US students wear headscaves to understand Muslim women

US students who wore headscaves for two days to understand Muslim women, says they feel respect for theirselves.

US students wear headscaves to understand Muslim women

Eve Awari took the "hijabi challenge," wearing the head scarf donned by observant Muslim women.

"For the two days that I wore the hijab I felt respect for myself," said Awari, a Muslim and a student at Wayne Valley High School. She is now considering adopting the hijab and the code of modesty it represents.

Awari was one of 15 women -- including non-Muslims -- who took the two-day challenge sponsored by the Montclair State University's Muslim Student Union and its women's center.

The head covering has become a flashpoint for debate around the world. The hijab has been banned in some countries and mandated in others, and viewed as both a veil of oppression and liberation.

"After 9/11, many of our students started to cover for the first time, in solidarity,'' said Esmilda Abreu, director of the women's center. "Others removed the hijab for safety. For some reason, women's head cover elicits an emotional and political reaction," she said.

Abreu took the challenge. "I'm a feminist. Why am I wearing this?" she remembers asking herself. But in the end, it was both an "internal and external" exercise. She found people deferred to her -- opening doors, and offered her more personal space.

"People questioned us a lot,'' said Courtney DiGiovanni of Brick, an MSU undergrad who took part in the challenge. She felt uncomfortable at first, she said, but for the most part, the reaction was positive.

"I noticed more than I [normally] would how many others were wearing the hijab," she said.

Indeed, in North Jersey it is not unusual to see a woman wearing a hijab. Lamia Hermas, who opened the discussion on Wednesday, recalled that as a college student in the 1980s, right after the Iranian hostage crisis, she was the only woman with a head scarf and was taunted for being "Iranian." She is from Bethlehem.

She and other participants said the covering, which is part of an overall effort to dress modestly and act appropriately, was liberating. They said that true Islam does not force women to practice hijab, and puts the onus on men as well to maintain appropriate modesty.

"Some people assume that women who wear hijab are prohibited from participation in society. That is not true," said Hermas, who holds a master's degree and is a teacher in the Passaic public schools. "We're not out there to please men or look good for them, but out there to get an education and participate in society."

The American students who have chosen to embrace hijab spoke of freedom, not constriction.

"I always talk to women here and they say, 'Muslim women are oppressed,' " said one student who wears the hijab. "But I feel the women who are showing off their skin and bodies to attract men -- that's oppression."

Nahid Shahidi began wearing the hijab on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2002. She was a junior at Clifton High School and the first woman in her family, which hails from Afghanistan, to wear the veil.

"It was November 2, 2002 -- there's no way I can forget it," said Shahidi. The hijab, for her, represented her embrace of her faith and its obligations, like praying five times daily and lowering her gaze in public. "You find yourself on the right path," said Shahidi, now a biology major at Montclair. "This has been the most liberating experience in my life."

Northjersey

Last Mod: 15 Mart 2008, 23:26
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