Does interfaith Solidarity mean Dress in Similarity?

Zoha Siddiqui, Sidwell Friends '19 & Iman Hassen, Sidwell Friends '18

Unity is a feeling of shared responsibility. In any unified population, each person must be held accountable for their actions -- as they affect not just that individual, but the entire group. (Published: 2017)

Photo by Julia Stewart, Sidwell Friends '17

We, Iman Hassen ‘18 and Zoha Siddiqui ‘19 (pictured above), two Sidwell students, know that for the sake of unity, everyone’s experiences and opinions must be acknowledged and understood. Our goal in voicing our own opinions is not to define, control, or restrict our allies’ actions, but to make them think carefully about what they choose to do to show their support.

During the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign, there was a spike in hate crimes against women wearing hijabs. Even before this, and arguably related to an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric, 2015 saw more hate crimes towards hijab-wearing women than any other year since 2001, the year of the September 11 terrorist attacks (VICE News). However, actions against these crimes are also gaining popularity. Small movements, like wearing a safety pin to show solidarity with minorities, have gained traction through social media. Now, one of the most popular movements is non-Muslim women wearing the hijab on National Hijab Day in the name of interfaith solidarity. The goal of this movement is

to stand up for marginalized Muslim women by experiencing a day in a hijab and by physically showing support.

As Muslim women, we, Iman and Zoha, actually ask that all non-Muslim women not do this.

The hijab is not worn by all Muslim women, and for centuries in certain areas, it has actually been used as a symbol of oppression towards us. A non-Muslim woman who wears a hijab out of cultural context normalizes the false stereotype that all Muslim children and women are required to cover up their hair.

I, Zoha, am a Muslim woman of Pakistani descent who does not wear a hijab. To me, the hijab represents the oppression faced by millions of Pakistani women who are forced against their will from a young age to hide themselves from men. Thee hijab is also a fictitious “sixth pillar” of Islam that does not exist, but it has been perpetuated by some Muslims and aggrandized through stereotypes in mainstream media.

I, Iman, am a Muslim woman who wears the hijab everyday. To me, the hijab is a symbol of modesty and it is freeing in the sense that I have complete control over what I reveal. Additionally, I can’t help but feel a little mocked by these women who wear the hijab once a year. I understand that their actions are well intentioned, but I can’t ignore the fact that they have no religious ties to the hijab, which makes it easy for them to remove it in the face of danger.

Another problem that we fear with non-Muslim women wearing the hijab for one day in the name of interfaith solidarity is its temporariness. To us, being an ally entails more than just a one-time action: it means consistently speaking out and taking action to show Muslim women that you care. Furthermore, wearing a hijab for only one day seems more like a way to attract attention and get a pat on the back for your leadership rather than to reflect your willingness to stand up for Muslim women on any other day of the year.

An example of a one-day advocacy event at Sidwell was on this year’s Friday September 16th, when female and male students wore the words “I am not a distraction” and “she is not a distraction,” respectively, on papers taped to their shirts. The protest allowed female students to demonstrate their serious criticisms of the Sidwell dress code, which many believe unfairly targets girls. The protest was also a demonstration of some male students’ solidarity with their female peers, and the goal was to reform the dress code to eliminate any bias towards female students. Although the intentions of both parties were well-meant, when asked what they were protesting, both male and female students were not exactly sure. This does not mean that all of the students participating in the movement didn’t know what they were standing up against, but it does reflect the human tendency to blindly follow what your peers are doing.

Señora Muhayya, one of our own Sidwell teachers, stated, “It is not enough to wear a shirt that says ‘she’s not the distraction’ if you can’t continue to stand up for that group

the day after the protest, and the week after that, and the month after that. We won’t be effective supporters if we are only in it for the day.” This is what distinguishes physical acts of so-called solidarity from the understanding that comes with allyship. Did some of these students just tape a paper on their shirts for a day, or did they learn something? Are non-Muslim women just putting a scarf on their heads for a day, or is their intention to learn something and consistently defend Muslim women after that day?

Additionally, to wear the hijab as a show of interfaith solidarity reduces a Muslim woman’s identity to a piece of cloth. The pain and heartache felt by Muslim women is deeper than the hijab. Hate crimes and Islamophobic comments are fundamentally rooted in the misunderstanding of our

faith and beliefs, not the wearing of hijabs. With this in mind, we want our allies to understand that to stand in solidarity with Muslim women, you don’t have to “look” Muslim in order to support Muslims.

Although we both have similar opinions regarding this issue, not all Muslim women completely agree with us, which is valid and must be taken into consideration. Señora Muhayya held views slightly different from our own. While we were strictly against the idea of non-Muslim women wearing the hijab and movements such as World Hijab Day, Señora Muhayya appreciated and supported the overall cause. Still, she strongly believed that simply participating in the movement was not enough: “participants should properly educate themselves about the cause before joining the movement.” She placed more emphasis on the cause rather than the movement because the mentality of our allies will serve us better in the long run than any one-time action. But overall, the consensus among us was that having knowledge concerning a marginalized group and then acting on that knowledge is more important than physically showing support for that group just one time.

Señora Muhayya believes that “when others question [an ally’s] participation or the cause, they should be prepared to address comments and articulate why that group is marginalized and ways that others can lend their support.” When asked how she would feel if a group of non-Muslim women at Sidwell all wore the hijab for a day, Señora Muhayya replied saying that while she “appreciate[s] all gestures of solidarity with marginalized groups” the participants’ real support shows in “the way they carry themselves on that day and subsequently.”

If both of us, Iman and Zoha, were to walk into Sidwell one day and see every girl wearing a hijab, it would make us feel targeted more than appreciated. We would feel that someone was misinterpreting our religion and making the hijab a norm of our culture, when it is most definitely not.

Rather than wearing a hijab for one day, we ask that allies of Muslim women take action in other, more consistent ways. One of the biggest ways to stand up for Muslim women like us is to educate yourself on the challenges that we face, on what our religion truly means to us, and why

others should be allies as well. This knowledge can be utilized in responding to questions about

the Muslim community, and the understanding that ensues will prepare you to defend Muslims

against offensive insults in a respectful and truthful way.

Another way to get involved is to talk about the intersection of politics, everyday discrimination, and the systemic oppression of the Muslim community. Engaging in discussion not only creates awareness on the topic but may lead to bigger actions, such as peaceful demonstration and calling local congresswomen, congressmen, and senators. Through these discussions and events, you will be doing your part as an ally while upholding our democracy and exercising your right to civil engagement.

All of us have the privilege of voicing our personal opinions, but that does not mean that ours is the only opinion, or even the right one. But for the sake of unity, everyone, including us, must be heard.