Walking down the aisles, littered with chocolates, cards, hearts, and flowers-it is once again that time of the year-Valentine’s Day. For those who have a significant other, it is a day to celebrate the love they have for one another, a day to express one’s inmost feelings.
For Nazma Khan, however, the day she looks forward to in the month of February, is a day not too different from the 14th. On February 1st, along with millions of women from across 50 different countries, Khan celebrated the 2nd annual World Hijab Day. Founded just last year, World Hijab Day is an invitation to women around the globe to wear a hijab for a day in order to promote awareness and religious tolerance.
A hijab is a modest covering worn by women of the Muslim faith, generally to cover their head, neck, and chest. It stems from the Arabic word “hajaba” defined as to hide or conceal. Although many may see it as a mandatory dress code or uniform for Muslim women, it is in fact only one part of the Muslim culture of how a woman is expected to behave, speak, and appear. Interestingly enough, the word “hijab” is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran but is undeniably embedded in its culture as an expression of a woman’s modesty. In recent years, however, this symbol of modesty and morality has been painted in a negative light as one of oppression and subjugation.
Khan, unfortunately, experienced this first-hand. At the age of 11, she moved from Bangladesh to New York and was welcomed with nicknames of “batman” and “ninja”. It didn’t just end at names though, as she recalls an incident in high school where her classmates waited for her outside her class to pull off her hijab. Things went from bad to worse, in university, during the aftermath of 9/11, when the names then graduated to “terrorist” and “Osama bin Laden.”
This did not shake her resolve, but further propelled her to fight against the prejudices she faced and clear up the misconceptions surrounding the iconic Islamic headpiece. This was the logic behind launching World Hijab Day.
Its premise is two-fold: “go straight to the source” and “walk a day in my shoes.” It is a challenge to not just make assumptions by appearances or information relayed second-hand, but to truly educate oneself with a correct understanding as well as to foster a culture of open dialogue. More importantly, it is to provide an opportunity for women to experience a day in the life of a hijabi-wearing woman. The World Hijabi Day’s official website states its purpose as “Better Awareness. Greater Understanding. Peaceful World.”
Responses to World Hijab Day have inevitably been mixed. Some argue that it is a day that could potentially alienate non-hijab wearing Muslim women. Some say that it restricts the Muslim faith to a simple head scarf. However, it has still garnered much support from participants of different ages, nationalities, and religions from around the world who have submitted stories of what it was like wearing the hijab and resolutions of why they wear it.
As everyone is still planning that perfect date or gift for that special someone, Khan has been there and done that. Now an entrepreneur and social activist- she would never have imagined that what started out as a cross that she chose to bear would transform to a crown of love and devotion for the world to see-an expression of her inmost feelings, her faith in her Creator, Allah.