Representatives of the Muslim Student Union at Missouri Southern on Thursday hosted a Hijab Day in the student lounge, wherein they invited other students to try on a hijab and learn more about why those who practice Islam wear the garment.
The hijab is a head scarf worn primarily by Muslim women when they are in the presence of men who are not family members. “Hijab” can also refer in a broader sense to speaking and behaving in a modest manner, said Williams, a sophomore international studies major from Springfield.
Michaela Williams has a message for everyone who might be confused about or fearful of the hijab that covers her head on a daily basis: “We are everyday people with stories just like everyone else,” the Missouri Southern State University student said.
She’s also experienced some discomfort from community members. If she is in a store and reaches into her purse for something, other people will draw back from her, she said. And she has seen parents pull their children away from her if she passes them on the sidewalk, she said.
“The absolute most I can do is be kind and smile and show them I’m not some bomb-toting Muslim lady,” she said.
‘We should respect each other’
Gibbeh Bah, a second-year student majoring in general business, has worn a hijab nearly all her life after having been born into a Muslim family in her home country of The Gambia in West Africa.
“In my country, we don’t strictly impose it on people,” she said. “But for religious purposes, it’s a must. Most people choose to wear it.”
Since arriving in the United States, however, Bah has encountered some resistance to her hijab. During her first week here, she was riding in a car with her roommate when a woman in an adjacent vehicle yelled at her that she found the head scarf offensive.
Bah said she became afraid that she would be attacked — or worse — for wearing her hijab, so she has largely stopped wearing it on a normal basis and instead pulls her hair back with a smaller wrap that covers most of her head.
“Everyone has their own beliefs, so we should respect each other,” she said. “If you’re not wearing (a hijab), let someone else wear it. We should not be judging each other for the hijab; we are wearing it to be ourselves.”
Alyssa Stout, a junior international studies major from Nixa, began wearing a hijab at the beginning of the semester after having considered conversion to Islam since last year. She said the transition was easy for her, but her coworkers and customers coming into the store where she works had a harder time making the adjustment.
“I’ve noticed a lot more stares or lack of eye contact,” she said. “I just go on as normal. I don’t act any different because I’m not any different. I’m the same; I just added on the accessory.”
Stout said that prior to her conversion, she was “very vain, and it got me in trouble.” Now that she practices Islam and wears the hijab, she believes she is more humble and modest. The hijab, she said, protects her from men.
“Other people think it’s a form of oppression, and in some countries it is, but we choose this, and we actually feel very safe,” she said.
One of the many non-Muslim Missouri Southern students who dropped by the booth was Laura Crossno, a fourth-year sociology major from Neosho. A self-described atheist, Crossno said she wanted to visit with the Muslim students as a show of solidarity.
“I know it’s rough to belong to a minority religious group in this area, and I wanted to show support,” she said. “Religious diversity is really important to me.”
Crossno briefly tried on a checkered head scarf, which she called “cozy.” Noting that many people of all religions wear scarves, hats and other garments on their head, she wondered why people view the hijab as problematic.
“It’s weird that it’s so stigmatized when it’s not actually a strange thing to do,” she said.