Wearing the hijab: Minnesota Muslim women share their experiences
By Lori Saroya
The first person I told about my decision to start wearing the hijab, the Islamic religious headscarf, was a Lutheran. She was my best friend since middle school and the slightest hesitation, discouragement, or worry from her would have made me reconsider. She paused, clearly caught off guard by my announcement. “Do they make Mickey Mouse headscarves?” she joked. Then she told me: “Whatever you want to do, I will support it.”
Growing up in a small town in southern Iowa, diversity consisted of my Muslim family and the local Amish community. The Amish women covered their hair, despite the stares and negative comments they were subjected to by others. I admired their grace and composure. I envied their strong faith and confidence.
As my religious study and practice increased, I knew that the hijab was a part of my Muslim faith. I respected Mary, mother of Jesus, and the piety and strength that she embodied. I wanted to emulate her. The decision to start wearing the hijab felt right to me, yet I struggled with it. As much as I tried to justify reasons for not wearing it, I realized my real fear: how others would perceive me.
“Someone who looks like me walks past you in the street. Do you think they’re a mother, a refugee or a victim of oppression? Or do you think they’re a cardiologist, a barrister or maybe your local politician? Do you look me up and down, wondering how hot I must get or if my husband has forced me to wear this outfit? What if I wore my scarf like this? I can walk down the street in the exact same outfit and what the world expects of me and the way I’m treated depends on the arrangement of this piece of cloth. But this isn’t going to be another monologue about the hijab because Lord knows, Muslim women are so much more than the piece of cloth they choose, or not, to wrap their head in. This is about looking beyond your bias.”
While other countries are banning the hijab and dictating women’s dress, our Supreme Court just voted 8-1 to defend religious freedom. The recent landmark decision in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. increases protections against religious bias in employment. It reaffirms our nation’s values and upholds a Muslim woman’s right to wear the hijab in the workplace.
Other recent headlines highlight wins for the hijab and feature trailblazers. AMuslim lawyer in New York refused to choose between her career and hijab. Girls in Minneapolis worked with the university to design their own hijab-friendly basketball uniforms. The St. Paul Police Department hired its firstMuslim woman police officer — and created a hijab to go with her uniform. There’s even a hijabi contestant on America’s Masterchef for the first time.
I know there will come a day when Americans will see beyond the stereotypes. The hijab — as well as the yarmulke, turban, kufi and other religious headwear — will become a part of America’s diverse culture. The hijabi trailblazers are going to make that happen.
Lori Saroya is a civil rights activist, nonprofit leader, writer and mother. She has received several awards and recognitions for her community work including a Congressional Tribute, the Governor’s Distinguished Service Award, and the Ten Outstanding Young Minnesotans. She is writing her first memoir, a reflective piece on her identity as an American Muslim woman and the civil rights challenges facing her community.