Heartwarming and hair-raising: What it’s like to wear a hijab

Originally published by the Daily Lobo
By Celia Raney

One Daily Lobo reporter’s experience on World Hijab Day

I have walked home from campus 92 times since enrolling at UNM. Only once was I so hyper-aware of my appearance that I held tight to the pepper spray on my keychain.

Oh, I forgot to mention: It was also the first time I tried on a hijab.

In honor of World Hijab Day, a group of Muslim women gathered outside the UNM Bookstore late Wednesday afternoon. The event was organized by Power Through Peace and the UNM Muslim Student Association, with help from local activist Shakir Farid Abdullah.

Abdullah also assisted in the organization of the march against President Donald Trump’s so called “Muslim Ban” at the Albuquerque International Sunport last Sunday.

Started in 2013 by Nazma Khan — a Muslim woman living New York — World Hijab day seeks to eliminate the judgement and discrimination associated with wearing a hijab.

Graduate Student Kayla Street arranges her hijab in front of a mirror at Albuquerque World Hijab Day. The event encouraged women to try on a hijab for the day, as well as ask questions about Islam.

“We just came out today to show people the differences in hijabs, answer questions and kind of do away with the stereotypes of how Muslim women are oppressed,” said MSA President Serene Akkad.

Hoping that Wednesday’s event would be educational, Akkad also stated that Muslim women are not forced to wear a hijab, and her personal goal for the event was to allow people to see that.

The groups wanted to sponsor a gathering where anyone could “come and talk to us and not be so afraid,” added UNM Valencia freshman Autumn Valdez.

In light of recent political events, the most common concern was whether or not Muslim women felt safe wearing their hijabs in public.

“I do feel less safe — my mother has told me to take off my scarf many times,” Valdez said.

There were even a few men who participated in the event, none too shy to share their unease.

“As a man, it’s definitely really interesting, because you see so much of the struggle from other people.” UNM alumnus Dayton Schoen said.

When I first donned a hijab at Wednesday’s event, I felt entirely safe. Surrounded by other men, women and children all wearing the same thing, it was hard not to.

Patrons “oohed” and “ahhed” over the multitude of hijabs out on display, and once they had been skilfully wrapped atop your head, you couldn’t help but stand in awe.

While wearing the hijab, I didn’t feel as though I was sporting a garment, but rather gaining a unique insight into an equally unique culture.

I stood around and confabulated for over an hour with the nearly 100 event attendees, and felt nothing but honor and intrigue.

After the crowd began to thin and the temperature started to drop, I decided that 1) I was sure I had enough information to write this piece, and 2) my toes were going to fall off if I didn’t get inside and warm up.

Before leaving, I was told to keep the hijab as a way to remember the experience and understand the value in the decision Muslim women make every day.

Still wearing my gift, I started to make my way home. As I left the comforting swarm of hijab-adorned heads, I became all too aware of the sideways glances I was receiving.

Walking alone with the sun quickly setting, I frantically dug my keys out of my backpack and jammed them into my jacket pocket.

Hurrying across campus, I gratefully felt the familiar curve of the grip on my pepper spray.

I’ve never before felt the need to carry any sort of self defense item around, and while I wasn’t clutching the spray or jumping at the rustling of leaves, having it in my pocket was a significant comfort.

Once safely inside my apartment, I took a minute to digest everything I had just experienced.

I went from feeling welcomed and honored to learn about a culture that faces so many difficulties, to feeling threatened for the same reason.

Earlier that same evening, UNM student Michelle Van Wart confessed she was interested in Islam, but had not converted yet because, “It’s really hard.”

“You know, because of the dangers.”

Though many of the women I talked to at Wednesday’s event said they generally felt safer and more respected when wearing a hijab, I can now understand why some Muslim women are afraid to express their religion in America today.

Knowing this, I anticipate I will pay more attention to the Muslim women around me, and if I happen to see someone being discriminated against, to do something.

“One of the easiest ways to diffuse a situation is just to sit down next to the person,” said Havah Shah, a Muslim woman and one of the event’s organizers.

Shah encouraged anyone looking for ways to help and get involved to just sit or stand beside anyone you see experiencing discrimination and to take the conversation away from the instigator.

If you are looking to make a difference, she encourages you to simply ask, “How are you doing? How’s the weather today? Are you going to class?”

Even something as simple as, “Would you like me to walk with you?”

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