On World Hijab Day: Fears Haunt Muslim Women

DALLAS – As Muslim and non-Muslim women around the world unite on Feb. 1 to celebrate World Hijab Day, some Muslim women say that, with the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris still fresh in the world’s collective memory, they are currently living with the same fear World Hijab Day founder Nazma Khan experienced following the 9-11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

Facing harassment and intimidation after the tragic event that took the lives of more than 3,000 people, Khan, who wears hijab, was inspired to create World Hijab Day, with the first celebration happening on February 1, 2013.

To mark the day, non-hijabi Muslim women and non-Muslim women alike are encouraged to wear hijab for a day to personally experience what covered women go through and how they are treated in society.

Despite the event, Sarah Tompkins said she will not be sporting a hijab on February 1.

Although she does not wear hijab regularly, she routinely dons it before and after her trips to the mosque for Friday prayer. However, her experience wearing it after the Paris attacks as opposed to before has been starkly different, and not in a good way.

“I live in rural Arkansas, and I do get worried about crazy people out here,” she told AboutIslam.net.

“The stares make me very uncomfortable. Before, I used to wear it a lot during Ramadan and most people didn’t bat an eye or look at me funny. But just last week I went to Starbucks (in hijab) and everyone stared. A little girl gave me the dirtiest look, and the barista didn’t smile or act pleasantly toward me.

“InshAllah I plan to wear hijab in the future, hopefully when I’m somewhere more with more open-minded people.”

Oklahoma resident Madiha El Makouli, who does wear hijab every day, has similar worries, especially as she often travels through Paris on her way to visit family overseas. Because of safety concerns, she said she is likely to change her route in the future.

“I won’t go through France, not anymore,” she said.

Such worries remind El Makouli of how she felt after 9-11.

“I was very scared then,” she said. “We had some problems with threats against the mosque, and I chose to avoid it for a while. We had vandalism and one girl had her hijab pulled off.”

Despite the challenges, El Makouli has not abandoned her hijab and said she hopes non-Muslim women will take part in wearing hijab in recognition of World Hijab Day.

“Having it on would help them to see what it feels like and maybe it would create change,” she said.


Davis said she hopes she serves as an example to non-Muslim women, praying for more will follow her lead.

Angela Davis and Tina Nichols, both non-Muslims, are playing their parts in World Hijab Day by wearing the head covering in solidarity with veiled Muslim women.

Nichols, who lives in a small California town, doesn’t anticipate any problems.

“Because I live in such a small area and there are no mosques or many visible Muslims I don’t expect to get as much of a reaction as I probably would in some of the larger cities,” she told AboutIslam.net.

“I think the larger cities have more exposure to the negative media images and it puts those citizens at a higher level of fear. Maybe (people in big cities) feel they are more at risk of some sort of attack than we would be here in my area.

“I’m just praying to get a few smiles from people, and I will be very grateful for that reaction,” she added.

However, her bravery may even pave the way for Muslim ladies who are hesitant about wearing hijab but who have not yet made the leap. Mandy Kirkwood is one such Muslim.

Following her reversion to Islam in 2011, Kirkwood knew putting on hijab would be difficult considering her family’s vehement hatred toward Islam and Muslims.

As a result, she converted in secret and has chosen not to wear hijab – for now. Furthermore, she said the Paris attack has made her hesitation for putting on hijab even stronger.

“After Paris, wearing a hijab presents opportunities to have dialogue and to open a conversation to convey the true reasons why you’re wearing it, but, on the negative side, you have those people out there who are uneducated and closed-minded,” she said.

“To see people who were so quick to react negatively (following the Paris attacks) makes me still be cautious and makes me nervous of putting myself out there. To wear a scarf on my head would make me a target to them if they’re looking for trouble.

“Right now, if people are prejudiced and want to come up to me with rude comments I don’t think I would be ready to defend myself,” she added.

For those women like Davis who are brave enough to proudly wear hijab in celebration of World Hijab Day, Kirkwood said she is inspired that one day she will be able to summon her own courage by becoming a full-time hijabi.

“When I see people wearing it, it makes me think more about it,” she said. “It’s definitely something I want to do in the future.”