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  • A Non-Muslim's Account Of A Day In Hijab
    by Carin Miller
    Published - 02/16/14 - 02:15 PM | 9 9 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    Carin Miller wearing hijab Feb. 4 in honor of Feb. 1 World Hijab Day.
    Carin Miller wearing hijab Feb. 4 in honor of Feb. 1 World Hijab Day.
    (CEDAR CITY, Utah) – They say that to understand another man’s troubles one should walk a mile in his shoes, so to better understand the life of a Muslim woman in Southern Utah; I spent a day in her headscarf.

    Subjugated, oppressed, subservient, inferior, and submissive, are adjectives I have frequently heard used to describe Muslim women who cover their heads by wearing hijab.

    After wearing hijab in public while running errands around Cedar City, Utah for the day, I would be remiss not to add a few applicable adjectives to the list: stereotyped, misunderstood, friendly, humble, strong, empowered and brave.

    When I first began this journey, I had no idea what to expect. However, based on the stories I had heard from Muslim women I had talked to, I knew that there would be some challenges.

    I decided to spend a day in hijab after writing a preview story about a local World Hijab Day event. World Hijab Day took place for the second annual year Feb. 1.

    According to www.facebook.com/WorldHijabDay, the global holiday was created by New York resident Nazma Khan as a way to build bridges between cultures and raise awareness about what hijab truly means by inviting non-hijabi Muslims and non-Muslim women to wear hijab for one day in a single act of solidarity.

    Southern Utah University students with the Muslim Student Association planned a day of support on Feb. 4, because the actual holiday was on a Saturday when school was out. The MSA set up a booth in the SUU Sharwan Smith hallway and taught non-Muslim women how to wrap a hijab, and took pictures for their website to promote awareness about their plight.

    After speaking to these open, articulate women, it occurred to me, that I was completely oblivious to the discrimination they endured on a day-to-day basis. I do not wear hijab, and so I couldn’t possibly understand how difficult it might be to do something as simple as run daily errands in a tiny town post 9/11 in the U.S.

    In my mind, I imagined that it might have been something like trying to relate to the discrimination black men and women endured during the Jim Crow era of “separate, but equal” rights – a discrimination that many black Americans still live with today.

    As a young white girl growing up in a south Jersey town in the late 80’s/early 90’s I had experienced my fair share of reverse discrimination, and had a hard time understanding why.

    My father taught me, “We all bleed red”, so when school kids called me names like cracker, and honkey, I found it difficult to wrap my brain around all of the hostility. I was too young to understand that the intentional integration that took place between the two elementary schools in my district was strange in any way.

    As I grew older and began to understand the complexities of what was happening in Paulsboro, New Jersey when I was a child. I remember thinking that if I could spend a day as a black woman – maybe then; I could better understand the discrimination that they still live with every day.

    Obviously, that was an impossible endeavor, but adopting the Muslim tradition of wearing hijab and covering my body and head for a day was an attainable goal that would offer an opportunity for personal growth at the same time.

    Since I had a lot of errands to take care of Feb. 4, I knew it would be a good day to participate. That morning, I showed up to the MSA table at SUU with my scarf in hand to learn how to wrap the hijab for the first time.

    Preparing to wear hijab was more difficult than I had anticipated. A deep search through my available apparel indicated that I owned very few clothing items that would cover my body as completely as it should have been. Either the sleeves were too short, or my collar was low cut; but I was determined to make my wardrobe work, and eventually I found something that worked. The women who helped me to wrap my hijab were easy to talk to and welcomed me warmly.

    The foreign women told me not to expect too much “action,” because of wearing hijab, because Cedar City was one of the most accepting communities that they had lived in since moving to the United States. Considering their advice, I left SUU with a smile, and a feeling of confidence that followed me throughout the day.

    While running my errands for the day I was surprised to find that most of the acquaintances I interacted with on a regular basis did a double take when they saw me wearing a hijab, but didn’t bother to ask any questions about it.

