Lobna Hewedi welcomes questions about her hijab, a traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women.
The hijab serves as a symbol of her Muslim faith and an entry point for interfaith dialogue when people at fuel stations and grocery store checkout lines stare at the Norman woman’s apparel.
“My feeling is that most of the time when people look, they are just curious,” Hewedi said.
She said many non-Muslims may be unaware of the significance of hijabs.
Recently, another metro area Muslim woman, said she refused to take her driver’s license photograph at a Norman tag agency when an employee there required her to push her hajib back past her hairline, exposing a portion of her hair.
Monique Barrett, 21, of Norman renewed her driver’s license at the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety headquarters last week after contacting the Council on American-Islamic Relations Oklahoma chapter. A chapter leader and public safety department officials said Barrett only had to show her face from hairline to chin to comply with the law.
Barrett, a student at Oklahoma City Community College, said she believes most people do not understand Muslim customs, which can lead to misunderstandings.
“People are afraid, and they fear things they don’t know,” she said.
Razi Hashmi, Oklahoma director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muslim women who wear the head scarves draw attention because their everyday apparel easily identifies them as Muslim.
“Unfortunately they are the easiest to discriminate against, but our Muslim sisters are very strong in the faith,” he said.
Hewedi said Muslim women make the decision to wear the head coverings and the age when they do so varies from woman to woman. Hewedi, 32, said she began wearing a hijab in 2003 because she felt it was time to do so.
She said many women begin wearing them earlier, at puberty.
Barrett said she began wearing a hijab off and on when she was 12 and full-time when she turned 16.
Malaka Elyazgi of Norman said she began wearing a hijab at age 21, while her daughter, Houda Elyazgi said she started wearing a head scarf when she was in the third grade.
The elder Elyazgi, 47, said she was born in Palestine and came to Oklahoma when she was 8. She said she did a lot of soul-searching before making the decision to wear a hijab.
People acted uneasy around her when she wore the hijab and she attributed this to the negative stereotypes of Muslims.
“Even though the hijab had a negative connotation for some people, it had a positive connotation for me because it is my faith,” she said.
When her daughter wanted to wear a head scarf, Malaka Elyazgi said she tried to discourage her because she did not want her to be treated unfairly because of her faith.
“As a mother, I know the backlash of covering,” she said.
Houda Elyazgi, 23, said she understood her mother’s concerns when she grew older.
However, she always wanted to be like the other women in her life and be a walking testimony of her faith.
“It was probably the best decision of my life because it helped shape my identity,” she said.
Like Hewedi, the younger Elyazgi said she uses non-Muslim’s curiosity as stepping stone for outreach.
“When you wear the scarf, you are easily identifiable as Muslim, so I have to be the best representation of my faith,” she said.
She said there is a stereotype that Muslim women are oppressed and uneducated.
Elyazgi, who works with an Oklahoma City public relations business, said she tries to educate people and shatter myths about Muslim women whenever she can.
Barrett offered words of solidarity for Muslim women who choose not to wear hijabs.
“A hijab does not make or break you. It is an outward expression of being Muslim,” she said. “For those of us who want to cover our hair, it’s very important to us, but a Muslim woman who does not wear a hijab is still a Muslim as long as she follows the teachings of Islam.”