World Hijab Day, an international invitation to wear the headscarf traditional to Islam, came to TU for the first time last Thursday. Sarah Azami, a TU marketing major, arranged a table in ACAC through the Malaysian Student Association (MSA). She and her friends ordered and donated about sixty hijabs for the event, and by the time I arrived around 1 p.m., there was only one left.
First, she put a type of long headband around my hair to keep the headscarf from sliding around. Then she pinned the hijab into place, and I was simultaneously grateful for the warmth around my head and vaguely unnerved about not being able to hear as well.
Azami whipped out a mirror to let me see myself with the hijab. It was difficult to recognize myself without my hair. The hijab also made me feel foreign, even though plenty of white, American-born Muslims wear the hijab. Then, she took a Polaroid of me holding a whiteboard that said #worldhijabdayTU and offered me a cupcake.
“You can keep the hijab!” she added.
The slogan for the movement, which first debuted in 2013, is “Before you judge, cover up for a day.” Nazma Khan, who came to New York from Bangladesh when she was eleven, began the movement because she was concerned about the widespread misrepresentation of the hijab as a symbol of oppression. The hashtag #worldhijabday spread through various social media platforms and has since reached millions of participants.
Back in Tulsa, Azami explained that she had organized the event through the Malaysian Student Association as opposed to the Muslim Student Association because she wanted to make it as much of a casual, culturally-focused (rather than religious) event as possible. She said it was “reassuring to see so many non-Muslim students wearing the hijab.” Normally, when she wears it she feels like an outsider.
Fellow volunteer Wan Firda Asila added that the “TU family really came out to show their support.” Faculty and staff participated in the event, and even a few guys tried on hijabs.
Asila thinks of World Hijab Day as providing the catalyst for interaction. She and Azami would rather people ask them about their hijabs than make assumptions about their reasons for wearing them. Azami believes Islam says women should wear hijabs, but she also maintained that wearing it should be a choice. The forced wearing of a hijab defeats its purpose, and the girls resent media portrayals of hijabs as something that is enforced in certain countries.
In fact, more countries ban or partially ban the hijab than mandate it. Azami has found the veil to be empowering because it allows her to avoid the male gaze and makes her feel modest and focused. On the other hand, sometimes she feels as though people who aren’t familiar with the hijab only see her headscarf and let that overshadow other aspects of her personality. She explained that there are many different ways to wear a hijab, and that there are plenty of YouTube tutorials on pinning them as well. Hijabs can cost anywhere from one American dollar to fifty, and there is a huge industry in Malaysia built around them that is generally run by women: brands like Fareeda and dUCk have become wildly popular.
Reeza Rosnan, a junior studying petroleum engineering, was the one who originally pitched the idea to the Malaysian Student Association because he saw the hashtag online. He said that he doesn’t think the hijab itself should be equated with dignity; rather, the choice behind wearing the hijab is what gives dignity to those who consciously wear it or do not. Some women, he said, “undoubtedly” wear the hijab just to be trendy, not because they are actually modest.
I don’t know if my own experience wearing the hijab was about modesty, but I could actually feel my brain struggling to accommodate this new perception of the hijab—something I had never really thought about except in passing, and even then there were subconscious assumptions about oppression. Suddenly, the concept of covering up my entire body and becoming a floating pair of eyes didn’t seem too bad; I wouldn’t have to worry about anybody (read: men, apparently) getting distracted by my bra straps or elbows or whatever. People would only be able to judge me based on my words and actions, and not my appearance.
It’s a nice idea, but I think it ultimately takes more than extra clothing to keep people from objectifying you. Nevertheless, there’s something incredible about feeling control over the way people perceive you. If you like the way you look in the clothes that you choose for yourself, celebrate the hijab as another addition to the stylebook.