Chicago Tribune: Wheaton College student urges hijabs be worn on holiday flights, backs professor

The student who inspired a Wheaton College professor to don a hijab in solidarity with Muslims has gotten about a dozen students to wear the traditional Muslim headscarf on their flights home for Christmas.

Karly Bothman, 20, of Eugene, Ore., said the lessons she learned this fall from Larycia Hawkins, the political science professor suspended this week for saying Muslims and Christians have the same God, have inspired her to fight for the rights of those who are oppressed, including refugees and her Muslim neighbors.

The movement is not necessarily an attempt to show solidarity with Hawkins, Bothman said, but to bolster the original purpose of the professor’s symbolic gesture.

“There are a few of us just trying of carry our what Dr. Hawkins started and what her intent in doing this was,” Bothman said. “It’s trying to refocus what she was trying to carry out in the pursuit of justice for our Muslim neighbors.”

On Dec. 10, Hawkins, a tenured political science professor, announced on Facebook she would don the hijab to show support for Muslims who have been under scrutiny since mass shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.

“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Though the college did not take a position on her wearing the hijab, some evangelical Christians said her statement should have spelled out what makes Christianity distinct from Islam. Not doing so put her in conflict with the statement of faith that all Wheaton faculty must sign and live out, they said.

Hawkins, 43, said she affirms the college’s statement of faith and was simply reiterating that there is common ground among the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths, which many theologians have said for centuries.

The suspension, effective immediately and expected to last through the spring semester, sparked protests on the campus from students, calling for Hawkins’ reinstatement and an apology from the college.

Hawkins decided to wear the hijab after Bothman asked for advice last week on how to encourage other college women to respectfully wear hijabs on their flights home for the holiday.

“I didn’t want there to be students who didn’t represent our vision of solidarity,” Bothman said. “If we were going to wear hijabs I wanted to make sure it was in a humble, modest way to really demonstrate solidarity rather than a flashy, edgy, prideful way. I wanted participants to have this act line up with walking humbly and doing this out of love for the neighbors and Muslim Americans.”

Hawkins modeled how it should be done, Bothman said.

“It’s such a good example to see in her,” Bothman said. “Her life lines up with the actions that she’s doing.”

Bothman and other women flying home for the holidays will wear the headscarf all day, in the airports and on the airplane. She said airports seemed like the appropriate venue because of the increased vulnerability Muslims feel when they travel.

“There will definitely be aspects that will be uncomfortable for us,” she said. “We’re trying to stand against Islamophobia and seek justice in that regard, so I think that airports are a place where that is maybe more visible.”

Hawkins also has planned to wear her hijab on a flight home to Oklahoma, where voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved a ban on Shariah, or Islamic law. A court later ruled it unconstitutional.

Prior to her decision, Hawkins sought the advice of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations to ensure she wouldn’t offend Muslims.

“It is an act of human solidarity meant to be rooted in the Christian ideal of compassion — to stand with American Muslims who are the victims of this current backlash of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry,” said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR’s Chicago chapter. “We are grateful to Karly and her classmates for standing in solidarity with Muslims and admire the courage and compassion that act takes in the current climate.”

Bothman said when she sees her family for the first time in more than a month, her long brown hair will be covered with a brown or light blue scarf.

“My parents know I’m going to have one on when I get off so they won’t be surprised,” she said. “They’re really proud.”