A few weeks ago, the Muslim Student Association here at St. Kate’s hosted a Muslim awareness week that included a challenge for those of different faiths to wear what is known as the hijab for a weekend.
Various students of various backgrounds and faiths came together to learn not only how to wear the hijab, but its purpose as well. Of these various students, I was able to interview Katies: Maita Lee ’16 and Hillary Lor ’17.
Both students were similar in their reasoning behind deciding to participate in the challenge.
“It just seemed interesting I guess; I’m all up for challenges and trying new things and seeing things from different perspectives, so when I heard that this was going on I thought, why not, you know?” said Lee.
“I decided to do it this year, you know to challenge myself,” said Lor.
Although both participated in the challenge, their experiences were different depending on what they had going on in their personal and academic lives during the time of the challenge.
“On Monday when I did come to school I worked at the VAB [Visual Arts Building] as I said, some people who were visiting the galleries did stare a little bit longer and one of the little girls actually asked ‘why are you wearing that?’,” said Lee.
“My friends and I we went to an Asian store along University [Avenue]… when I went in there… I was getting a lot of looks from…the elders… they were just looking at me like you know, you’re Asian so why are you wearing a hijab, because most people think you have to be Somali or from the middle east to like, be wearing that,” said Lor.
Though this experience was something brand new to these Katies, both felt that their experience was a positive one and one where they learned not only about themselves but about a new perspective as well.
“I did get some positive remarks, you know in University [Ave.] like it’s pretty diverse there’s a lot of Somali people there too, and when they saw me even though they like didn’t talk to me verbally you know they acknowledged [me]…they smiled at me,” said Lor.
“Personally, it felt different…you’re more aware that that you’re wearing it and I’m not sure if it’s just because I’ve never worn it or because it just stands out a lot more so I’m very conscious of my presence in any room and constantly thinking if someone else is like looking at me or what they’re thinking about me,” said Lee.
Going into this challenge, Lee and Lor perceived the hijab as something that was oppressive for those wearing it; what they learned from this experience was the exact opposite.
“I am guilty of being one of the people that thought oh, they wear the hijab because they’re oppressed and they don’t have any rights…but then I realized oh it’s because they choose to wear it…and it’s not oppressive or anything, it’s actually empowering to wear it,” said Lee.
“We think that it’s you know a punishment, its oppressive but you know through this experience I learned that it’s actually very empowering,” said Lor.
Not only was the wearing of the hijab a learning experience in and of itself, but the group discussion afterwards was also helpful to those who had participated in the challenge.
“It was more the discussion we had afterwards that kind of helped build on the experience, but during definitely kind of gave me a different perspective on how they felt, physically while wearing it,” said Lee. “Just seeing the perspectives of the students at St. Kate’s saying that they enjoy wearing it or it’s something that’s part of them versus being put on them.”
In the end, both Lee and Lor’s experience changed their view on a sometimes misunderstood cultural and religious practice and they agreed that others should try this challenge as well.
“I really think everyone should go do this hijab experience….go outside of your comfort zone; I’m really glad I went out of mine,” said Lor.
It’s not always easy to experience something new, but for these Katies, this experience changed their thoughts on the hijab and, in the process, taught them that sometimes the best way to learn something new is to take on life from a new perspective.