Uncovering the truth about the hijab: students share their experiences

Photo+illustration+of+a+female+donning+the+hijab%2C+a+head+covering+worn+by+many+Muslim+females+in+public.%C2%A0+

Illustration by Tasneem Nasufovic and Sara Albarcha

Photo illustration of a female donning the hijab, a head covering worn by many Muslim females in public. 

Hijab is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition. In Islam, it is not only interpreted in its literal meaning, but exemplifies the principle of modesty, which includes both behavior and dress for males and females. The most visible form of hijab is the head covering worn by many Muslim women in public. 

Some take pride in expressing their faith and identity. Others wear it for modesty. However misunderstandings of the hijab results in Islamophobic stereotypes and acts of violence. We asked female Muslim students about what the hijab means to them and their experience wearing it.

Senior Fariha Hossain

Ulaa Kuziez

When did you start wearing the hijab?

“I started wearing [the hijab] the summer before freshman year.”

Why did you start wearing the hijab?

“[I wore the hijab] because the Muslim [travel] ban [was] coming and I [thought] this [was] going be my chance. It was a silent protest. I was going to start wearing Hijab; watch me Donald Trump.”

What does hijab mean to you?

“I feel [that] it demands respect from people, and obviously you’re not always going to get the respect from everyone. Hijab doesn’t define me, but it’s also a very huge part of my definition. It’s important, but it’s not overtaking. Hijab makes me feel more safe; [it is] a guard from sexual harassment and makes me feel secure in my religion.”

Have you noticed that people treat you differently with the hijab?

“I haven’t had any real prejudiced experiences other than people looking at me weird all the time, but that’s something [I got] used to and don’t notice as much. When I started wearing the hijab, my friend group [was] really accepting. It was personally important that my friends accepted me and my hijab because I didn’t want to feel alienated and uncomfortable in school. It makes me comfortable and feel safer as a Muslim in America to know that [my friends] are accepting.”

What is one thing you wish people understood better about the hijab?

“Even with the hijab, I’m the same person I was without it. There’s a whole bunch of different types of hijabis [women who wear hijab] out there. You could look at hijabis from the same culture, the same background and the same language, but their personality is going to be different. It is important to recognize differences in hijabis because putting us all in one category strips us of [our] humanity and personality. It forms stereotypes and tries to alienate us. In order for one to be inclusive of Muslims and hijabis, it is important to first accept us as humans and people. This helps fight the stereotypes and islamophobia in American society and many areas of the world.”

Sophomore Shurooq Saleh

Ulaa Kuziez

When did you start wearing the hijab?

“I started wearing the hijab in the sixth grade.”

Why did you start wearing the hijab?

“I wore it because most of the people around me were wearing it, especially my older sister, [and they] really encouraged me. Also, it was respected a lot where I live [because] it means I am following my religion and respecting it. I just wanted to be a better Muslim.”

What does hijab mean to you?

“Since I have been wearing the hijab, it feels a part of me. It means being modest and [having] a good character. It is something that defines my personality. Whenever I wear my hijab, it makes me confident and also more cautious about what I say and of my [behavior].”

Have you noticed that people treat you differently with the hijab?

“If I make comments and I’m wearing the hijab, then [people] always must be thinking that she’s disrespectful and that I’m putting a negative [perception] on Muslims. I will not get treated the same. That’s always in the back of my mind, even in random situations.”

What is one thing you wish people understood better about the hijab?

“[I wish people understood] that we wear it because we’re trying to be modest, and there’s a lot of benefits to wearing it. People think that once you wear the hijab, it stops you from accomplishing a lot of things when it really doesn’t. There’s people who wear hijab that play sports. People who wear the hijab [that]are businesswomen, lawyers. Hijab doesn’t slow you down.”

Junior Fatima Shahab

Ulaa Kuziez

When did you start wearing the hijab?

“I started wearing it my freshman year of high school.”

Why did you start wearing the hijab? 

