If you are a woman, please consider wearing a hijab on Thursday. It might not be comfortable, but being an ally rarely is.
Last year was the first year Elon University participated in Hijab Day. I signed up happily. I wanted to show my support to Muslim students at Elon.
Picking out what to wear the morning of the event was probably the most stressful outfit decision I’ve had since my first day of high school. It needed to be slightly more modest than I usually dressed and had to at least not clash with the beautiful pale, abstract flower print of the scarf.
It was also stressful because I felt hypocritical, like I was participating in the cultural appropriation that I was so against. I had no right to wear a hijab when I felt no religious or cultural connection to it. As much as I reminded myself that I was being invited by Elon’s Muslim community to wear a hijab for the purpose of solidarity, I felt like an imposter.
Eventually, only the prospect of being guilty of not living up to my promise to take part in the day got me out of my apartment with a scarf on my head. Walking around all day, I felt uncomfortable. People who knew me gave me odd looks as they passed, and I could see so many of my own concerns about cultural appropriation reflected in their faces.
It was a continuous battle between my own discomfort and my guilt over not keeping my word and doing my part to be an ally to Muslim students at Elon. By the time dinner came around, I was ready to rip off my scarf. I had done my part, but I had no intention to ever wear a hijab again.
But over the course of the dinner at the conclusion of Hijab Day, we heard from Muslim students, faculty and staff and talked with other students who had participated about their experiences during the day. It wasn’t anything particularly new or groundbreaking, but it gave me time to reflect on my own experience.
I felt uncomfortable because it felt inauthentic, but odds are there are women who feel inauthentic when they choose not to wear a hijab in fear of their bodily safety. I felt out of place, but I can now empathize with those who feel out of place because of their religious practices.
I know what it’s like to feel like you need to hide a part of who you are to stay safe. Compared to that, being extra self-conscious for a day is nothing. Being an ally takes work; it means allowing yourself to be a little uncomfortable for the benefit of others.
Wearing a hijab on Hijab Day is not cultural appropriation. This year, the invitation to wear a hijab has been extended to me again. It’s been extended to all women on Elon’s campus. I hope you’ll join me in making this statement.
To the women at Elon: This is an opportunity to do good work. If you consider yourself a feminist, this is your chance to be an intersectional feminist, to be an ally to more than white Christian women, by doing a little emotional labor for the Muslim women on campus.
Just like hijabs can have a greater meaning to the Muslim women choosing to wear them, wearing a scarf and modest clothing on Hijab Day is not a fashion statement.
It is a statement to the entire student body that Muslims are welcome here. It’s a statement to Muslims at Elon that they have our support. It’s a statement that you recognize and abhor the ignorance, hatred and violence that Muslims across the country and around the world are facing.
Make a statement and consider wearing a hijab with me.