As a non-Muslim woman I decided to spend a day in hijab (headbag) after writing a preview story about a local World Hijab Day event. Subjugated, oppressed, subservient, inferior, and submissive, are adjectives I have frequently heard used to describe Muslim women who cover their heads by wearing hijab. When I first began this journey, I had no idea what to expect. However, based on the stories I had heard from Muslim women I had talked to, I knew that there would be some challenges.
KCSG Southern Utah University students with the Muslim Student Association planned a day of support for World Hijab Day. The MSA set up a booth in the SUU Sharwan Smith hallway and taught non-Muslim women how to wrap a hijab, and took pictures for their website to promote awareness about their plight.
After speaking to these women, it occurred to me, that I was completely oblivious to the discrimination they endured on a day-to-day basis. I do not wear hijab, and so I couldn’t possibly understand how difficult it might be to do something as simple as run daily errands in a tiny town post 9/11 in the U.S.
In my mind, I imagined that it might have been something like trying to relate to the discrimination black men and women endured during the Jim Crow era of “separate, but equal” rights – a discrimination that many black Americans still live with today. Since I had a lot of errands to take care of Feb. 4, I knew it would be a good day to participate. That morning, I showed up to the MSA table at SUU with my scarf in hand to learn how to wrap the hijab for the first time.
Preparing to wear hijab was more difficult than I had anticipated. A deep search through my available apparel indicated that I owned very few clothing items that would cover my body as completely as it should have been. Either the sleeves were too short, or my collar was low cut; but I was determined to make my wardrobe work, and eventually I found something that worked. The women who helped me to wrap my hijab were easy to talk to and welcomed me warmly.
The foreign women told me not to expect too much “action,” because of wearing hijab, because Cedar City was one of the most accepting communities that they had lived in since moving to the United States. Considering their advice, I left SUU with a smile, and a feeling of confidence that followed me throughout the day.
While running my errands for the day I was surprised to find that most of the acquaintances I interacted with on a regular basis did a double take when they saw me wearing a hijab, but didn’t bother to ask any questions about it.
As the day wore on, I started to notice a difference in the way women would react to me as opposed to men. Older, white men seemed more perturbed by my presence than younger men of any ethnicity – a few of them even scoffed loudly, before creating a greater distance of space between them and me. (Mr. BNI says: “Take off the hijab and see how much more distance they place between you and them”)
It appeared I would make it through the day unscathed by the preconceived notion of blatant discrimination that I had prepared myself to encounter that day. Then I opened my Facebook profile where I had posted a picture of myself in hijab earlier that day.
To my amazement, and horrifying disgust – someone who labels themselves as open-minded, and touts taking the time to research before presenting uninformed opinions as an inherent value of integrity – asked me when I planned to get my “(female) circumcision.”
My grandmother often used a word when I was a little girl that it appears many have forgotten. It’s a shame too, because it would serve some people quite well to rediscover it. The word is couth, and it means to show manners, or display an air of sophistication. I can’t help, but sometimes wonder how such “civilized” people could devolve so profoundly when it comes to the simplest concepts of polite society.
I liked wearing the hijab. My head was warm on a cold day, and I didn’t have to mess with my hair that morning. It made me feel beautiful, dignified and a little like a princess. As a spiritual person, I have shied away from labels, but spent ample amounts of time putting my beliefs into a practice that produces a physical manifestation of my belief system. Muslim women did not invent this concept, but they do bear the burden of the discrimination that comes along with carrying on the traditions of their culture should they choose to do so.
My day in hijab was liberating. It taught me that hanging on to misconceptions closes doors and locks away opportunities to grow and better understand the world in which we all live; and while I may not choose to wear hijab every day, I will definitely be showing my support again next year come Feb. 1. (Idiot)