A few sparkled with metallic accents.
The traditional head scarves worn by Muslim women took center stage at several events observing “World Hijab Day” on Feb. 1 in the metro area. Women gathered at the Aloft Hotel, 209 N Walnut, for a “World Hijab Day” dinner and program hosted by the Council on American Islamic Relations — Oklahoma chapter. The special day also was celebrated at the University of Central Oklahoma, where members of the Muslim Student Association set up a “World Hijab Day” booth.
Natasha Saya, CAIR-OK’s community outreach coordinator, said she created the special dinner because she organized World Hijab Day activities as a student at the University of Oklahoma. This year, she wanted to observe the day in another setting.
“I thought it would be really important to support Muslim women because Muslim women, they wear their religion on their sleeve,” she said. “They face discrimination that men don’t because they wear that scarf.”
Veronica Soltani, wife of Adam Soltani, CAIR-OK’s executive director, said nearly 30 percent of anti-Muslim bias incidents in Oklahoma were triggered by a hijab, according to statistics compiled by CAIR-OK.
Saya said another reason for the celebration was to bring Muslim women together with women of other faiths to support one another. About 140 women attended CAIR-OK’s event. The gathering drew mostly Muslim women, but there were numerous women of other faiths in the crowd.
Mauree Turner, of Oklahoma City, said she considered her turban a type of hijab because hijab in Arabic means covering. She said it helps to symbolize her Muslim faith. She was excited to take part in the celebration because it was important for women to get together in “community,” she said.
“I think events like this are very important because we can encourage each other,” Turner said. “For Muslim women, you get to be in a room with people who look like you, and for those who are not Muslim, they get to learn how to be an ally.”
Janie Kirt Morris, a Christian who attends an Episcopal church, sat at Khan’s table. She said she was enjoying the celebration of women in the community.
“The whole idea of empowering women is terrific. It’s important to encourage each other,” Morris said.
The event’s keynote speaker, Melanie Elturk, said that is what she planned to do — support and encourage the crowd. As founder and chief executive officer of New York-based Haute Hijab, Elturk said she wanted to talk more about what the hijab represents — faith — more than the head covering itself.
“When we wear this hijab day in and day out, we have to know who we are and to be ready to answer and be recognized as women of faith,” she said.
She said in society, the No 1. reason people cite for wearing the hijab is for modesty. But she said the foundation behind the hijab is that it shows the
that the wearer is a proud member of the Islamic faith community.
Education is key
The Muslim Student Association members at UCO moved forward with another goal of World Hijab Day: discussing stereotypes and myths about the hijab and educating non-Muslims about them.
The group’s booth set up outside the Nigh Center food court on Jan. 30 seemed to focus on the day’s motto: “Breaking Stereotypes. Shattering Boundaries.”
The association’s president, Ashley Salim, said the students specifically wanted to raise awareness about what the hijab is and why Muslim women wear it. The UCO senior said she does not wear the traditional head scarf but supports women who do. Another member who wears a hijab, junior Oswah Cheema, said she wanted to help with the booth to help dispel negative misconceptions about the hijab.
Cheema said she lived in Pakistan before moving to Edmond and began wearing the hijab about four years ago. She is used to people asking her questions about the head covering. Some have said they believed the hijab was a sign of oppression, but “the hijab is a sign of freedom for me,” she said.
“When I came here, it was a sign of my identity. My family didn’t force it on me,” Cheema said.
Students walking by the booth were offered refreshments and given an opportunity to try on a hijab or answer a question about the hijab to be entered into a drawing for a gift card.Freshman Trinity Johnson decided to try on a hijab with Salim’s help. She said she grew up in a Christian household, considers herself spiritual and saw no reason not to try on the head scarf and learn more about why Muslim women wear them.
Meanwhile, other students tried to answer questions to test their knowledge about the hijab.
“In Islam, are women forced to wear the hijab?”
The non-Muslin student who got that question said it was true, but Cheema and Salim told her it was false because Muslim women are not required to wear the hijab.
Another question was, “Is the hijab only for Muslim women?”
Salim said women of other faiths, including Jews and Christians, have worn similar head coverings over the years.
Sophomore Fnu Shahzaib was another member of the Muslim Student Association who helped out at the booth.
He said he liked the idea of educating other students about aspects of the Islamic faith.
“I think we should be doing this more because the perspective that a lot of people have is negative,” Shahzaib said. “This is about explaining our culture.”