By Carina Sorrentino
This Thursday, Feb. 20, the Interfaith Youth Core and Multifaith Forum sponsored their second annual Hijabi for a Day, after a week of tabling in Reamer and handing out colorful head scarves.
The hijab is a head scarf worn by Muslim women as a display of pride in their faith as well as a symbol of modesty.
Nuzhat Chowdhury ’16, who is now officially trained by the Interfaith Leadership Institute, is closely connected to the cause of Hijabi for a Day. Chowdhury stated, “I am a Muslim woman, and although I do not wear the hijab at this point in my life, I was very excited about the event because it is great to see women of all faiths and colors coming together to represent Muslim women in such a positive way.”
In Islam, the Qu’ran requires all women to cover their bodies, with the exception of their hands, faces and feet, as this is the request of God. However, the practice is not so black and white, and Chowdhury explained further what kind of significance the hijab has in a woman’s life.
“While it is a garment that Muslim women are required to wear, many of us do not because we are not at a point in our lives that we feel ready. It has to be adorned when you are most confident in your faith and yourself, and you are choosing to represent your spirituality from the heart,” Chowdhury said. “Right now, I am not at the point in my life where I feel ready to make the decision, but I know that one day I will.”
While the event is not advertised to male members of the campus community, consistent with last year, men were encouraged to wear pins supporting the women during the day. The pins advertised the day and provided a visual reminder that while men would not wear the head scarves, they supported the day’s symbolic message.
Julie Fishman ’16, who participated in Hijabi for a Day last year, decided to don the headscarf once again and spend all day Thursday going through her daily activities with the new accessory.
While Fishman does not have any personal relation to the Islamic faith, she stated that her participation was inspired by her many Muslim friends.
After the day’s experience, Fishman remarked, “I had a few people that I am friends with ask me about the hijab. But what really struck me was that I felt like, as I was walking around campus, seeing other girls who were wearing the hijab provided almost an immediate connection. Whether I had known or seen them before, there was a nod or a smile exchanged, and it was an interesting bond to feel.”
While the majority of Fishman and Chowdhury’s day went along positively, there were some participants who noticed a difference of behavior in those around them. One student wearing her hijab recognized that those who spoke to her during the day were overcompensating for her new accessory by being overly friendly.
In one instance, a female student was faced with extreme dispute from a fellow student who termed her participation “offensive,” and questioned her motivation. Even in these situations, the student was able to explain not only why she participated, but that the motivations are based on awareness of cultures and religions that our different than our own, the true reason for hosting a day such as this.
Fishman remarked, “I feel that there are some who may maintain a negative stigma towards the wearing of a hijab and it is mainly because they don’t understand. Something like Hijabi For a Day makes it seem like less of a taboo subject on campus and that is a good thing. Bringing events like this to the attention of the campus more is so necessary, especially looking at other faiths and cultures beyond Islam.”
Chowdhury added, “I would like to see more events like this at Union. Fortunately, this is in my comfort zone, but I would like to get the opportunity to do something different like maybe wearing a bindi (Hinduism) or a yarmulke (Judaism), because these outward expressions of faith are important to be aware of and understand.”
Hijabi For a Day prompts those who participate to step out of their comfort zone, a valuable move to make during one’s college career. “Last year was more difficult to take that step,” Fishman said, “but I found that this year I was much more comfortable and happy to be doing it.”
Ultimately in discussion, a student was able to stand up and make the point that although Hijabi For a Day gives participants an empathetic glimpse of what life for a Muslim woman would be, this is only a piece of the whole picture. The challenges of wearing a hijab go hand-in-hand with emulation of other women in their faith, all of which can only be experienced from daily practice.
“After coming to Union I feel I have become more spiritual which I didn’t expect,” Chowdhury remarked. Her experiences in the MSA, as well as other campus involvements have helped her to grow as a person and in her religious beliefs. She continued, “After my time here at Union I foresee myself wearing the hijab permanently sooner in my life than I would have before.”
While the Muslim population at Union is not predominant, it is important to foster a greater understanding of their practices and customs. Chowdhury added, “The most important message we can send is to encourage religious competence. It is easier to bridge gaps between groups of people when you can spend some time walking in their shoes, and in the process becoming more culturally and religiously literate.”
Concluding, Chowdhury stated, “Wearing the hijab is such an outward expression of faith and I admire the women who choose to wear it. They are strong and proud of their faith, a dedication which I one day aspire to have.”