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On World Hijab Day, students celebrate an important symbol of Muslim identity

The event featured a keynote speech on the religious, cultural and personal significance of the Islamic headscarf

<p>Although the event was centered on hijabi Muslim women, there were many diverse attendees, including Muslim men and non-Muslims.&nbsp;</p>

Although the event was centered on hijabi Muslim women, there were many diverse attendees, including Muslim men and non-Muslims. 

The Muslim Student Association hosted their annual World Hijab Day event Thursday evening at Ern Commons. Open to all University students, the event recognized Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and fostered cultural understanding of the hijab.

The celebration included colorful decorations, a floral photo backdrop and a catered dinner from Mezeh. MSA also welcomed keynote speaker Dalia Mogahed, a researcher at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, who focuses her scholarship on American Muslims. Although the event was centered on hijabi Muslim women, there were many diverse attendees, including Muslim men and non-Muslims. 

Energy was high as students mingled and chatted before the event. For Amelle Chanda, MSA publicity chair and third-year College student, World Hijab Day was an empowering celebration of identity for Muslim women.

“It's such a unifying day because I get to see all of my hijabi sisters, all of the girls — sometimes even strangers — who wear the hijab,” Chanda said. “We all get to celebrate something that binds us and is so integral to our identity.”

The hijab — the headscarf that some Muslim women wear — is an element of Islamic modesty that is commonly misunderstood as a symbol of oppression. Since 2013, communities around the world have celebrated World Hijab Day every Feb. 1, supporting Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab and encouraging religious tolerance and understanding of the hijab among non-Muslims.

The event opened with a traditional Quran recitation. Mogahed then began her address with her own story of putting on the hijab, describing the act as empowering.

“To me, wearing the hijab was this bold, feminist declaration of independence from all the pressures put on women to … conform to a certain societal norm — namely, to please men's gazes,” Mogahed said.

She also explained that calling the headscarf oppressive is a misogynistic idea and urged attendees to consider their own views on the hijab. 

“Saying that Muslim women, by choosing to cover their hair, are oppressed is actually incredibly misogynistic,” Mogahed said. “Oppression is the taking away of someone's power … so what are we saying about the source of a woman's power if by covering her body and her hair and her beauty she becomes powerless?”

Mogahed’s feminist perspective on the hijab struck a chord in many students. For fourth-year College student Leena Alsaadi, the discussion fostered a community where Muslim women could support each other and be proud of their achievements. 

“I think feminism looks different for a lot of people, and this [event] is one way,” Alsaadi said. “To me, it's very empowering to be here and have an event dedicated to us and how we fulfill a religious obligation.”

Alsaadi felt that Mogahed’s use of historical context and explanations of verses from the Quran provided insight into larger discussions on modesty and hijab. 

“I think she voiced a lot of what us women in Islam feel but don't know how to say,” Alsaadi said. “I like that she said what we were really all thinking.”

Third-year Batten student Aisha Amjad was also impacted by Mogahed’s speech. She explained that Mogahed inspired her to attend the event and deepened her understanding of the hijab she wears.

“Whenever I scroll through Instagram, I see [Mogahed] or her sister's lectures, so that really motivated me to come and understand what the meaning behind what I wear every single day on my head actually is,” Amjad said.

Following the speech, attendees not wearing a hijab were given the opportunity to try on a headscarf for themselves. MSA members had extended a similar opportunity earlier that day, building excitement for the event by setting up a table near the Lawn and offering students a hijab to try on.

Students were also invited to observe a small exhibit of educational posters with information about the hijab. The exhibit showcased information about the origins of World Hijab Day, the reasons why Muslim women choose to wear the hijab and areas of the world where women’s right to wear the hijab is being threatened. 

The event attracted many visitors who came to support their friends and family and to learn more about the importance of the hijab. Encouraged by her friends to attend the event, fourth-year Education student Kendall Scherer found new friendships and a deeper understanding of the hijab.

“Before this event I knew of the hijab obviously, but I didn't know much about it,” Scherer said. “The most interesting part to me was to hear how you're kind of hiding your beauty so that people see you for who you truly are and not just your physical features. I had never really thought about it in that way, but it makes so much sense to me.”

Third-year McIntire student Yusuf Moustafa also appreciated how World Hijab Day brought together a community. He noted that he was motivated to attend the event because of his hijabi family members, and he loved seeing a community come together to support this cause. 

“I get really happy when I see someone who's non-Muslim come to the event to learn more about the hijab,” Moustafa said. “I think that's just a great sign of growth, that's how we grow as a community, that's how we learn about one another's cultures.”

According to Chanda, the hijab is more than a symbol of religion — it is a central part of her identity that represents confidence and beauty. She noted that while it can be difficult to find people who wear the hijab in school and in the workforce, events like this support hijabi students and encourage non-Muslims to learn the significance of the headscarf.

“[The hijab] is a source of strength, and it's also a source of pride for me that I get to showcase my identity to the world,” Chanda said. “It's resulted in so many beautiful conversations with Muslims, but also more importantly, non-Muslims who will come up to me and strike up a conversation or smile at me.” 

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