Amanee Robinson (right) helps a Fresno State put on a hijab. Students were challenged to spend a day wearing the traditional Islamic garment. Courtesy James Ramirez
Students, faculty and even Mary Castro, wife of Fresno State President Joseph Castro, wore headscarves for a day last week in an attempt to walk in the shoes of a Muslim-American woman.
More than 70 people participated in the Muslim Student Association’s “Hijab Challenge,” a number that club president Amanee Robinson said astounded her.
“We expected 20 people to volunteer, maximum,” she said. “The fact that we had more than 70 sign up and all the positive feedback… it’s heartwarming, and it brings a huge smile to my face whenever I think about it.”
“As president of the MSA, I feel that a lot of our members have been discriminated against because they wear the hijab,” Robinson said. “This challenge was an opportunity for girls to wear the headscarf for a day and experience what it’s like for our Muslim sisters on campus.”
Club members rented out headscarves to students and wrapped them on participants so that they looked like Muslim women in hijab.
“The hijab is a symbol in Islam,” Robinson said. “It’s a state of dress where girls are covering their bodies from their head to their toes, excluding their hands, feet and face, obviously. It is is a modest form of dress that is bylawed by Islamic codes.”
Robinson said the purpose of the event was to promote awareness on campus.
“We hope that to a lot of girls who wore this, the hijab won’t be such a mystery anymore,” she said. “Girls will understand that, you know what, the people that wear the scarves are just girls like them. It won’t be a big shocker when they run into a Muslim girl.”
Alma Lara, a senior at Fresno State, decided to try the challenge last week.
“It’s very different from my Mexican culture, but I wanted to try stepping into someone else’s shoes,” Lara said. “It was tough, though – I’m self-conscious, and I know how much resentment or discrimination there is against this group. But I guess that’s what these Muslims girls feel all the time.”
Even Muslim students said they found the challenge eye-opening.
“I’m actually a Muslim girl, and I wondered why I never tried the hijab,” said Nadia Sahyounie, a business student at Fresno State. “So I thought I’d try it because I wanted to see if people would treat me differently. I wanted to see what if feels like to be more modest and reserved. I just wanted to see how I feel about it. And I’ve heard some whispers while wearing it, but overall, I feel like people have been more respectful. A lot of people will just smile and nod. It’s nice.”
All participants had the opportunity to sign up for the hijab challenge photo shoot on Thursday and Friday with University Communications assistant photographer James Ramirez. He collaborated with the MSA to organize the hijab challenge.
“It started with an idea for a photo,” Ramirez said. “I thought it’d be cool to have a photo of a female in full burqa with an American female in like, yoga pants or something more revealing, more sexualized compared to the other. To have a photo of the two extremes.”
Ramirez went to the MSA with his idea early this semester.
“We narrowed it down to this idea of the hijab challenge for the project,” he said. “And now, I’m surprised to see it happen. The idea of it starting as a small idea from a white Mexican-American guy to this is incredible.”
On Thursday and Friday, Ramirez photographed and interviewed participants of the challenge. He said he is working on getting the piece shown in a Fresno State gallery next semester.
“I enjoy art that almost startles you or makes you think a little more,” Ramirez said. “So the idea with this is that you would see all these different characters or races in a headscarf. What it addresses is that we initially make judgment on sight. Sometimes, we lack diving into someone’s character or personality to see who they are.”