My professor for GS 197 – Global Studies: Islam in Contemporary Europe – encouraged our whole class, Muslims and non-Muslims alike to wear a hijab for one whole day, in support of World Hijab Day. And this is what I learned.
For the whole day, I tried to comprehend why Muslims would still want to wear the hijab, especially in a warm country like the Philippines. I was completely sweating underneath! It’s a good thing it rained. All the while, I was more self-conscious of the number of people staring at me.
I was surprised when, at the end of the day, no one – not one person – discriminated against me. My teachers didn’t even ask when I came to class wearing a hijab all of a sudden. I still had small talk with my classmates. My friends still recognized me underneath the veil, and even said “Bagay sa’yo!“.
Yet, I had the urge to hide in the library. I subconsciously felt myself look down while walking. I tried to avoid places that I knew swarmed with familiar faces. As a result, I spent the majority of my day alone – and after a while, I started to feel comfortable wearing it. I even subconsciously searched for other hijab-wearing people whenever I entered a new place. Despite the lack of judgement, I still felt so out of place.
I was given the opportunity to spend a day in their shoes – and quite literally. And in just one day, I think I can understand why they would want to continue wearing it.
Some people have this misconception that wearing a hijab is a sign of patriarchy, that it’s a clear sign that, since its function is to avoid sexual harassment, boys will be boys, men can’t help their sexual urges, “ang babae nalang ang mag-aadjust”, etc. Some people may also associate the hijab with terrorism and violence, due to the attacks in the Middle East.
However, after contemplating the difference between Christianity and Islamism, I realized that Christians do not have a physical material that they can publicly show to others representing their faith. In wearing the hijab, I became aware that I was representing a large religious community. With every passing minute, I embraced the fact that when people see me, I was immediately associated with something bigger than me.
As a result, I acted more elegantly, more humbly, more kindly towards others, especially strangers. Because I knew I had to prove others wrong about what Islamism was about. Because, with a simple piece of clothing around my head, I felt that I had to show them that not all Muslims are terrorists.
Wearing the hijab, I became more aware of the issues our fellow Muslims are going through. With Trump’s immigration ban policy just a few days ago, I couldn’t help but wonder how they’ve been faring so far.
On our first day of GS 197, our professor asked each one of us to share our first impressions of Muslims. A majority of my classmates confessed that they felt scared whenever they see a Muslim. Walking around today, knowing that I unintentionally made people feel afraid wherever I went, I had a taste of how it felt to be a part of the minority – and to have everyone in the same room know it.
The hijab has a lot of functions. Aside from showing one’s religion, it can also be a fashion statement for Muslims, or a political disagreement towards “Western feminist discourses which presents hijab-wearing Muslims as silenced or opposed” (x). But most importantly, it is a physical manifestation of one’s dedication towards their faith. It is an optional choice that women make every day, despite the heat, discomfort, or judgmental glares.