For the uninformed and bigots, a hijab is a sign of oppression.
They could not be more wrong.
In 2013, when incidents of Islamophobic harassment reached an all-time high across the world, New York resident Nazma Khan decided to introduce a much-needed holiday to celebrate religious freedom and Muslim women’s right to wear whatever they want.
“Growing up in the Bronx, in NYC, I experienced a great deal of discrimination due to my hijab,” wrote Khan, who came to the U.S. as an immigrant from Bangladesh at age 11, on the website. “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 World Hijab Day was not just about normalizing the idea of hijab (a scarf Muslim women use to cover their hair) and spreading awareness that it was a choice and a sign of devotion to one’s faith rather than a religious restraint, it was also meant to empower women everywhere.
Five years later, the day took on a completely new and more profound meaning.
Anti-Islam sentiments and hate crimes witnessed a dramatic uptick in the United States after President Donald Trump’s unexpected election win.
The situation continued to worsen as the days passed.
Then came the day when the new commander-in-chief signed executive orders to ban travelers from seven Muslim countries — Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Iran, Iraq and Syria — from entering the U.S. Despite what Trump administration calls it, the restriction is clearly the “Muslim ban” the billionaire frequently used to talk about on the campaign trail.
At a time like this, World Hijab Day became an opportunity for people everywhere to show solidarity with the members of Muslim community, to let them know they are not alone in these trying times and to combat blatant bias.
Scores of Muslim women took to Twitter to celebrate the day.
Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first woman to compete in the games while wearing a headscarf, also tweeted in celebration of the day.
A number of non-Muslim women also decided to cover their heads and show solidarity.
Rabbi Judy Schindler, who now directs the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte, also donned a scarf to show support for not only the Muslims in her city but also the refugees on Trump’s no-entry list.
“As a Jew, I feel it is my obligation to speak out in support of other minorities,” she said. “My father was a refugee (from Germany), fleeing the Holocaust. Jews were clearly turned away (from the United States) in the 1940s. They heard much of the same rhetoric then that we are hearing now.”
Schindler hoped her actions would inspire others to do the same.
Chirlane McCray, the first lady of New York City, also shared a poignant message on Twitter.
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio also shared a similar message, retweeting his wife’s tweet.
Muslims, or followers of any other religion for that matter, should not be demonized for the acts of a few radicals and extremists.
Islam is not terrorism and hijab is certainly not a sign on oppression.
If anything, it is quite the opposite and it is about time people learn that.
For those unaware, the October 2016 edition of Playboy Magazine featured a Muslim hijabi woman for the very first time.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters