From the moment she arrived at the University, first-year College student Attiya Latif knew she wanted to promote diversity, tolerance and acceptance of students of all backgrounds. On Sunday Latif channeled these interests towards establishing World Hijab Day on Grounds — an occasion where students could don the hijab for a day and engage in open dialogue regarding cultural tolerance.
Annually celebrated on Feb. 1, World Hijab Day in an opportunity for people to wear the hijab — or headscarf — and demonstrate solidarity with Muslim women who face intolerance daily.
“It is a way to kind of show that you are accepting the decision of these young women to choose to wear the scarf, and you are acknowledging the fact that some people don’t have the opportunity to choose,” Latif said.
Having arrived from a small, conservative town in Maryland, Latif expected tolerance on Grounds, but what she received was far from it. From snide, ignorant comments and her peers’ discomfort, to being followed home by a stranger on Sept. 11, Latif has endured a great deal of hardship due to her cultural garb.
“I wasn’t very comfortable with [these experiences] because U.Va. is supposed to be my home,” Latif said. “People of all colors, genders, orientations and religions should be able to lay claim to their school because that is what they call home for four years of their lives. So, I wanted to create this event that would make it feel more like a home for me.”
Participants were prompted to go about their daily lives for 12 hours while sporting a hijab, to experience the comments and interactions that women who wear it daily face.
“It is a way to promote acceptance and tolerance,” Latif said. “I do feel like we have a very big problem with exclusiveness at our school, and we stigmatize a lot of issues. I just thought it would be a really great idea to bring that idea of acceptance and tolerance to U.Va. and host an event that would bring us together and rally around a cause in a very positive way.”
Dialogue is something Latif believes is very important in raising awareness and promoting open-minded thinking.
“I think at U.Va. we tend to acknowledge that there is diversity and then brush it under the rug,” Latif said. “We are satisfied with having groups of people that are different and knowing that they are there, but not reaching out...We should be actively going out and seeking people who are different than us and then realizing that they are the same as us, no matter what they look like or what they wear.”
First-year Engineering student and moderator of World Hijab Day, Suhaib Radwan, shared these views with Latif and said his role as a Muslim male is to debunk any misconceptions as well as to educate people on the true meaning of the hijab.
“My goal for this discussion session is to shed light on the marginalization these women go through and to explain what the hijab truly represents — modesty and humbleness,” Radwan said. “The hijab is a beautiful thing, and it should not be looked at as a 'piece of cloth women are forced to wear.’ I want people to think of it as a symbol for beauty and self-effacement.”
Latif plans to major in Government and Middle Eastern Studies and continue her pursuit of a more tolerant University.
“I love this place,” Latif said. “This is my home now, and I want to make it feel more like a home...I don’t feel like anyone should come to this university and feel like they don’t belong, because they do. Everyone deserves to fit in. Everyone deserves to belong in a place they have worked so hard to get into.”