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Reflections on ‘The Hijab Challenge’

For me, walking into a new environment is always the same: I am immediately aware of the preconceived judgments people will have about me because I am a Muslim woman who wears the hijab. 

For those who are unfamiliar with this term, the hijab means head covering or modest state of dress. Muslim women are required to wear this after they reach the age of puberty.

This is not merely a piece of cloth on one’s head. The hijab represents an ideal that women carry wherever they go.

It represents feminism; an act of defiance in a society that has sexualized women, objectifying them to the point where insecurity about self-worth is just another aspect of being a female.

Beginning Wednesday, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Fresno State put together an event that literally brought tears to my eyes.

Standing at tables laden with colorful scarves, members of the club challenged non-Muslim women to wear the hijab for a day and reflect on the different reactions of people around them.

Thursday and today, campus photographer James Ramirez will do a photo shoot of the participants and display their pictures in a gallery along with short reflections on how they felt.

At first, when I heard of this event, I was not optimistic. Living in one of the more conservative parts of California, I did not believe our campus was capable of hosting an event that obligated people to look within themselves at their own biases.

It is not an easy mirror to stare into, and I wasn’t sure too many people were up to the challenge.

 

But I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. Before the event even began, it seemed the day would be bright.

Strangers flocked around club members as they were setting up their booth, offering their help. Women lined up to pick out scarves before they were even set out, eager to begin the challenge.

The MSA was out in the Free Speech Area all day, with scarcely a moment to breathe.  More than 70 women participated in the event, including faculty members (I’m looking at you, Kathryn Forbes!) and even Mrs. Castro, our university’s president’s wife.

I was shocked, overwhelmed, emotional. Seeing women of all different ethnicities and religions coming together to show solidarity with their Muslim sisters made me so proud.

There’s something very specific about prejudice and racism. Most people who experience it can’t describe in words how it feels to be reduced to a label.

We usually don’t have the opportunity to step in the shoes of someone who’s of different ethnicity and see how it feels to be judged. This was a chance for women to do that.

These amazing women decided that they were strong enough to shoulder the reasonability of representing Muslim women who wear the hijab.

These were women who began a revolution to change the minds of people who are prejudiced by showing them that wearing a scarf around your head does not make you oppressed.

These were women with courage, with a beautiful sense of self that refused to be dictated by a society which chooses not to honor the true women, for herself, her beliefs and who she really is.

Two days after the challenge, I’m still seeing girls who kept on the hijab, determined to wear it for as long as they could in an effort to get more out of the experience. When I see this, I cannot begin to describe how I feel, but I’m going to try.

Thank you, beautiful women. Thank you for having the courage to experience something as difficult and visual as this.

Thank you for beginning a conversation with your classmates.

Thank you for giving Muslim women in the United States just another reason to be grateful to live in a country where the history of its racism is contradicted with the bounty of its tolerance.

There are a great many reasons why our nation is considered land of the free, and Wednesday I saw dozens of them, all clad with colorful scarves.

About the author

Sumaya Attia is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism with a focus on politics and international affairs .