Oliver Bushara, Staff Writer
February 1 marked the fourth annual World Hijab Day. Goucher was proud to host an event in the Athenaeum. World Hijab Day was started by a Muslim, New Yorker Nazma Khan, so women around the world could share the experience of wearing a headscarf and show solidarity against violence, discrimination, and harassment directed at visually-presenting Muslim women. In a YouTube video, Khan says that, “Only when we walk in the shoes of others can we truly understand and appreciate their values and struggles.” Through this, Khan hopes to bring about “peace, tolerance, and coexistence.”
But, can wearing a veil for one day really convey the experience of being a Muslim woman? Can it convey the harassment and intolerance they experience daily? Can it convey the liberation of modesty, or the joy of religion? Under the hashtag, #NoToHijabAppropriation, Twitter-user Shahid writes, “Hijab: it’s more than the scarf, it’s your actions and the way you carry yourself. Women wearing tight shirts and skinny jeans are not in hijab though they have a scarf.”
The hijab is a religious, revered, and controversial object. Hijab means “barrier” in Arabic, but the word also refers to a code of moral conduct for Muslim men and women. To Muslims, the Quran is the literal Word of God, and in verse 24:31, the Quran records, “Say to the believing women that they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts … and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should draw their khimars (covers) over their bosoms…”
Cassie Madison ‘16, co-president of Goucher’s Interfaith Club, explained how wearing the hijab can be a choice, while also being written about in the Quran. Madison is Muslim and a hijabi, one who wears the hijab.
“A Muslim woman who wears the hijab isn’t necessarily a better Muslim than one who does not. A Muslim’s faith and character are not dependent on what she wears,” Madison asserted. “Hijab should be about choice, just like everything in Islam.” She also pointed out Quran verse 2:256: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.”
In Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, however, the hijab is not a choice. Many consider the hijab a sexist form of oppression; hijab makes women responsible for combatting sexual objectification rather than men. Expressing a negative view on hijab, Asra Q. Nomani of The New York Times writes, “Recently, in Bareilly, India, a father killed his daughter of 4, smashing her head against the floor when her scarf slipped from her head during dinner.” Times reporter Nushin Arbabzadah writes, “as a girl born in a Muslim society, the hair on my head was not my own.”
Stories like these inform many Western opinions about the hijab. This can arguably lead to the “white savior complex,” where Westerners feel they have to “liberate [Muslim women] from their clothing choices,” Madison observed. Many Muslim women worldwide choose to wear the hijab for reasons of their own, such as having a constant, tangible reminder that God is watching, which helps them regulate their behavior to be kinder, more charitable, and faithful. Hijab can even be a feminist statement, a form of liberation from unattainable patriarchal beauty standards and objectification. Westerners often assume that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab by their husbands, or that wearing a hijab means a Muslim woman has been “radicalized.” As Madison pointed out, some assumptions are more harmful than others.
“A man on the street thought that I was hiding a bomb under my hijab. He thought I was a terrorist spy. He attacked me, left bruises all over me,” she recalled, describing her experience being harassed in Russia.
Abroad, opinions about the hijab can be just as xenophobic and ignorant as here in America. France, the Netherlands, and Spain all passed laws restricting traditional Muslim dress. France made it a crime to wear the niqab (a cloth that covers the entire face except the eyes) in public, and private institutions are allowed to fire employees based on religious clothing. Just as we should be critical of countries that force women to cover up, we should be critical of countries that prevent women’s choice to cover themselves. Madison explained why some women choose to wear the niqab: “Nobody can see a niqabi’s beauty unless she gives you permission. It’s her right to be able to choose who sees her beauty.” When the niqab was banned, some Muslim women felt they could not go outside, which isolated them further from French society. On the day the law prohibiting covering the face in public went into effect in France, critics of the ban—who asserted it was specifically targeting Muslims—walked the streets in rubber horse masks. A horse mask covers the face more than a niqab, but no one wearing a horse mask was arrested or fined.
World Hijab Day is a brilliant way to engage and educate women and men worldwide about a very misunderstood subject—but, it is still a fragile movement. Only four years old, the World Hijab Day Facebook page has more than 653,000 likes. Nazma Khan says she hopes to virtually and physically host a million members by next year.
Goucher stood out as one of the three colleges and ten locations in America that had an event for World Hijab Day. Members from the Interfaith Club manned the booth from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., helping students put on hijabs and educating them about Muslim cultures and beliefs. In recent years, Muslims have tried to show non-Muslims what they believe by inviting outsiders to their mosques on Fridays, which is when the largest number of people attend. The Imam Mahdi Islamic Education Center of Baltimore mosque is fifteen minutes from Goucher’s campus, and many Muslims would be happy to drive Goucher students to visit, including Madison.