McHenry County College held their “Wear a Hijab for a day” event on March 17, 2016. The following day, they held a panel discussion “The Many Faces of the Hijab: Learn About the Hijab, its Meaning and Cultural Context.” The panel consisted of five people including CAIR-Chicago’s Operations Coordinator Fatima Ahmed and MCC’s head of the Political Science department Dr. Todd Culp.
The panel discussed a wide range of topics including, the meaning of the hijab, cultural context, political context, why women choose to wear it and what the hijab means to women. At the end of the panel discussion, some audience members who participated in “wear hijab for a day” shared their experiences and how they felt.
For Ahmed, the hijab is personal and says that it means something different for everyone. She continued, “hijab means modesty and this applies to both men and women. It’s something I do because God asks me to, but it also helps me remember who I am, how to treat others, and to control my emotions.” She pointed out that when people react negatively to her wearing a hijab, it is important not to get riled up, but rather, ignore the sentiments or give a smile. “It changes the way people view Muslims in general. Everyone assumes one person is a reflection of the population as a whole. People get angry and upset when met with negativity, but for me, as a woman and a Muslim, by responding to it kindly or not at all, not only are my morals and values taking over, I’m also representing my religion.”
The panel discussed politics and media portrayals of women in Saudi Arabia and how mainstream media uses this as a means to generalize Islam and Muslims. Ahmed said that “there is a difference between political rules and religious rules” noting that many of the issues seen in Saudi Arabia are politically motivated and religiously incorrect. She continued, “women have the same rights as men.”
At the end of the discussion, audience members shared there experiences wearing the hijab. Ahmed recounted two stories. “One of the women told us that she felt safer having it on. She said, “I had it on and I felt calm, safe, and protected and it really made me see things in a different way.” She continued, “another woman who worked at the same place for 12 years mentioned that she considered her coworkers her friends and was saddened to tell us that when she went to the office wearing a hijab, those coworkers went from being friendly to giving her the cold shoulder.”
On their Facebook page, MCC said of the event, “Today’s discussion was intended to raise awareness surrounding women who wear the hijab, as well as discuss why some women choose not to wear it.”