Student voices on World Hijab Day

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A drawing of a smiling person wearing a hijab and waving. They are surrounded by stars and flowers. 
Wearing a hijab is an empowering decision helping many navigate the world.  milaoktasafitri via Pixabay

Students detail feelings of community and empowerment attached to wearing hijabs

World Hijab Day, observed every year on Feb 1, honours Muslim women who wear the hijab and invites women from diverse backgrounds to experience wearing it. The hijab, often perceived as a simple piece of cloth, holds a profound significance for Muslim women, embodying values of modesty, identity, and religious devotion.  

One of the questions often asked is, “Why do Muslim women cover their heads?” The answer lies in understanding Islamic belief.  

Let’s dig a little on the origin of the word “hijab” first. The literal meaning of hijab is to veil, to cover, or to screen. The hijab serves as a symbol of modesty and a safeguarding mechanism for maintaining moral boundaries within the community by veiling the beauty of a woman from the gaze of unrelated men in society as prescribed by the Quran. For most Muslim women around the world, the decision, to cover or not to cover, is a freely made choice.  

Consider a phone case. Using a phone case is not a choice we make to oppress the phone or diminish its functionality but instead to protect our phones from scratches and dust, and sometimes, improve its aesthetics. Similarly, the choice to wear the hijab lies in empowerment and protection from the outside world’s exploitation.  

Contrary to the perception of hijab as oppressive by mainstream Western society, the hijab empowers women to control their visibility and navigate the world on their own terms. 

The Carillon spoke with several students on campus to get insights into their experiences. 

Lubna Daldum, a fourth-year undergraduate student, shared her journey as a Canadian Muslim woman surrounded by Western customs in Regina. “Growing up I identified more strongly with Western customs and cultures despite being surrounded by people of my own culture.”  

Despite this identification, and “doing everything to be like those around [her],” Daldum explained that she was still recognized for two things, her hijab and her race.  

Daldum then contrasted her experiences at a public school with those she has had at the University of Regina (U of R). “Coming to university, I was immediately surrounded by a new group of people, so many Muslim women and so many hijabis for me to interact with. Being surrounded by people who look like you when you’re a minority makes a huge difference in how you feel and your ability to express yourself confidently and unconditionally… I’ve begun to embrace the hijab more than I ever have.”  

Daldum also emphasized that the hijab represents more than just a religious obligation; it symbolizes individuality and the right to wear what one chooses. Reflecting, she explains that, “Yesterday hijab meant ‘a piece of fabric to protect me,’” and that, today, it is “a representation of who I am, what I stand for, and the beauty of the rights and honours granted to me through Islam.”  

Ishmal Akbar, an Education student, says that wearing the hijab is “a way for [her] to visibly show the world that [she is] Muslim.” Akbar also stresses that, for her, the hijab is not simply a piece of fabric.  

“It’s more so a feeling, [one] that I feel deeply. It also gives [the wearer] a sense of responsibility to represent Islam [in] the way we talk, treat others, and act. Wearing a hijab… [helps me in] bettering myself every single day,” Akbar said.  

While expressing pride in visibly showing her Muslim identity, Akbar acknowledged some challenges that come with wearing the hijab as a minority. “The stares are real,” she says. “They get very uncomfortable and threatening at times…because I wear an extra piece of fabric on my body, it makes me feel uneasy [when people] stare as if I don’t belong there.”  

Eimaan Agha, a Psychology student, reflected on her experience and highlighted that, for the most part, students at the U of R treat her no differently due to her hijab. She did note some challenges with older white Canadians, sharing an incident where her mother faced Islamophobia at a city fair.  

Like Daldum, Agha emphasized the importance of community. “My favourite part of wearing the hijab is the sisterhood of Muslim girls,” she told the Carillon.  

Agha also stresses the importance of open conversation and believes there should be no shame or hesitation in asking questions.  

“There should never be any shame or hesitation associated with asking a Muslim any questions you may have,” Agha added, detailing that she’s been asked questions about her hijab in public restrooms before, and that she never turns them down.  

“Most people are open and willing to listen, and are really curious about Islam,” she said, going on to explain that most people don’t have any immediate Muslim friends, or connections to ask their questions to.  

Havabibi Sadek, a first-year Biology student, shared her positive experience as a newcomer in Canada in contrast to her experience in India, where she witnessed an incident of harassment against one of her hijabi sisters.  

“In Canada, my experience wearing hijab [has been] great, everyone respects me and my [choice to wear the] hijab so far.” 

In continuation of the conversation, Maliha Jabeen Khan, a pre-med student, dispelled the misconception that wearing a hijab is about invisibility. “The purpose of the hijab is for you to be heard and known for your character and intelligence, as opposed to your physical appearance,” Khan said.  

“Oppression is a word that we use for individuals who are subject to harsh and authoritarian treatment. Wearing the hijab has earned me respect… So oppression? Absolutely not. I’d call it empowerment.”  

Khan invites everyone to her upcoming TEDxRegina talk titled “Beyond the Fabric,” where she aims to spread a message that people ought to refrain from making assumptions or judgments about a Muslim woman solely based on the hijab. 

Lubna Daldum shares a compelling insight – that “[her] hijab is a reminder that this world is small, and standards are superficial.  I can be much more than what those standards aim to confine me to,” Daldum stressed.  

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