01 February 2013

World Hijab Day 2013

Today, February 1st, was World Hijab Day. You may be asking "What the heck is World Hijab Day?". Let me tell you about it. The idea behind WHD is to invite non-Muslim women and Muslim women who don't normally wear the hijab to "step in to the shoes of a hijabi for one day". Why? The intent is to foster understanding and awareness of what the hijab is about, the reasons women choose to wear it, and the fact that women do CHOOSE to wear it, that a hijab is not automatically an indication that a woman is being oppressed, that the negative stereotypes that people so often associate with both Islam in general and with the hijab in particular are not accurate blanket statements. Directly from WHD's Facebook page, the mission is described as "Better understanding. Greater Awareness. Peaceful world.". I love that. If there's something we need more of in the world today, it's understanding, awareness, and peace.

I was already starting to think that this was a cool idea, and then I started reading the stories on World Hijab Day's website. One story in particular stood out to me: Ela's story.
My name is Ela. I am seventeen years old. I am not Muslim, but my friend told me about her friend being discriminated against for wearing a hijab. So I decided to see the discrimination firsthand to get a better understanding of what Muslim women go through.  
My friend and I pinned scarves around our heads, and then we went to the mall. Normally, vendors try to get us to buy things and ask us to sample a snack. Clerks usually ask us if we need help, tell us about sales, and smile at us. Not today. People, including vendors, clerks, and other shoppers, wouldn't look at us. They didn't talk to us. They acted like we didn’t exist. They didn't want to be caught staring at us, so they didn't look at all.  
And then, in one store, a girl (who looked about four years old) asked her mom if my friend and I were terrorists. She wasn't trying to be mean or anything. I don’t even think she could have grasped the idea of prejudice. However, her mother’s response is one I can never forgive or forget. The mother hushed her child, glared at me, and then took her daughter by the hand and led her out of the store.  
All that because I put a scarf on my head. Just like that, a mother taught her little girl that being Muslim was evil. It didn't matter that I was a nice person. All that mattered was that I looked different. That little girl may grow up and teach her children the same thing.  
This experiment gave me a huge wake-up call. It lasted for only a few hours, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much prejudice Muslim girls go through every day. It reminded me of something that many people know but rarely remember: the women in hijabs are people, just like all those women out there who aren't Muslim." 
[Source: http://imperfectwriting.tumblr.com/post/33933007179/i-went-to-the-mall-and-a-little-girl-called-me-a]

I'm pretty sure I sat here staring at the screen with my mouth gaping open in shock. That sealed it. I'm not a Muslim and I've never worn a hijab before but I wanted to participate in World Hijab Day to stand in solidarity and unity with my sisters around the world who choose to wear the hijab despite knowing that they may face this type of negative stereotype and nasty assumptions every day. I wanted to participate to support their right to choose to wear the hijab without potentially facing legal issues, discrimination, and hatred.

I got involved in discussions on the Facebook page and ended up with Catrin Nye of the BBC Asian Network asking if she could ask me some questions by email and use the answers for an article she was writing about World Hijab Day. Little did I know that I would end up being quoted more than just one sentence. I felt like such a celebrity. :D

One of her colleagues, Bill Mostyn, ended up coordinating with me to be a guest on the BBC Asian Network's radio talk show, Nihal, via telephone. It was a really cool experience (even if it was really early in the morning here on the West Coast of the USA. You can listen to the WHD segment of the show at this link, which is valid through February 8. You'll have to skip ahead to 2 hours 38 minutes to get to us.

The day was off to a really good start. It was such a cool experience to be on the phone, conversing with Nihal and the other two guests on the show - Fatima and Jess - about World Hijab Day, our views on it, our reasons for participating, and our experiences with it (well, I should really say *their* experiences, I hadn't had any experiences yet. Did I mention that it was early in the morning?). It felt very... oh heck, I don't even know what the right word would be. It almost felt solemn. I don't really know how to describe it better than that.

As the day went on, my experiences with other people were positive (with the exception of my small children being absolute TERRORS at Target, but I'll get to that in a minute). I was kind of wondering, when we drove on post to drop my husband off at work, whether there would be any reactions from the gate guards, but there weren't. In fact, I didn't really get any reactions from adults. They were all as helpful as always (people tend to see me wrangling 3 really small children by myself and ask if I need help, it restores my faith in humanity).

