Women who cover their heads are by no means any less career-oriented or independent than those who do not, but for some reason, headscarves have always been a point of heated debate in the Western societies.
Over the past few months, several high-end clothing brands have either introduced or announced to launch a fashion line catering to the needs of abaya and hijab-wearing women. However, despite all the progress in the fashion industry, most people in the U.S. and Europe consider women who don the garment as docile, conservative and oppressed.
In reality, hijab is more of a choice than cultural persecution. Also, veiled women are just as diverse and self-sufficient as their counterparts in other societies — a point that a 22-year-old Muslim woman from Queens, New York, is trying to make through her innovative blog.
Rana Abdelhamid, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School, started the social-media project Hijabis of New York in the fall of 2014. Her campaign, which uses photos and interviews like Humans of New York, aims to empower hijab-wearing women by educating the country on what it means to be young Muslim female in post–9/11 (and post Donald Trump) America.
“My goal was to use photography and social media to show the rest of the world the vibrancy and diversity of Hijabi women,” Abdelhamid told Elle. “There are so many stereotypes around the hijab, both from within the Muslim community and the non-Muslim community.”
"As a Muslim female Engineer, a very male-dominated field, I learned you don’t have to be aggressive to get your point across. But I've learned that I have to be more assertive for people to listen. I was raised to believe that there were no limits to what I could do as a woman and thats what pushed me through my career. As a hijabi working on a construction site I stand out. But this doesn't stop me. Everyday, I want nothing more than to put on my hard hat and my steel toe boots and walk the construction site. There are situations where things gets awkward and sometimes challenging but I've learned to work through them and keep going. I definitely encourage more women to participate, excel and lead in the STEM field. Embrace who you are and what you’re capable of, face the world and let them see what you can do."
The terror attacks in Paris and the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, fueled the Islamophobic sentiments in the United States towards the end of 2015. That, coupled with Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric, has made Muslims somewhat of a pariah community in their own country.
In these circumstances, an initiative like Hijabis of New York is exactly what America needs to see in order to understand that covering your head as a religious practice does not make you a terrorist.
"Being a Muslim woman in America today is very exhausting. Every once in a while when a horrific event happens, Muslim women face horrible backlash. It seems like it's become a roller coaster ride. First the tensions are high then they slow down and come back again and every single time, Muslim women are being forced to apologize, condemn and reject ideologies that are so clearly not part of the Islamic faith. As the eldest in the family, it's hard to hear your little sister say that she is scared to go to school, scared to take the subway, scared to even hang out in public with her friends in broad daylight. However, she still does it because we will not put a pause on our lives just to please bigots. They can't win and we won't let them. When I look at Muslim women I see nothing but resilience, strength and intelligence. I meet Muslim mothers who have concerned faces, and Muslim fathers who are being protective of their daughters and I want to reassure them that Allah does not give people burdens that they cannot bear. I wrote this poem a while back after experiencing a hate crime in which I was called a terrorist in Flushing, Queens: Oh what a shame, you don't see beauty in a part of me that will always stay the same A perfect faith that started from "Read", Preserved people and contained their greed. Now don't you label my precious jewel, As a religion that spreads by swords and duels. My jihad is not by bombing others, It's within myself and all my struggles. My hijab is what you fail to accept, And yet nudity is what you expect. Oh Land of the free and home of the brave, It's not really me that you're trying to save. I see my brothers and sisters die in your states, To you they are just numbers and and months and dates. But I won't feel weak or feel this pain, I won't let my ummah die in vain. So stay strong my sisters and brother because Allah is the most just and our ultimate protector!"
Abdelhamid is also the founder of the Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment (WISE) — a self-defense and leadership organization for young Muslim women in New York City. She reportedly founded the organization after being attacked at the age of 16, when a man forcibly tried to remove her headscarf.
"What do you believe is your biggest blessing?" "My biggest blessing is the friends I make because every single one of them has a really amazing story about their life and sometimes you meet that one person who really inspires you to become a better person so every single day I try to better myself because I see how amazing they are and I want to be amazing like them too."
As the Village Voice reports, the Harvard student’s family immigrated to New York from Egypt two years before she was born.
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"What's it like balancing family, pharmacy, and being a fashion blogger?" "I get a lot of help from my mom, my mother in law and my husband and that enables me to be able to work. It's extremely hard to balance everything. You just have to make sure you don't neglect what is most important and that's why sometimes fashion blogging takes the back seat for me."
Abdelhamid decided to begin the HONY-inspired blog after her classmates began asking her silly questions about her headwear.
“I was receiving a lot of questions from my classmates about my hijab, and a lot of them came from just a lack of understanding. Not malicious at all, but they were silly questions,” she explained. “One of my friends was like, ‘Gee, Rana, when I first met you I thought you’d be different, like, more quiet. But you’re actually pretty normal.’ I was like, ‘What!?’ ”
"What would you say is the most important part of your identity?" "My family is what I would say is the best part of me. My parents and brothers are a part of my identity. I can always change who my friends are, but I can never change how I am defined by my family. I think that this makes the bond that I share with them disparate and unique."
She claims that wearing a hijab has become part of her identity — and many of the women featured in Hijabis of New York seem to feel the same way.
So far, her Facebook page has garnered more than 14K followers.
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