Seventy people gathered on Tuesday evening to learn about wearing hijabs and pick up a free one if they wanted to take part in wearing it on Wednesday. The event, put on by Islamic Club, promotes understanding of the hijab’s purpose and its meaning.
Senior Nabila Dadar and freshman Iesha Said led a presentation entitled “Hijab: This is Our Empowerment” on Feb. 28, explaining the hijab’s meaning, place in Islam and their own personal experiences with being the only hijabi students at Knox.
“What we’re talking about is a lot about raising awareness about what is hijab, what does it mean, why do women wear it around the world, things like that,” Dadar said.
The two emphasized that the hijab is not just the headscarf, but a wider sense of modesty, including loose clothes. Nor is the hijab limited to women, as the sense of modesty extends to men as well.
“But a man, through lowering his gaze, is observing the hijab,” Said said.
The two contrasted what they saw as the common view of sex equality in the U.S., where men and women do the same things, with Islam’s.
“In Islam, it’s different. Men have certain obligations women do not have. Women have certain obligations men do not have,” Dadar said.
While she was originally looking for a larger school with a larger Muslim population, Said said she was glad she ended up at Knox. Said had talked to Dadar, then the only hijabi on campus, through Islamic Club before deciding on Knox last year.
Much of the presentation and the questions that followed focused on the two’s experiences as hijabis at Knox and in Galesburg. Both believe their wide involvement on campus has helped normalize their choice.
“I’m pretty active on campus. I play intramural soccer and basketball. I wear a lighter version of this [the hijab she had on], a little bit shorter as well, but I wear my hijab when I play. The first time I tried to play soccer, or tried to play basketball, they gave me weird looks, like ‘What is she doing out here dressed like that?’ and stuff, but I’m like, ‘I’m gonna break your ankles,’” Said said.
They noted that they had otherwise found a rather accepting culture on campus, though Dadar said she still avoids going into town alone. Last year’s event did not have any noticeable backlash, and despite recent political events, the club did not anticipate any this year either.
“We claim to be a very liberal campus, so I think we can all encourage each other,” Dadar said.
During the presentation, Dadar noted the apparent contrast between Bodies Week last week and their event. However, she believes both are centered on agency and self-love.
“A lot of people tend to think that when you have agency, you show your body but I would claim that even if you have agency, you can still cover up your body,” Dadar said.
Senior Diandra Soemardi is a member of Islamic Club who does not wear a hijab, and never has in the past. She said that her family in Indonesia discourages her from wearing one despite most women in her community wearing one, but she might wear one in the future.
“In some ways I can say I’m not ready for the hijab, because for me, it’s commitment. Because once you wear the hijab, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not an accessory, it’s not a fashion statement. And that’s the one thing I can’t see myself committing to yet,” she said.
Wednesday evening, a smaller group met to discuss their days and debrief what they had experienced and learned during the day.
The group generally said they felt more uncertain and strange at the start of the day, but as the day went on felt more comfortable with the experience. They noted a sense of comradery and instant connection with the others on campus wearing hijabs, despite a few instances of other students questioning individual participants.
“I actually got a lot of compliments, which was really fun, because they picked a great color,” freshman Maggie Decker said, speaking separately on Wednesday evening.
In the debrief, the group noted that often times, the compliments were sort of contradictory to what they were trying to do, as Dadar and Said had talked about the hijab taking the focus on women away from looks.
“Definitely just recognizing that it’s not the most important thing, that’s not what the day is about. And people saying, ‘Oh, that’s a pretty color on you, I like it’ can lead to ‘Thanks, it’s hijab day, we are trying to raise awareness for why women around the world wear the hijab,” Decker said.
For Said and Dadar, it was nice to not be the only women in hijabs on campus, though they also realized that they would have to go back to being the only two the next day.
“Today was the most happiest day I’ve had,” Said said.
Editors Note: A previous version of this article misstated that sixty-five people participated in the hijab event. We apologize for this mistake.