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#WorldHijabDay Sarah’s experience
“I could listen all day to the women’s stories of why they individually chose to wear hijab and how it embraces and strengthens their relationship to their God”
Sarah Michelle Miller from Knoxville, Tennessee talks about her experience of wearing the hijab on World Hijab Day.
I moved from Wisconsin to Tennessee in 2011 so that I could be closer to family. Little did I know that my country’s ideals would be shaken to the core at the 2016 election. I believed in America. I believed that we were moving forward into the beautiful, accepting mixing pot that we should be. Countries idolize us for that and I felt strong for being a part of the movement towards these ideals. I was ignorant. I knew Trump was running for President but I had no idea that he would ever even have a chance. He did and he won. And now I struggle with the feeling of helplessness as he signs one thing after another that are the exact opposite of my ideals.
On February 1st, 2017, World Hijab Day, I wore hijab for a day. It is important to note that I would have done this any other year, if I had known about it. I just realized it was an event at the time that the Muslim community needs the most support. The night before I researched article after article about women of different cultures reasons for wearing hijab and watched multiple YouTube videos on how to put one on correctly. I actually wasn’t fearful of wearing the hijab in public. I was more fearful that I would wear it wrong. I wanted to ‘represent’ as accurately as possible and make the women in my life that wear hijab daily, proud.
The first part of my day consisted of going to work, then to downtown Knoxville for a Silent Vigil and Walk for Immigrants and Refugees. My co-workers were, for the most part, very respectful with many compliments and understandable curiosity. I filled them in to the best of my ability and encouraged them to join the movement next year. Downtown, at the vigil and walk, I was of course embraced. Many of the women there had seen the pictures that I had posted on the Facebook event pages to show my support so I was embraced and thanked for it. This was also a great learning opportunity for me on the different Muslim religious beliefs, phrases and cultural norms in this community.
Once my work day was coming to a close, I knew I was not really experiencing the day of the life of a women wearing hijab. I had a cushioned experience so far, to say the least, surrounded by people that knew me or the very people that encouraged me to wear it. So I went to a variety of different stores and ran some errands so that I could be in the general public where no one knew me.
Luckily I did not experience any sort of outward hate or discrimination. I know this is a reality that women who wear hijab experience too many times for me to even consider. The major difference I noticed was that barely anyone made eye contact with me, which is usually how I would greet and talk with those around me, this was very isolating. That being said, I don’t know if every person was outwardly trying to ignore, or dare I say scorn me. I had to think back to my personal experiences when out in the community and it may be that they didn’t want me to think they were staring at me. I know I have been caught by the beauty of a woman’s hijab before and, as soon as one would look my way, I looked away because I didn’t want her to think I was staring at her in a negative or judgmental light.
Wearing the hijab was an eye opening experience for me, to say the least. I realized that, though I had no ill intentions, my insecurities on the proper way to interact with a woman wearing one was secluding her. I knew vaguely that many women wore it for modesty so I never thought it was appropriate to compliment them on it, thus drawing attention to them. Now I know better, or at least know more.
Now I know the diversity of hijab and the reasons for wearing it. I know that there is no exact way to wear hijab and that it is as individual as the person that is wearing it. For this reason, it was very empowering. I could listen all day to the women’s stories of why they individually chose to wear hijab and how it embraces and strengthens their relationship to their God. I urge anyone reading this to put yourself out there and take an opportunity to educate yourself on any culture or religion different than yours. Even if you don’t agree with their beliefs or lifestyle, education on others differences is what is going to break stereotypes and prejudice.