“I had it in mind [to wear the hijab]. I thought that starting high school is like a new chapter and would be a good time to start wearing it. I just thought that it was the right time. I felt [that] I wanted to at that point. So on the first day of school, I thought I would feel out of place, but it [was] actually really nice. I think it was a lot easier because my friend also started with me. e stuck together the first day to support each other.”

What does hijab mean to you?

“I definitely think [hijab is] something that shows who you are as a person. [Hijab] plays a role in helping you become more religiously inclined and more connected to [God]. Wearing the hijab has motivated me even more to act in the best way I can as well as the principals that God has taught us. Through [hijab], I have been able to have a more personal connection to God and Islam as a whole.”

Have you noticed that people treat you differently with the hijab?

“I think because there’s so many people in the West wearing hijab, it’s a lot easier for others to get used to.” 

What is one thing you wish people understood better about the hijab?

“I think a lot of people have in mind that if you wear the hijab, [you] are oppressed because of that. People [need] to understand that it’s a choice. It’s not like we’re forced to wear it. It’s a choice and it represents a lot of different things to different people, whether it’s modesty or the characteristics you’re supposed to uphold as a Muslim. There are a lot of Muslims here and people [should] accept who we are.”

Senior Seherzada Klincevic

Ulaa Kuziez

When did you start wearing the hijab?

“[I started wearing the hijab in] middle school.”

Why did you start wearing the hijab?

“My mom always wore [it], and growing up, [she] was my role model. [She] and everyone that I looked up to in the community wear it so I want[ed] to be like them. The main reason I did it was because it’s a way of identifying yourself as a Muslim. As I’ve gotten older, it’s been more of an empowering thing, mainly because modesty is looked down upon, but for me it’s [not].”

What does hijab mean to you?

“It has to do with the way you act and portray yourself. In Islam, the way it’s seen is both modesty on the outside and on the inside, the way you interact with people [and] the respect you give to others.”

Have you noticed that people treat you differently with the hijab? 

“I remember during sophomore year in English class, this girl [would tell me] repeatedly throughout the semester, ‘oh, I’m going to expose you’ and would make gestures of wanting to pull my scarf off my head. I know I’m not alone; I know a lot of people have had similar things, or even worse [experiences].

What is one thing you wish people understood better about the hijab?

“Something that bothers me a lot is the perception people have that [wearing the hijab is]  forced upon me. It’s not forced, it’s my choice to wear it, and that it’s more than just a cloth on your head. There’s a lot more to it. If you look at the actual teachings, it’s seen as an empowerment. I don’t think anybody should be forced to wear [the hijab]. For me, being Muslim is more [of] how you act, and if you choose to or not, that’s your choice.”

Sophomore Salam Hadji

When did you start wearing the hijab?

“I started wearing it in fifth grade.”

Why did you start wearing the hijab?

“I was just looking around at guys and they would always look at girls in such a weird way. I didn’t want to be one of those girls who’s always viewed as [an] object. I want to be one of those girls who’s viewed more on their personality and their intellect and how hardworking they are, so I started wearing it in fifth grade because I was like, ‘I’m so done.’”

What does hijab mean to you?

“It means protection in a sense. It means I’m able to maintain some sort of privacy from everyone else. So I feel [that] I can maintain my identity and I can also maintain my culture.”

Have you noticed that people treat you differently with the hijab?

“Yes, I have been put in a situation where people have treated me as if I’m second class or as if I’m not American just because I’m wearing the hijab, and it’s frustrating.”

What is one thing you wish people understood better about the hijab?

“I wish that non-Muslims would recognize that it’s for modesty, it’s not for violence [and] it’s not for hiding ourselves. It’s our choice. [People] are so used to women objectifying themselves and trying to please the society that they reside in, so when they see somebody who’s not necessarily showing their hair or their arms or wearing short clothes, they see that as if they’re forced to do it. But there’s an empowerment in wearing what you want to wear and I hope people can see that.”