Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

- Advertisement -

For American Muslim women, hijabs symbolize the right to choose

Nazma Khan, the founder of World Hijab Day, started the initiative with the mission to “dismantle bigotry, discrimination and prejudice against Muslim women” who choose to wear the covering. (Marquis Perkins)


As the only hijabi student at her school in Bronx, NY in the 1990s, Nazma Khan endured so much Islamophobia that she considered dropping out. Her classmates called the Bangladeshi immigrant names like “ninja,” “Batman,” and “Mother Teresa.” She was pushed, kicked and spat on by students, who often waited outside her classroom to try and pull off her headscarf.

After 9/11, as a recent college graduate living in New York City as a visibly Muslim woman, Khan said the hijabophobia only got worse, and she was chased through the city streets and labeled a terrorist. Still, Khan said she loved wearing her hijab, an “outward expression of my inner faith,” and wanted to help women and girls like her who were being abused.

“I kept thinking about it, and I thought, ‘What if I asked women from all walks of life to wear the hijab for one day?'” she said. “Maybe they will see that I am not hiding a bomb under my scarf or that this scarf has no life of its own to suppress me.

After three years of thinking about the idea, Khan founded World Hijab Day in 2013. The February holiday encourages people to wear hijabs for a day in an effort to normalize them and debunk false assumptions about head covering. Not every Muslim has welcomed the annual event since its inception, but it quickly gained popularity and spread to more than 150 countries.

For Muslim women, wearing a hijab is an act of worship and a way of practicing modesty, a principle expected in the behavior and dress of all Muslims. While the visibility of the head covering has made women targets of Islamophobia, Muslim women who wear the hijab in the United States say the decision to wear the cloth covering is a liberating one. By sharing their various hijabi journeys, they say they are proof that Muslim women are not a monolith.

When Houston-based author and illustrator Huda Fahmy started wearing a hijab at age 10, she felt the pressure to be perfect and live up to the piety that came with it. As she got older, she realized that she didn’t have to fit a mold for the hijab to be a meaningful part of how she practiced Islam.

Muslim women in hijab are often discriminated against. This is how it is.

“Often we are reduced to having the same experiences,” Fahmy said. But “every hijabi has a different relationship to her scarf and to her religion and to the way she decides to wear it and present herself.”

In her comic books, such as “Yes, I’m Hot in This” and the soon-to-be released “Huda F Cares,” Fahmy uses humor to break stereotypes and tell stories about nuanced hijabi characters, such as someone who likes to wear her hijab and not struggling with the desire to wear it, or one who is part of a large Muslim community.

Fahmy has always loved comics, but in 2016 she was drawn to pursue cartooning as a career, forced to fight Islamophobic narratives from politicians like Donald Trump who talked about Muslims without talking to Muslims.

Bushra Amiwala, 25, the youngest school board member in the Illinois town of Skokie, said she also noticed the sentiment at the time and how the treatment of Muslim people “would occasionally go based on the political climate.”

It helped her make the decision to wear a hijab more easily, as another step forward on her religious journey and as a way to destigmatize the hijab. “My intention in wearing the hijab was to rewrite the prejudice people had about Muslim women before it was permanently etched in their minds,” she said. “And I thought the best way to do that is when our thoughts and beliefs are malleable: in high school.”

Her plan worked. When Amiwala entered high school while wearing her hijab, she answered many questions from her classmates, such as whether she still washes her hair, which she does. As a member of the school board, she also supported legislation addressing the lack of education about Islam and other religions in Illinois public schools.

“I am so grateful to live in an area where I have the choice. That empowers me to another level,” she said. “I can freely choose to cover my head, and that’s a choice I make that I can see through.”

Iman Zawahry made the choice to start wearing a hijab during her sophomore year in an effort to dispel stereotypes. When she meets people for the first time, she sometimes says they are surprised by her personality: boisterous and funny, with no foreign accent.

She hopes that her work as a filmmaker can also bring more Muslim stories – not about terrorism or the over-sexualization of women – to the forefront. One of the films she directed, “Americanish” (2021), is the first American Muslim romantic comedy film made by an American Muslim woman, and has been acquired by Sony Pictures International Productions.

“It’s just a rom-com, but it’s a rom-com with three brown Pakistani Muslim women, and they’re leading the movie. It’s not a crazy idea, but it’s something we haven’t seen yet,” Zawahry said. “These are the stories I came into contact with growing up, and I just wanted to see it through my eyes.”

Whether it’s wearing a hijab on set or making sure hijabi are displayed on screen, Zawahry is passionate about activism and promoting the visibility of American Muslims. “This is what I want the film to do: create awareness and change and push people to become better members of the community,” she said.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.