Women across the globe came together in solidarity on Feb. 1 for the fifth annual World Hijab Day (WHD), a movement designed to show support for Muslim women in countries all over the world.
World Hijab Day invites women across all faiths to ‘walk a mile in their shoes,’ so to speak, or in this case – their hijabs. The hijab is a type of head covering worn as a means of modesty. Most major religions have practiced head covering as a modest practice from Amish bonnets and Orthodox Christian veils to Jewish tichels and turbans. It’s estimated that over 190 countries participate in WHD activities.
The idea for World Hijab Day started as a project created by New York resident, Nazma Khan, who came up with the idea as a means to foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day.
Khan understood that for most, the hijab was a symbol of oppression and segregation. Nazma hoped to counteract this narrative by helping the public to understand the reasoning behind Muslim women choosing to wear the hijab.
According to her own testimony, Khan knows the struggles that Muslim women face in their choice to wear the hijab. Khan immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh at the age of eleven, finding herself being the only hijabi in her middle school.
In her narrative Khan recounts, “Growing up in the Bronx, in NYC, I experienced a great deal of discrimination due to my hijab. In middle school, I was ‘Batman’ or ‘ninja’. When I entered University after 9/11, I was called Osama bin laden or terrorist. It was awful. I figured the only way to end discrimination is if we ask our fellow sisters to experience hijab themselves.”
The event has since spread and the Muslim community of Portsmouth has invited women from the area to participate throughout the years.
Shawnee State University (SSU) professor Kasie Leightenheimer is not of the Muslim faith but chose to participate in WHD to learn more about the issues that Muslim women face and to show support for Muslim students that are a part of SSU and Portsmouth’s community.
“I felt it was important to show support in order to stand up for their right to cover or not to cover. Especially since the recent immigration restrictions have been enacted, both citizens and non-citizens from other countries with large Muslim populations are being affected by intolerance and ignorance and they need our solidarity now more than ever,” said Leightenheimer.
A member of Portsmouth’s Muslim community, Samantha Budd, shared some of her experience coming into the Islamic faith and what it’s like to be a Muslim woman in rural Appalachia.
Growing up in a military family, Budd spent a lot of time moving from place to place, and in high school, she lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she first remembers encountering someone of the Islamic faith. She was in an art class with a girl who wore a hijab, but Budd says she was shy and rarely talked to the other kids. Being curious, Budd decided to talk with her one day and asked her where she was from. The girl was from Yemen and sarcastically asked Budd if she even knew where Yemen was located on a map.
“And I did, I told her it was right below Saudi Arabia, near the Red Sea and next to Oman,” said Budd. The two became quick friends. Budd said she was always interested in Islamic culture and had always been attracted to the beautiful modesty of the hijabi clad women. But she grew up in a Southern Baptist family and anything to do with Islamic culture was off limits.
Her family moved to Flemingsburg, Kentucky and it was there that Budd met her best friend and ultimately made the decision to convert from her Baptist upbringing to the Islamic faith.
“It wasn’t a big change for me honestly, growing up we were always taught that modesty was important,” Budd explained. “It was just a matter of wearing a scarf on my head and learning to cover up my arms a little bit more. I never really felt a connection when I was a Christian. But when I took my shahada (the Muslim confession of faith) it was like a new life had been breathed into me. It was like my heart was beating for the first time and I was happy.”
Budd says the most challenging part of being Muslim is dealing with the stereotypes surrounding the faith and tackling the assumption that Muslims are dangerous.
“We have a saying that, Islam is perfect, but Muslims are not. There’s a lot of distrust, I’ve had people throw things at me from their cars. I’ve had people try to run me over with their cars or run me off the road when I’m driving. This has happened when I’ve been walking to my dorm at Shawnee and when I worked at a Kmart store in my hometown. You just feel like you don’t belong. There are times where I really struggle with that, that I feel like I don’t belong in my own country even though I’m an American. I’ve been here all my life, my language is English. I love this country and I love its values but there are times where I just feel in between. I don’t go to stores or places without somebody with me because I’ve had people say things to me,” said Budd. “I’m a relatively shy person and wearing a hijab, especially around here can draw a lot of attention to you. I never understood how people of minority backgrounds felt, before I started always being watched and always being policed. I just want to go about my day, but it can be a very hard thing to do. Every time you step out of your house as a Muslim, you are what people see of Islam, it’s a great responsibility. It sucks that we have to deal with all the hate and the discrimination, because we’re just like everybody else. We’re not scary people. If you think that Islam is a terrorist religion, I challenge you to go out and speak with Muslims, to read the Quran with an open mind. “
For more information about World Hijab Day, you can go online to www.worldhijabday.com or by searching “World Hijab Day,” on Facebook.
Reach Ciara Conley at 740-981-6977, Facebook “Ciara Conley - Daily Times,” and Twitter @PDT_Ciara.