The frustration I experienced came in the form of my kids. Oh. My. Oh my. I'm practically twitching just thinking about it. The girls will be 4 and 2 in April and Aaron is 4 months old. They're always a handful but today... I was just about ready to unwrap my scarf and use it to tie the girls up like mummies. *disclaimer: I would never actually tie my children up.* I can't remember the last time they were that badly behaved in public. There I was sweating buckets in my sweater and hijab and trying to keep my hijab not only from falling off but also keep it from slipping out of place since it needed to cover every bit of my hair and my neck, and my kids decided that this was the day to behave like little hooligans.

Yumyum (the almost 2 year old) started things off by disappearing on me while I was changing Lizzie's diaper. This particular Target doesn't have a family restroom, just a men's room and a women's room. I had Aaron in the car seat at my feet and Yumyum was situated by my side. I kept an eye on her best I could while changing a poopie blow-out diaper but all of a sudden, she was just gone. I was trying to find her without leaving the other kids unattended when a lady coming in the restroom said "Are you looking for a little blonde girl? I think she went in the men's room." (the two restrooms are right across from each other and the doors propped open). I asked the security guard to please look for her and sure enough, he toted her out. Sigh. At this point, I wasn't so much considering using my hijab as a mummifying agent as I was tying it around her waist and using it as a leash, but I managed to get Lizzie's diaper changed without losing my hijab. It only took about 30 minutes (and that's not an exaggeration).

Then I had to go do my little bit of shopping. Lizzie's blow-out diaper had rendered her pants unfit for wearing so I had to go buy, among other things, something to put her in. Don't think I didn't get an internal laugh out of the irony of walking through Target wearing a hijab and appropriately modest clothing (long sleeves, no neck showing, long pants, etc.), with my daughter waddling (like a penguin) along in a shirt, pull-up diaper, little orange dress-up tutu, socks, shoes, and NO PANTS! Of course she kept running off, and Aaron was exercising his lungs quite enthusiastically.

I made my shopping as fast as possible. I didn't need many things, thank goodness. Lizzie kept trying to run off and Yumyum kept trying to climb out of the buggy, almost taking a header onto the floor at one point. Have I mentioned that they keep me on my toes? I then went back in the restroom again because by now, Yumyum and Aaron both needed diaper changes, and Lizzie needed to put on her new pants. This was a repeat of the earlier bathroom adventure, except that this time, there were TWO children running around and not listening to me. At one point, I had to grab Aaron off the changing table with no diaper on (praying the whole time that he wouldn't pee on me or on anyone else) so I could chase Yumyum as she made a break for the men's room AGAIN. I actually had to go a little ways in to grab her. Once again, don't think the irony escaped me., especially since there was a man IN THE RESTROOM (I only heard him, I kept my eyes towards the door).

The girls also insisted on trying to go underneath stall doors to help other people who were using the restroom, tried to empty rolls of toilet paper, looked under stall doors waving and saying "Hi!", and all sorts of other nonsense. The last straw for me was when I was getting them loaded in to a buggy to go back out to the car and Yumyum ran off out the doors of Target. That was when I literally almost burst in to tears in the middle of the store. I did finally get the kids out to the car without further incident, thank goodness, and then we went and picked up my husband and then went home.

Anyways, now that the comedic portion of the post is over (yes, it's okay, you can laugh, I am), let's get back to talking about the serious part of World Hijab Day.

I filled out the form saying I would be participating and giving some basic information such as name, age, religion, goals, etc., to allow the organizers to better track participation in WHD. They made some lovely graphics with some of the goals that were submitted. Here's mine:

I am happy to say that I did achieve my goal. In a way, I achieved it and then some, because I got to tell everyone who listened to Nihal about my reasons for participating, but I'm especially happy about one specific personal interaction I had. When I was standing in the check-out line at Target, there was a lady behind me with a little girl, I'd guess about 3 or 4 years old. The lady saw me trying to keep my gaggle corralled and out of harm's way and commented that I have my hands full. We laughed and talked about the spacing of our kids, and then it happened. Her little girl asked "Can I see your hair?". I just smiled and her Mom said "No honey, she's wearing a scarf. Sometimes women in other religions choose to wear a scarf to cover their hair.". I was thrilled with her simple description, and that led in to a conversation about World Hijab Day and why I was wearing mine.

