TU students came this together this week in a show of solidarity and compassion to celebrate World Hijab Day, an annual event that has only become more important in light of the president’s recent ban on immigration.
The Malaysian Student Association, partnered with the Association of International Students and Student Association, sponsored a hijab styling session and an informational panel for the student body. Holly Laird, Co-Director of the TU Women’s and Gender Studies Program; Twilla Gibbons, retired Methodist minister; Aliye Shimi, Associate Director of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries; Jennifer Smith, freshman; and Sara Azami, senior, all sat on the panel to discuss the meaning of modesty across cultures and faiths.
The forum first addressed the common assumption that the hijab is a symbol of oppression, expressed best when Shimi, who didn’t begin wearing a hijab until after 10 years of marriage, said: “The misconception that women are forced to cover is a ludicrous claim. The Quran says there is no compulsion in religion … it is actually a sin to force anyone to do something.”
In Arabic, the word hijab literally means “to cover” and is a symbol of modesty, devotion and even empowerment to women across the world. Gibbons quoted 1 Corinthians to show that even Paul, one of the apostles, claimed the way women dress in worship is something everyone must decide for themselves. Smith, a Christian, stated that “modesty is a separation from the world … it is being a light to the world and demonstrating a physical difference.”
The panel members made it a point to show that not only Muslims cover themselves as a symbol of modesty, citing that Christian women also traditionally covered their heads for worship and that many women of other faiths still do. “Nuns, Hasidic Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and many others all cover themselves as a form of modesty … it is a privatization of sexuality,” said Shimi.
The panel then moved on to a discussion of the discrimination many women who cover face both in America and in other countries around the world. “My hijab is a sign of modesty, and in America it is also a sign of bravery … wearing a scarf and coming here, it’s the first thing people notice about you,” said Azami.
Laird emphatically argued that “the whole problem is that we look at someone, what they look like and decide we know everything about them.” There are over 20,000 Muslims in Tulsa and, as Shimi said, “you walk past Muslims all the time, even if you may not know it…a piece of cloth doesn’t make a terrorist.” Laird also made it clear that she believes “Muslim women should be allowed to make the choice to wear the hijab if they want to wear it.” Gibbons remarked: “Spirituality and sexuality are the two most mysterious, complex concepts of our lives … it is ludicrous to judge someone based on how they decide to express those things.”
In response to the recent political situation, Laird claims “we are at a time when crises have made us face our beliefs.” She believes the immigration ban has forced Americans to come to terms with their own opinions and with how they want to present themselves to the rest of the world. Shimi continued this thought by saying: “Hate is very powerful … fear is a very powerful tool used to divide us and we need to overcome that.” Gibbons believes that “what TU students did for World Hijab Day, promoting education and talking face-to-face, is the best way to combat bigotry and common misconceptions.” Shimi concluded the forum by saying: “TU is an amazingly diverse university, and being able to put a face to that irrational fear is the first step to getting over it.”