By Audrey Barrett
On Feb. 1, women all across the globe celebrated World Hijab Day, an event created to empower women who choose to wear the hijab. A hijab is a veil that some Muslim women choose to wear, covering the head and neck, and styled in a variety of ways. It is different from the niqab, which covers the mouth and nose as well, and the burqa, which covers the entire body with an opening for women to see through.
The World Hijab Day Organization was founded six years ago to resist the bigotry, discrimination and prejudice that Muslim women face today. At Lewis & Clark, students celebrated World Hijab Day by gathering in Thayer to view a student film by Farhiya Kheir ’18. Students also discussed the hijab and its meaning today.
The short film, “The Politicization of Hijab,” features Muslim women affected by the ban on wearing headscarves and veils in France. SAAB grants allowed Farhiya Kheir to travel to France a few years ago and conduct the interviews in the film. It reveals how the general ban, intended to promote secularism, targeted Muslim women for whom the hijab is a visible and commonly-worn religious symbol. These French women shared their experiences of being forced to remove hijabs in the workplace and receiving dirty looks from Europeans in public.
Farhiya Kheir and her sister Aisha Kheir ’16 both choose to wear a hijab as a personal choice. The students said that the hijab is not forced upon women as an instrument of opression, contrary to popular misconception.
“It’s between you and God,” Farhiya Kheir said. “There is no compulsion in faith.” She believes that the hijab ban in France is far more oppressive than the hijab itself.
Ayah Fattom ’19 also chooses to wear a hijab.
“I take pride in being Muslim, especially on a campus that doesn’t have a lot of Muslims,” Fattom said. “(Hijab) is a way of expressing my faith.”
Neither she nor the Kheir sisters described any hurtful discrimination at LC, but Fattom described one charged encounter with a professor: although English is her first language, the professor was surprised that she could write so well. Fattom said she found the event mostly amusing.
Off campus, the women face harsher discrimination. All three recounted having to go through extra searches at airport security, and a TSA officer once asked Farhiya Kheir if anyone had given her something to sneak back into the US from a Muslim country.
“You kinda have to have tough skin,” Aisha Kheir said.
Kheir said that it was difficult to be a Muslim woman in hijab during the 2016 election. Also, in Farhiya Kheir’s film, many of the women said they were treated differently in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
Despite these difficulties, Muslim women continue to wear the hijab as an expression of faith and a reminder of values. The meaning is different for every individual.
“For me, it’s a connection with God,” Farhiya Kheir said. “But I don’t want to be seen as ‘the girl who wears the hijab.’ That’s not everything there is to my identity.”
“At the end it’s a personal choice,” Aisha Kheir said. “When you wear hijab it reminds you of who you are.”