All in all, World Hijab Day was a great experience, and definitely something I hope to see continue each year. Not only did it inspire hope in me that maybe we humans can work together for good, it really drove home the old adage that you can't judge a book by it's cover. It's time to stop assuming that women only wear the hijab because they have to, or that anyone who looks Middle Eastern is someone to be suspicious of, or any of the other nasty assumptions that we perpetuate surrounding Islam. No, not all Muslims are good people (just as not all Christians are good people), but I think that has more to do with their personal character than it has to do with their religion.

One of the neat things that came out of today, aside from gaining a greater understanding of why some Muslim women choose to wear the hijab, was that I made a new friend. Jess Rhodes was one of the other participants on Nihal. When she heard about World Hijab Day, she decided that 1 day wasn't long enough to experience what it's like to be a hijabi, so she decided to give it a try for a month. Her studying and reading led her to decide to become a Muslim. She's taken some heat for being a "hijabi tourist", among other nasty things, to include a particularly hateful anti-Islam Facebook page putting her on full blast. But you know what? She's handling it, and she's moving forward. After listening to her on Nihal, I pm'ed her and we ended up having a really great conversation, and I feel like I've gained a new friend.

To me, this highlights one of the lessons to be learned from World Hijab Day. Our differences and our religions don't have to define our friendships. Just because someone is a different religion, or practices their religion differently than you do, or looks different, that doesn't mean you can't be friends, it doesn't mean that you can't dialogue, and it certainly doesn't mean you can't work together to try to accomplish good things and make the world a better place.

Here are some of the other graphics that WHD made with goals from other women (several are women I'm proud to call my friends).

The last numbers I heard were that there were more than 500 women who had committed to participating, from literally all over the world. The flyer about WHD was translated in to 20 different languages. Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Christians of a wide variety of denominations, Rastafarian, Muslim, so many different women from such a broad spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds, all took part in this event. And this was organized almost completely over social media. If we would just stop arguing over our differences and start working together on our common goals more often, we (humanity) would be better off.

I participated in World Hijab Day to support women like Jess who want to be free to choose to wear the hijab. Jess and her Muslim sisters should not have to go through life worried about whether they'll have someone throw acid in their faces, shout nasty epithets at them, throw rocks at them, beat them up, try to rip their hijabs off, or any other form of abuse just because they choose to express their faith through wearing the hijab. Many times, I hear people say that they oppose women wearing the hijab because it's a sign of oppression. The irony in this is that by trying to give them the ability to choose not to wear the hijab if they don't want to, you take away their right to choose to wear the hijab if that is what they wish. In America, I am free to praise God in the manner I see fit, to include wearing whatever religious clothing/symbols I wish to. Jess and her Muslim sisters around the world should have the same freedom, and not only the freedom to do so, but the freedom to do so without worrying about repercussions due to peoples ignorance.

Usually I blog about Postpartum Depression, other Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders, and mental health in general. I blog about it because I want to fight the stigmas, myths, and stereotypes that I've encountered through my experiences with and after PPD, PPOCD, and PPA. Today, I blog about World Hijab Day to try to help others in a different struggle against a different stereotype and stigma.

All World Hijab Day graphics are from the World Hijab Day Facebook page and are neither my creation nor my property, with the exception of the photograph (at the beginning of the post) of me wearing my hijab.


  1. This was very cool. Very interesting, that people's reactions weren't negative. Funny that your kids didn't like a different mama. n

  2. Amazing!!! Thank you so much for this, you're a true friend and I'm proud to call you my friend.

  3. Wow.
    Whoever you are, you have a good heart.

  4. I am a muslim... and what you have written is absolutely amazing... knowing that people support us and understand us gives us strenght and confidence.. Thank You for the lovely and kind words... You are a very good person.

  5. Peace Be Upon You or in Arab "Assalamualaikum",
    I'm a Muslim brother from South-East Asia, well, a non Arab country called Malaysia. This is beautiful, proud to read your experience. I've told a Fb friend mine of in Washington on the eve of 1st Feb, she decided to wear hijab on the instant, she's been very supportive to me, and she's a Catholic. Bless you all for showing the community if it's not the whole world, that, we Muslim men do not oppressed our women to wear hijab, but it is a religious demand with highest rewards for those who fulfill it.