World Hijab Day was founded in 2013 by an American Muslim woman, Nazma Khan, who sought to break down some of the ignorance and misunderstanding about the practice of wearing a hijab, the headscarf. This practice is observed in more than 100 countries worldwide and the Trinity Muslim Students Association held events yesterday in its honour, including a series of talks in the GMB by Muslim women, and an outreach stall in the Arts Block.
Nazma Khan had conceived of World Hijab Day as a way to invite non-hijabi Muslim women and non-Muslim women to experience the hijab as an act of solidarity with Muslim women worldwide, fostering cross-cultural respect. As someone with dual Irish-Canadian citizenship, this week’s attack on a mosque in Quebec was very much at the forefront of my mind when I signed up to write this article. I hadn’t previously heard of World Hijab Day, but learning about it on the back of a tragedy made honouring this invitation feel hugely important.
The ladies at the MSA stall were happy to relate to me the experiences of other non-hijabi women who had come by. Most of us were struck by the warmth of covering the head and others commented on feeling protected. We all shared a laugh about the utility of headscarves in avoiding bad hair days. Far from feeling like I was a tourist in their culture, as I had been afraid I might, I was warmly welcomed by the MSA – as was anyone I saw walking by.
There were genuine connections made and the society seemed truly pleased to engage with anyone’s questions and curiosity. I elected to wear the hijab around campus for the afternoon. It was fascinating to see how many classmates failed to recognise me with the red headscarf on, and to connect with others who, perhaps, saw the scarf before they saw anything else – it truly was like walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.
The controversies surrounding the garment are manifold, with some countries prohibiting the wearing of it and others specifically requiring it, but everyone I listened to yesterday, from the speakers in the evening to the conversations at the stall, emphasized that wearing hijab was a highly personal decision, a private commitment between a woman and her Creator. Without that choice, the garment was meaningless rather than serving as a symbol of submission to God’s will and of personal dignity and modesty.
Sister Lorraine O’Connor, an Irish woman who converted to Islam in her adult years, spoke in the strongest terms of her choice to wear a hijab as being one of faith, and of honouring of her path and her very identity. In a world of challenges, she counselled, “take the fear out of you, and do your work.”
Overall, it was a privilege to engage with the MSA yesterday and experience a little of what their culture and community has to offer.
For more information about World Hijab Day, check out worldhijabday.com or find the Muslim Students Association on Facebook.