Finding strength in the hijab

On March 3rd, the International Student and Scholars Services held an event titled “The Hijab Experience,” where panelists discussed the reasoning and challenges presented with wearing hijabs. Photo provided by author

Hijabs are not just headscarves, but symbols of conduct and behavior for Muslim women according to a virtual event titled “International Student and Scholars Services Coffee Hour: The Hijab Experience.” Muslim women wear hijabs any time they are in the presence of men outside their immediate family, according to the presentation. 

The event was sponsored by International Student and Scholar Services and hosted by Sana Haroon, a coordinator for Salaam, an on-campus organization focused on eliminating Islamophobia by fostering an understanding of the Muslim world through events and discussions.  

“Mainly people wear it to demonstrate their submission to God and as a constant reminder of their faith, especially women now wear hijabs as a symbol of their identity,” Haroon said. “A women’s decision to wear a hijab must be their own. It’s definitely something we see a lot where people say you just do it because other people make you. In the religion that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Your faith is very personal to you and something from the heart. A person’s decision to wear it is their own.” 

Panelists Khadija Shaikh, Zena Saleh and Faiza Chowdhury said growing up while wearing hijabs was not always easy. From middle school to college, panelists said they were discriminated against and ridiculed for wearing hijabs. Shaikh said her parents told her that once she made the decision to wear a hijab she will stand out among other students. Chowdhury said it is important to disregard naysayers and be confident. In the face of discrimination, Saleh and Shaikh said that the hijab gives them the strength to be kind and truthful. They mention friends who are not necessarily Muslim have always been supportive of them and make them proud to wear hijabs. 

“You need to be proud of it, this is your identity and you can’t let other people discriminate against you for your identity.”

Zena Saleh, “The Hijab Experience” Panelist

Saleh said not only did her religion play a role in her decision to wear a hijab, but growing up her mother, who wore hijabs, served as a role model for Saleh. Chowdhury said wearing hijabs gives her courage not only in the world today but also while pursuing her major in the STEM field. Shaikh said wearing a hijab at times helps her to destress and feel safer. 

“At first it was just for religious purposes but as the climate changed, more Islamophobia increasing and everything, it started becoming something … every day you put on and you remember .. this is the reason why you chose this religion,” Shaikh said. “You need to be proud of it, this is your identity and you can’t let other people discriminate against you for your identity.” 

Nadine Boudissa, an advisor at ISSS, said the inspiration behind this event came from World Hijab Day, created by Nazma Khan. World Hijab Day is an annual movement that invites those who don’t wear hijabs to wear them for one day in order to understand the meaning of the hijab. Boudissa said she has coordinated this event at several universities in Connecticut to raise awareness about the experiences of those who wear hijabs. 

This event, titled “The Hijab Experience,” was inspired by the World Hijab Day movement, where those who don’t wear hijabs regularly are invited to do so for a day to understand the meaning of the hijab. Photo provided by author

According to Haroon, hijabs come in all sorts of styles in different parts of the world. The niqab is a veil covering the face, except for the eyes, and is paired with a loose black garment covering down to the feet. A burka is a veil that covers the entire body and face but with thinner fabric for the eyes. The chador is a full-length cloak but allows for the face to show. 

Lastly, there is the dupatta, a long scarf draped across the head and shoulder. Haroon said you can tell a lot about where a person is from based on the hijab that they are wearing.  

Ilhan Omar, a congressional representative, was the first woman to wear a hijab in Congress according to International Huskies member Sharon Spaulding, who presented on famous Muslim women who wear hijabs. Batouly Camara was a UConn Women’s basketball alumni who was Muslim and wore a hijab (although not when she was playing).  

“With the whole hijabi community, one reason why I love wearing hijabs is because you don’t even have to be friends with a hijabi,” Shaikh said. “If you see somebody that wears a hijab you get so, so excited, at least I do. But … on campus, I know I saw two people and I didn’t even know them I went up to them and was like, “As-salamu alaykum,” which is like “Hello” in Arabic, and you don’t even have to know them. You just smile and wave and … you get that sense that you now have this connection. You wear a hijab, I wear a hijab, it doesn’t even matter what our story is and it’s an immediate connection, which I absolutely love.” 

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