    The few that did applauded my bravery, which I found to be odd. The Muslim women who wear hijab every day display an identifying visual marker of a religion that evokes considerable emotion with Americans since the fateful flights of 2001– I wondered if they considered themselves brave.

    As the day wore on, I started to notice a difference in the way women would react to me as opposed to men. Older, white men seemed more perturbed by my presence than younger men of any ethnicity – a few of them even scoffed loudly, before creating a greater distance of space between them and me. Women on the other hand tended to make eye contact, hold open doors, and smile more often.

    It appeared I would make it through the day unscathed by the preconceived notion of blatant discrimination that I had prepared myself to encounter that day. Then I opened my Facebook profile where I had posted a picture of myself in hijab earlier that day.

    To my amazement, and horrifying disgust – someone who labels themselves as open-minded, and touts taking the time to research before presenting uninformed opinions as an inherent value of integrity – asked me when I planned to get my “(female) circumcision”. Though he later said it was a joke, there was nothing funny about it, and the words stung like a swift kick to the gut.

    My grandmother often used a word when I was a little girl that it appears many have forgotten. It’s a shame too, because it would serve some people quite well to rediscover it. The word is couth, and it means to show manners, or display an air of sophistication.

    I can’t help, but sometimes wonder how such “civilized” people could devolve so profoundly when it comes to the simplest concepts of polite society.

    One thing I have learned through the years is that hate is a product of a lack of understanding maintained through fear, and stereotypes are the product of perpetuating misinformation by repeating it as though it is irrefutable fact.

    I liked wearing the hijab. My head was warm on a cold day, and I didn’t have to mess with my hair that morning. It made me feel beautiful, dignified and a little like a princess.

    More than that, not one Muslim woman I spoke to behaved as though they were in any way repressed, or inhibited, but rather modest and humble. Each of these beautiful women was educated, spoke two or more languages, had goals, and was very unafraid to express their opinions about all sorts of topics.

    As a spiritual person, I have shied away from labels, but spent ample amounts of time putting my beliefs into a practice that produces a physical manifestation of my belief system. I can’t help, but have respect and admiration for other women who do the same, regardless of the path they have chosen.

    I was raised Catholic, and the nun’s in both of my family’s churches wore habits every day as a way of honoring god by covering up. Covering one’s head to honor their god is not a new concept by any means; instead, it’s an age-old practice that spans a global population of men and women who come from varied backgrounds. Muslim women did not invent this concept, but they do bear the burden of the discrimination that comes along with carrying on the traditions of their culture should they choose to do so.

    My day in hijab was liberating. It taught me that hanging on to misconceptions closes doors and locks away opportunities to grow and better understand the world in which we all live; and while I may not choose to wear hijab every day, I will definitely be showing my support again next year come Feb. 1.

    Comments-icon Post a Comment
    February 20, 2014
    When is dont go outdoors without a male minder day?
    Muslim Woman
    February 17, 2014
    To Ms. Miller,

    Thank you for "walking a mile" in my shoes. It is quite liberating, isn't it? And Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope we can somehow return the favor!

    To "CAIR",

    Shame on you! Rape and molestation are only a problem in the Middle East? It is a problem EVERYWHERE! That is because any place Men live near Women, there will be such problems. It is unfortunate, but a fact.

    Also, where in the world did you dream up that "10% (of Muslims) are terrorists"? I hate that there are any terrorists that claim to be Muslims! However, there is no way that even 1% of 1% of Muslims are terrorists!

    In addition, do not forget that many so called "terrorists" truly are regular people protecting their own family, homes, land and countries. Which they have every right to do. It is unfortunate that the powerful can label them whatever they want, and these poor people have no way to give their side of the story.

    Salam! Peace!

