By GRACE PERRY
This past Tuesday in Worner, students, faculty, and staff alike gathered to celebrate Colorado College Hijab Day. This day is dedicated to honoring the Muslim head covering and to spread awareness about its significance, not the distorted view so often perpetuated in our discourse today. Members of the CC community were encouraged to wear a hijab for the afternoon and reflect on their experience. Were they treated differently? Did people stare? At any point did they feel unsafe?
“Now hijab is under attack,” said Mahadia Abu Dalal, the Arabic Cultural Program Coordinator and leading organizer of the event. “They say that hijab is a tool to oppress women around the world, but actually it’s not … I personally consider it an accessory and also an identity; it’s part of my identity.”
When Dalal arrived on campus from Gaza last fall, she experienced fear and insecurity about her hijab for the first time in her life; she was walking in downtown Colorado Springs when a man yelled at her from his car, “Go home you terrorist bitch.” She has been wearing a hijab since she was 10 years old, nearly two decades now, and she had never faced an aggressive or threatening reaction until that moment. She recalls being honestly scared for her life.
“I had [my hijab] off for two months,” Dalal recounted. “I felt like I was missing an organ. It was like missing a hand or a leg or something: something essential, like something that defines you. It made me feel so bad I couldn’t continue with my life anymore. I felt like, ‘What is the point of feeling safe and then not being content deep inside?’ So I felt really bad, and I wanted to feel good again, so I got back with my hijab.”
This traumatic experience solidified Dalal’s belief that education surrounding Islam and its practices is essential—especially in what she calls the “Trumpism era,” characterized by extreme Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes.
“People ask weird questions about hijabs because they don’t know,” Dalal said. “The problem is that they don’t know. But once they know, everything changes. It’s just the lack of knowledge, I’d say.” Consequently, she organized CC Hijab Day in hopes of educating the community about Muslim practices while promoting authentic dialogue to combat the dominant, distorted narrative heard across the country.
The event was well-received by the community, with over 20 people participating over the course of the afternoon, including Tess Powers, Director of Faculty Research Support, and Professor of Psychology Emily Chan.
Chan described the event as “Help[ing] build bridges across cultures,” and emphasized the need for more intentional and thought-provoking events like Hijab Day on campus. “It is important that these opportunities exist where people with different knowledge backgrounds and different traditions authentically meet each other and learn more about each other rather than rely on the surface-level stereotypes,” Chan said.
Students expressed similar sentiments to Chan. They were eager to expand their knowledge and understanding of hijabs and actually experience wearing one. For almost all of the students, it was their first time wearing a head covering of any sort.
Atiya Harvey ’18 further reiterated the importance of dismantling the misconception that hijabs are inherently oppressive and giving people the space to express themselves however they want: “Just like it’s okay for you to wear a bikini, it’s okay for someone to wear a hijab if that’s what they want to do.”
After wearing a hijab for the afternoon, participants shared their experiences with one another and the broader community, both in-person and over Facebook. Sasha Nader ’19 is of Lebanese descent and occasionally wears a hijab when attending mosque. However, after today’s experience, she is seriously considering wearing a hijab more frequently. She also reflected more deeply on the intersection between hijabs and identity.
“I feel like so much baggage is put on the hijab, especially in the U.S., so that it can feel like you’re wearing politics rather than just clothes which are an expression of self,” Nader said. “So it’s been fun just being Sasha, I guess, and understanding the hijab is just an extension of that being.”
While most participants reported positive experiences, they also shared more complex, even scary, moments. Powers wrote on Facebook using the #CC_Hijab_Day: “For the first time in a while I wondered about my safety in the daylight.”
Heba Shiban, a first-year originally from Syria, commented on the discomfort she caused people by wearing a hijab—and her pride in causing it. “I noticed people looking at me in a different light because of the innate negative perceptions people have of Muslims … and when they stared, I felt proud that I made them feel that uncomfortable.”
Dalal said this discomfort was in fact one of the event’s primary objectives because without discomfort, there can be no growth. She, along with the help of CC’s Muslim Student Association and the Colorado Springs Islamic Community, successfully created an opportunity for this discomfort to take place in a productive way that advanced rather than hindered dialogue.
In the end, Dalal hoped she encouraged people to see the hijab as a liberating choice rather than an oppressive force, contextualizing the head covering within the broader discussion of women’s freedom.
“Nobody has the right to tell women what to wear or how she should look like,” Dalal said firmly. “Every woman has the right to wear whatever she wants if it makes her feel good, even if it was covering her whole self or going out naked. If she feels good, that’s what matters.”