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Hijabi

Hijabi

“If you Google ‘Muslim woman,’ there is a pretty distinct image that comes up,” said Rana Abdelhamid, a 22-year-old student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

“It’s of a woman that’s wearing a niqab that’s completely black, which is very uniform and not representative of the diversity and heterogeneity of Muslim women,” she said, referring to the veil that entirely covers the woman’s face. This veil is popular in some predominantly Arab countries such as Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Seeing a lack in media representation for Muslim women and the prevalent misconceptions of women who wear hijabs, Abdelhamid created the Facebook page “Hijabis of New York” to highlight the stories of hijabis, in a style similar to the popular Facebook page, “Humans of New York”.

 

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THE MOVEMENT

Abdelhamid started “Hijabis of New York” to humanize Muslim women, who are particularly susceptible to hate crime.

“There is research that shows that 80 percent of hate crimes that happen against Muslims, happen against Muslim women,” Abdelhamid said. “Hijabi women are a subset of Muslim women who may be more vulnerable to attack because of the visibility of their faith identity.”

While Abdelhamid acknowledges that this project cannot completely solve the problem, she hopes to make a difference. Through “Hijabis of New York”, she has learned about the diversity of experience among Muslim women, and found that some of the violence hijabis experience  comes from within the community. In her trips to Spain and the U.K., Abdelhamid found similar narratives.

“I went into this thinking that this would be a platform to raise awareness for other people, for non-Muslims, and for men and non-veiled people who maybe might better understand the experiences of veiled women,” Abdelhamid said. “But what ended up happening was a lot of the engagement that we had was from Muslim veiled women themselves.”

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Abdelhamid, a hijabi herself, wears it for religious purposes but also as a form of self-expression.

“If I’m feeling edgy, I wear a turban,” Abdelhamid said.

Getting her style inspiration through social media, Abdelhamid said she feels empowered by the newly thriving hijabi fashion industry, which has elevated the number of outlets about Muslim fashion.

BEAUTY & FASHION

“I definitely had my awkward hijabi days,” said Mariam Sleiman, a 24-year-old who works in publishing.

The Lebanese American sees finding the perfect hijab style like finding the perfect haircut.

“Eventually things clicked and it was just a matter of constantly experimenting with how to wear the hijab.”

For Bushra Rashid, a University of Florida sociology senior and health disparities minor, experimenting meant watching YouTube videos to try to see what works for her face shape.

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“When I first started out, I did what the basic hijab style is,” Rashid said, which involves using a square that is folded in half and pinned by the neck.

“But my face is really round,” Rashid said, “so I looked like a big tomato. That was not OK.”

Coming to college allowed her to experiment in a way she couldn’t in the more conservative community she grew up in.

“I don’t want to say it’s an accessory, because that’s diminishing its value, but there are a good amount of scarves in my drawer.”

Rashid has about 40 scarves in her drawer, and she can wear them with anything in her closet. Among Muslims and non-Muslims, there is a lot of judgement on what the perfect way to wear a hijab is.

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“Everyone’s allowed to wear what they want to wear. It’s their freedom to do it,” Rashid said. “You want to show people that wearing hijab isn’t restrictive, and that you are happy wearing the hijab.”

FAITH & FEAR

However for Rashid, wearing her hijab is more than just an accessory.

“It’s so that I can realize my own devotion to God,” she said. “It’s not just to show others that I’m a follower of Islam.”

Rashid starting wearing the hijab after her parents got divorced, a major change in her life. Many of her relatives did not approve of her wearing the hijab, out of fear that she would be subject to Islamophobia and discrimination. She first made the decision to wear the hijab in middle school, but stopped after about a month due to physical bullying.

“There was so much Islamophobia, even then,” Rashid said.

She started permanently wearing the hijab on the first day of 10th grade. Learning how to keep the hijab in place and finding a style that was flattering for her face was a struggle because Rashid did not have many people to ask how to wear it.

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But for Malaysian American Wan Ainal Yaqin, 36, learning to wear a hijab was not as difficult.

“Everything in your life, if you do it with your heart, you can feel like it’s easy for you,” she said.

Yaquin started wearing the hijab at 13 years old. By that time she was used to wearing hijab for prayer and had seen many women put it on, which she said made it easier for her.

“It’s your responsibility to yourself, responsibility to your religion, responsibility to your parents,” Yaquin said.

For Sleiman, wearing a hijab is a careful balance between displaying one’s faith and maintaining its sanctity.

Sleiman said she is offended by those who appropriate the hijab, because the hijab is a religious and political symbol and wearing it as a non-Muslim devalues it.

“Completely divorcing it of its religious meaning would be an injustice,” Sleiman said.

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POLITICS

Growing up, Sleiman did not see her culture as at odds with society, but she now sees the hijab as a loaded religious and political symbol.

“I was sort of really able to find a way to mix the best of both to engage really thoughtfully with both sides of my culture, whether it was being American or being Muslim and Arab,” Sleiman said.

But for Tesneem Shraiteh, a 22-year-old fourth-year linguistics major at UF, the hijab’s political symbol has often lead to unpleasant and unsolicited questioning.

As a Palestinian American, in Walmart, people will come up to Shraiteh to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others will ask where she is from, even though she has lived in the U.S. her entire life.

“The fact that I’m wearing hijab doesn’t mean that I’m just an open book for you to learn from,” she said.

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Photos: Ashley Williams

Stylist: Keven Huynh

Clothing: Henry Girl Boutique, The Tease

Models: Fizza Imran and Bushra Habiba Rashid

This article originally ran in our 10th issue