taken to be the same thing. I think that’s why some people think that the hijab is a sign or some form of oppression, but it’s really not,” she explained. “It was my choice to wear it from the very beginning. I find it beautiful, I find it empowering. It protects me, and it’s part of who I am.”
Munirah Alshilash (MGM ’17) also echoed these sentiments. “My hijab is my identity as a Muslim girl, and it’s a symbol of modesty and dignity,” she said. “Also, wearing the hijab makes me feel I am complete, and it is part of my personality and existence.”
For Bahar Heravy (MAGAM ’17), the hijab is part of identity and fashion. While she acknowledges that in Islam women are taught that the hijab conveys duty and immunity, she doesn’t believe wearing it makes anyone a better Muslim. However, she does connect it to her culture: “To me it is just a piece of cloth that makes me feel stylish and happy, though sometimes sad because I know people look at me differently—as a threat to their existence: backward and untrustworthy.”
With hate crimes against Muslim-Americans tripling after the attacks in Paris and San Bernadino last year, now more than ever is it important to demonstrate principles of religious freedom, tolerance, and acceptance and take part in movements with goals to end prejudice and bigotry.
Bayan Qashqari, a MAGAM ’18 student from Saudi Arabia, voiced how grateful she was that people were willing to share her culture on campus: “I wish I could precisely express how excited I was this morning when I entered the classroom and saw my T-bird friends with colorful scarves covering their beautiful blond and brunette hair. I felt so happy and encouraged to wear my hijab as I have always been reluctant to put it on in non-Islamic countries.”
Though a symbol for virtue and purity, others find it to be a source of inequality. In response, many women, including Mohamed, would say that the hijab means the opposite, that it’s a statement for a woman having the right and power to decide how she wants to carry herself. As Mohamed explains, it can’t be ignored that there are women who are forced to wear the traditional scarf—however, it needs to be clarified that this is attributed to the culture of a country, not the religion.
Nancy Shereni (MAGAM ’18) found yesterday a great way to spark conversations, bring awareness, and educate others (and herself) about the reason behind the hijab. “I decided to participate in World Hijab Day to show solidarity and stand against the discrimination, judgment, and continued stereotypes that Muslim woman face,” she described. “I wanted to show the world that even though I am not Muslim myself, I am very adamant to continue a global movement of peace and respect for one another.”
Alshilash, Qashqari, and Heravy all expressed how meaningful it was to see the hijab represented on campus. As Nada Almousa, an MGM ’17 student also from Saudi Arabia, put it, “Seeing people from different countries and backgrounds sharing this and joining forces to celebrate or promote a common cause was beautiful. It reassured me that the only differences that are out there are the ones we create. We are all the same no matter what background we were brought up in, what we believe, or what we wear.”
With the help of thousands of volunteers and more than 70 World Hijab Day ambassadors from 45+ countries, it’s estimated that 190 countries took part in this year’s celebration. Just last year, 150 countries participated, and more recently, Time Magazine added the day to their world calendar.
Having hosted World Hijab Day on campus last year, Mohamed was just as happy with how yesterday turned out: “The response I received both times was of equal excitement. It never ceases to amaze me the sheer amount of solidarity Thunderbirds show for one another. Always unwavering.”