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Rochester students celebrate World Hijab Day

Eman Muthana (gray patterned hijab) organized World Hijab Day to educate her peers about being a Muslim woman
Tianna Manon
Eman Muthana (gray patterned hijab) organized World Hijab Day to educate her peers about being a Muslim woman

Students and staff at 15 local schools and universities sported hijabs Thursday in solidarity with Muslim women worldwide. It’s part of World Hijab Day, which takes place every February 1 and began six years ago. The goal is to educate people about the discrimination and prejudice Muslim women face.

It’s the third year students at World of Inquiry have participated. Roughly a dozen gave up their lunchtime to hand out hijabs, wrap them properly or simply ask questions about being Muslim.

“When I started the first World Hijab Day, it was only my third month in this school,” said Eman Muthana, organizer of the event. “I didn’t feel like I was being accepted by my classmates. I felt anxious. So I asked to celebrate World Hijab Day and let the students know more about me as person, so we did the first one and, well, you heard about the backlash.”

Muthana is talking about the event in 2015. When World of Inquiry announced students and staff would participate in World Hijab Day, many in the community expressed concern that students were being indoctrinated and the school was teaching religion. Muthana maintains the hijabs are optional and the goal of the event is solidarity and education- not conversion.

Krystal Saez was one of Muthana’s first friends. She saw firsthand the backlash Muthana mentions. But says it does nothing to stop the students’ from participating:  

“What got me most excited was the elementary side. They were so excited to see something so brand new. And there was a lot of elementary kids who already came to school with a hijab on and that’s what got me shocked because there’s a lot of adults who don’t actually like the idea of their kids doing that especially after the first year.”

That fear is nothing new to Nefin Kori. She was one of the students sacrificing her lunch time to educate her peers and hand out hijabs. She is not a Muslim but considers herself an ally.

“I think a lot of people don’t support Muslim culture because they’re scared,” she said. “People think all Muslims are terrorists but it’s not true. I wish they knew not to be afraid of Muslim people, they’re not going to hurt you, they’re not going to do anything to you. Not all Muslims are terrorists.”

“I’m actually Muslim, I wear this every day,” said Asma Ismael, another student participating in the day and using her lunch to educate peers. She says she wears her hijab daily and even at home if male family members come over. Ismael highlights the diversity even within the hijab-wearing community. Some women never wear one, others wear them during certain times in certain places, and still others wear entirely different headscarves.

“The only people who can see my hair is my family,” said Ismael. “We wear this every day because it’s my religion. I am so happy now because all of these people are supporting us and it’s just so much love for us.”

And it’s not just about the Muslim identity; Muthana says the event highlights the other diversity in their school:

“Even though today we’re actually celebrating World Hijab Day you can see all types of students. Atheists, people from the LGBTQ community, you have all types of diverse students from our school. They’re actually wearing the hijab but on that day they’re celebrating their differences and how they can be strong and stand up for each other.”

Muthana graduates in May but she says her World Hijab Day committee will continue the event in her absence. That committee is made up of white, Latino and LGBT students because Muthana says it’s important to prize all voices.