Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
“Hey, Ninja! What’s that rag on your head?”
“Ooh, here comes the terrorist!”
“This is America, you’re free to take off your clothes here.”
If you’re an American Muslim hijabi like me, chances are, you’ve heard one or more of these comments from friends, co-workers, classmates, even strangers on the street. If you’re a teenager, those chances are even higher as you deal with the most immature of your peers in the school and college system. And if you’re a European Muslim, these and other similar words are probably accompanied by state, educational and employment discrimination in a manner that leaves you devastated. How can a single piece of fabric command such misunderstanding, intolerance, even hatred?
The fact that Muslim women like me face stereotypes largely due to the hijaab is no secret. The world looks at our covered faces and bodies and finds it strange that we are unable to leave behind the allegedly arcane laws of the Arabian deserts as we enter the twenty-first century. They find it unimaginable that we would choose to wear clothes that hide our sexuality and restrict our freedom. They forget that women of a more decent era, Jewish, Christian and Hindu, all defined modesty in the same manner of dress as we do. The world is now at a juncture where clothing is optional – but less is more and more is definitely unacceptable.
Of course, Muslim women who wear the hijab in all its forms, like the headscarf, burqa, niqab, jilbab and so much more feel confident in their understanding of the Holy Quran and Hadith and consider their hijab to be part of an overall decision to please Allah. And although in many Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, some women don’t cover themselves out of freedom but due to coercion, for American Muslim women the hijab signifies freedom and identity of the best kind. In the minds of many, the American hijabi has become a bastion of freedom, perseverance and dedication, steadfastly bearing insults and discrimination from outsiders. Yet it can be a miserable, lonely existence, where even your closest friends and family members may not agree with your choice of clothing. Many girls who wear the hijab are the first in their families to do so, and for them it is a source of pride in the face of questions, assumptions, stereotyping and labeling.
World Hijab Day
One way to combat the attitude of naysayers is a new initiative called World Hijab Day, organized by Bangladeshi American Nazma Khan as a way to promote tolerance and understanding among women of different faiths. It’s a deceptively simple concept: for an entire day on February 1 each year, women from all walks of life, all religions and all countries don the hijab as an experiment. From Australia to Zimbabwe and every nation in between, women will get up in the morning, dress themselves in a scarf worn the “proper way” (World Hijab Day has a tutorial for those who have never worn one before) and leave their homes for schools, colleges, work and so much more. I feel anxious just describing it!
Story Behind ‘World Hijab Day’
It’s About Tolerance
How is one day going to help remove centuries of misunderstandings, stereotyping and intolerance? The answer is, by allowing someone who doesn’t cover herself to walk in the shoes of one who does. It’s not about converting someone to Islam or winning the argument about who dresses better. It’s about tolerance and awareness, key topics we seem to have forgotten about as a planet. But World Hijab Day is not just for non-Muslims, who may be curious about life from inside the veil. It’s equally for Muslim women who don’t cover, who find it difficult or unnecessary to do so.
From videos and essays left on the organization’s website and Facebook page, the day promises to be a resounding success. Since the event first began, countless women have learned a great deal about themselves and the world around them by wearing the hijab for just one day – no pressure, no expectations. They have learned how difficult it is to cover up in a society that rewards nakedness and promiscuity. They have understood the courage and the strength of character of women who do so each and every day. They have discovered the hardships and successes of wearing a small piece of cloth with such a great ability to transform lives and societies.
World Hijab Day is tomorrow, are you ready to take the challenge?