How is it that a piece of fabric can impact the socio-political paradigm of the world? In the last decade, Islam and Muslims have no doubt taken a beating in the court of public opinion and women who don the headscarf, or hijab, have endured the brunt of the abuse. The Western media frames these women as cloaked, both literally and figuratively, in oppression, desperate to liberate themselves from their dictatorial husbands and fathers by removing a cloth which symbolizes 1400 years of injustice.
However, this rendition is far from the truth and it is time we are introduced to a new and revolutionary narrative, one that is led not by words, but by actions. World Hijab Day, from the mind of New York resident Nazma Khan, aims to foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting Muslims and Non-Muslims to wear the hijab for one day.
As a hijabi (one who dons the hijab) herself, Khan faced ridicule and discrimination on the streets of the Bronx where she grew up and in her school for covering her hair. “In middle school, I was ‘Batman’ or ‘ninja.’ When I [started college] after 9/11, I was called ‘Osama bin laden or terrorist,’” recalls the petite Bangladeshi American woman. With these taunts fresh in her mind, Khan conceived World Hijab Day. Why not invite all women, Muslim and Non-Muslim, to wear and experience the hijab for a day, she thought.
She knew every woman who chose to participate would come away with her own unique perspective, but Khan hoped that by slipping on a hijab, participants would feel firsthand the sidelong glances and unkind words many hijabs try to shake off on a daily basis, and, more importantly, participants would realize that the hijab is, in fact, an act of liberation that allows a woman to reintroduce to the world the worth of a woman through modesty.
In 2013, two years after first coming up with the concept, Khan’s idea had swelled into a worldwide movement. The World Hijab Day flyer was translated into 23 different languages, and various mainstream media outlets, including BBC, Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, Morocco World News, Pakistan Tribune, had all picked up the story. It gained even more momentum when celebrities and well-known Muslim scholars, such as Mufti Menk , Dr. Yasir Qadhi, and Sheikh Omar Soleiman, endorsed the concept. With 67 countries responding to the call, the first World Hijab Day took place on February 1, 2013.
Tomorrow will mark the second World Hijab Day and over a million women are expected to participate. Both Muslim and non-Muslim women will slip on the hijab in solidarity with those who wear it daily and will send a non-verbal message that women should be free to choose to wear this piece of cloth without judgment or harassment if they believe it is God’s command. Dr. Arthur Flug, director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center, who invited Khan to speak to Holocaust survivors, said “World Hijab Day has shown my students a most powerful lesson in accepting individual differences.”
Asif Zaman holds a History degree from the City College of New York. Currently he is serving as one of New York’s boldest, in the Department of Corrections. As an active participant of many Islamic movements, Asif strives to bring better understanding of Islam within the inmate populations of Rikers Island. As he truly believes that we can overcome violence with better understanding.