World Hijab Day both unites and divides

As many of you may have heard, “World Hijab Day” (WHD) took place on Feb. 1.

WHD is a movement that began in 2013 by Nazma Khan. According to the project’s website, the mission of WHD is to “create a more peaceful world where global citizens respect each other.” Khan began this project after years of being physically and verbally harassed for wearing the hijab, and wanted to “introduce her pain to others in hopes that no one will ever have to go through the same emotional trauma simply because of the love they have for their faith.”

Khan’s experiences are commonplace. The rise of hate crimes and attacks on Muslim women who wear the hijab have drastically risen after 9/11 and more so currently, due to the President-elect and his administration’s rhetoric and actions taken against Muslims.

The media also has a strong influence as to how Muslim women are viewed by the larger and majority of the public. The most infamous narrative about Muslim women is that they are oppressed, and forced to cover their heads.

This narrative sprang along with the rise of modern day “feminism.” Many feminists believed Muslim women needed to be rescued from the oppressive regimes of Islam during the “War on Terror” the Bush administration enacted. Laila Alawa states that there isn’t one way to be free, and that the stories of all Muslim women aren’t the same in her piece for the Huffington Post, “I am not Oppressed.” Alawa also states that the women who wanted to save Muslim women from wearing the hijab were acting on their own stereotypes based off of colonialism and orientalism.

To Muslim women in this country who wear hijab, it stands for Muslim female empowerment. The media is now realizing and capitalizing off of this. WHD is getting attention because the media is recognizing that Muslim women can be feminists. In a time of such political discourse, it seems that the media is finally choosing to shed light on a topic that needs to be talked about and understood by the public.

However, there are many criticisms of WHD.

Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa explain the importance of not using the hijab as a way to stand with Muslim women in their piece for the Washington Post, “As Muslim women, we actually ask you to not wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity.” They state that this “modern-day movement spreads an ideology of political Islam.” They argue that WHD promotes the idea that all Muslim women choose to cover their heads and disregards those who are forced to do so.

The media has taken to representing the bits and pieces of WHD that promote positivity and acceptance, despite the movement’s criticisms. There have been pictures of non-Muslim women covering their heads on Time, USA Today and state news sources.

The issue that arises is why the struggles of Muslim women have to be invalidated through the perpetuation of non-Muslim women’s experiences on covering their heads for one day. WHD is a prime example of just how biased the media is when it comes to displaying unity but not recognizing how terrifying society is for Muslim women who wear the hijab on a daily basis and who have been bullied and harassed because of it. Just watch “Women wear Hijabs for a Day,” a Buzzfeed video that has over 7 million views, to see the type of coverage and acceptance non-Muslim women get for doing something out of their comfort zone, when actual Muslim women are looked down upon.

It’s clear that Khan began WHD to allow women to literally walk in the shoes of Muslim hijabis. The questions that need to be asked are about how the media is portraying this movement, why the public values non-Muslim women’s experiences more than actual Muslim women’s life experiences and what steps need to be taken to promote a more empathetic and respectful society.