    February 19, 2014
    Right On!! Ukhti yes let us not forget what the true meaning of terrorism is.
    February 17, 2014
    Rape and child molestation are such a big problem in the Middle East, Islamic Cleric Suggests women Wear Burqas (burkas) to Prevent Rape and molestation. Not once has an Islamic Cleric Suggests that they punish the Rapist. if they are so worried about protecting their women with religious clothing, why do they beat, kill, throw acid on their women?
    Iftikhar Ahmad
    February 17, 2014
    It is socially acceptable to be openly racist towards Muslims in this country. Legally not so because more and more Muslims are standing up to this fascism and rightfully so. What, values like stripping down to get sunburned on the beach and drinking to excess on a Friday night out? Why don't you just wear what you want and allow other people to wear what they want? The right to wear what you want is not a special privilege. Its a basic democratic right and one that you yourself enjoy. No one tells you what you can or cannot wear. Why do you think you can tell others what they should wear?

    These racist just don't like being pointed out and don't like to be exposed when challenged! So all in all, this university wanted to make a rule for less than 1% of the population who (I assume) aren't causing any big disturbances or anything? In regard of safety/terror issues, I'd be more worried about backpacks, but I doubt those will be banned in an university setting. Ban on Burqa/ Niqab is against religious-***-human rights of Muslim Women in Europe. Those who support ban on veil are Islamophobic.

    Islam is for equality, freedom and respect for each and every individual.

    REMOVE BAN ON BURQA !!! Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students' officer, said: ""This ban is a complete infringement on the rights to religious freedom and cultural expression and is a clear violation of a woman's right to choose." I don't remember the British adapting to my country of origin's cultural practices when they came over to colonise the land.

    They did pretty much whatever they wanted to do, and they really weren't that bothered about the sensitivities of the natives.

    We're just returning the favour:)

    I do understand that some find it a symbol of oppression etc, but what if it is banned and these women (or their families) feel they can't get a proper education? What does that solve? Whether we like it or not, these people are also part of the society we live in these days. If you want them to change, do you think it will change anything if we'd essentially lock them up in their home (either by free will or family force), whether that be in the UK or Pakistan?

    The liberation of women all over the world isn't going along the same roads as western societies went.

    School in Britain is as much about learning to socialise as it is academic advancement .

    That's not true, otherwise it would be illegal to home school and there would be no schools where there were just a handful of students. Any dress that obscures the face from view must hamper that process.One would think that it might, but it is not an absolute given. Even if it was a given, are not people entitled to do things that others think might affect their intellectual development? What citizens do in the street or at home or church is totally up to them . However , it is not up to them to demand that they be allowed to flout logical and sensible rules in a communal publicly funded environment.

    Who decides what is logical and sensible. Just you saying that doesn't make it so. I think it is perfectly logical and sensible to allow people to make religious conscience decisions about their dress - because I would want society to give me space to make those kinds of choices for myself.

    The idea that someone else shouldn't be able to do something because I don't like what they're doing is - I think - deeply illogical, stupid and absurd. Hence we live in a world where many disagree.

    The difference is that I'm comfortable living with disagreement, whereas you seem to just want to enforce your ideals of normality on everyone.



    February 17, 2014
    How does one move to another country and then start rejecting the way that country lives, protest, demand conforming to their life style, and then call it Islamophobia? I did not know that Islam forbids bacon until the people of Islam moved to the country that I live in, worked our jobs, then protested our stores for having bacon, claiming that we violated their rights. I learned that Muslims shout Allah Akbar why beheading Americans. 1,570,000,000 (Muslims population) x .10 (10% are terrorist) = 157,000,000 Muslims terrorist
    February 19, 2014
    Islam is for equality, freedom and respect for each and every individual.?????

    What a bad Joke. Do you ever watch the news where your brother and sisters slaughter innocent in the name of your moon god??

    You sick Fuck

    Bad Kitty
    February 17, 2014
    Good for you! I wish more people had your attitude. Wearing hijab can be very challenging. I've had people say all kinds of hateful things to me, but it helps by remembering that I do this for God, and that every time I respond to hate with kindness, I am doing what pleases God.
    February 16, 2014
    Yesss! thank you for your humble heart and willingness to discover jazakAllah Khairn! (may the creator reward you with goodness)
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