UConn students’ share perspectives on their religious head coverings

Mennatullah Elfouly, an eighth-semester mechanical engineering major and a member of UConn Muslim Student Association (MSA), said she began to wear a hijab when she was 15 years old. (Photo by Yuanyuan Cao/The Daily Campus)

Heba Naqvi, a fourth-semester urban and community studies major at University of Connecticut Hartford Campus, said she wanted to wear hijabs for a few years, but she was afraid to appear different from the surrounding community.

“I've grown up in a small town with mostly white people,” Naqvi said. “Being around the same people for so many years made me feel like I couldn't do anything differently. Before I started my freshman year of college, I decided that I wouldn't put it off anymore.”

Naqvi started wearing a hijab about a year and a half ago. She was taught by her mother that hijabs are meant to “veil a woman's outward beauty so that she doesn't attract jealousy or lust, but rather is recognized for who she is as a person.”

“My mom has been wearing hijab since I was young and I never saw her (differently) from any other woman,” Naqvi said. “Hijab does not only apply to women however, as men are also required to maintain a level of covering their body as well, but that is usually not given as much attention by people.”

Naqvi said although the Hartford Campus is very diverse and there are plenty of girls who wear hijabs, she feels wearing hijab has made her less approachable.

“I feel like I have to go the extra mile and do my best when doing normal things, like I’m representing all women who wear hijabs, which is hard and tiring,” Naqvi said. “I also have a constant feeling of being an outsider at non-Muslim social gatherings.”

Naqvi shared a story of her being verbally assaulted by an elderly white woman while she was eating a bagel at Dunkin Donuts.

“I felt very hurt at the time and this was around when I first started wearing a hijab, so I was in shock,” Naqvi said. “But I don’t like confrontation, so I left immediately.”

Between 2015 and 2017, three religion-related hate crimes were reported at the Storrs campus, according to UConn Annual Security & Fire Safety Report.

Andrew Fournier, UConn police deputy chief, said in an email that an incident occurred on Aug. 31, 2017, when a student wearing a Kippah near Towers Dining Hall heard a person from a vehicle yelling anti-semitic slurs at him. On Feb. 19, 2018, the police department received a report of a swastika drawn in the snow outside the Oak Hall building, Fournier said.

Nathan Schachter, an eighth-semester communication major and the victim of the 2017 incident, said the experience was shocking in the beginning, but it later strengthened him as a proud and strong Jew.

“It shaped me as a person just because I grew up in the Jewish bubble my whole life, and I never dealt with anything like that before,” Schachter said. “In the beginning (it) was hard to hear, recognizing that it was targeted at me, and that something like this could even happen here at UConn and still in the world today, but afterwards, it really had strengthened me. It makes me into a prouder, stronger Jew and I don’t really let anything hold me back now.”

Scott Selig, the executive director of UConn Hillel, said Schachter received 3,000 comments on Facebook supporting him, and he also got support from different departments of the university after the Daily Campus published his story.

“He found that it opened his eyes to see how many people support the Jewish community here,” Selig said. “He took this negative event and made it into a positive.”

Schachter said he encourages students who have ever had to deal with religious discriminations to go to a cultural or religious center on campus that speaks for them. He also said he suggests they to speak with UConn Community Standards if they need help.

“For me (UConn Community Standards) was super helpful,” Schachter said. “I know that they want to make sure that every student on this campus feels safe, feels supported and feels welcome.”

The statement of UConn policy against discrimination, harassment and related interpersonal violence states that UConn is “committed to maintaining a safe and non-discriminatory” environment for all members in the community. Incidents of “discrimination or discriminatory harassment” involving university employees on campus should be reported to The Office of Institutional Equity at 860-486-2943 (Storrs) or 860-679-3563 (UConn Health) or equity@uconn.edu.

Students can also contact UConn Community Standards at 860-486-8402 or community@uconn.edu if they face any kind of harassment or discrimination.

Mennatullah Elfouly, an eighth-semester mechanical engineering major and a member of UConn Muslim Student Association (MSA), said she began to wear a hijab when she was 15 years old.

“It is a physical manifestation of my connection to God and serves as a constant reminder of my faith and to always be the best version of myself every day, showing acts of kindness, being just and respectful to people,” Elfouly said.

Elfouly said it “breaks her heart” when people are threatened or feel uncomfortable around her because of her chosen religious cloth. Elfouly said once she was at a swimming pool and was wearing her Islamic swimsuit with its head cover. A man came to her brother asking him to allow her to take off her headscarf to be able to fit in. Elfouly responded to the man by saying that it is her decision to wear it.

“It is also devastating when people assume that someone somehow is forcing me to wear the hijab without assuming that it is entirely my decision,” Elfouly said.

Elfouly said there is a negative stigma about Muslims due to extremists’ activities that affects how some people may see her as a person.

“I have many other stories. What all these stories have in common is that many people are still ignorant about the hijab and Islam in general,” Elfouly said.

Elfouly said UConn is very supportive of students to express their religious beliefs.

“On campus, there is a big Muslim supportive community either through the Islamic Center of UConn (ICUC) or through MSA,” Elfouly said. “So even if I did face such discrimination, I know I will receive the needed support.”


Yuanyuan Cao is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at yuanyuan.cao@uconn.edu.