Hijab Challenge Educates UCR Community, Confronts Misconceptions

Muslim Student Association sponsors event that gave participants an opportunity to wear a hijab, or headscarf, for a day.

Hijab Challenge

Heba Diab, MSA member, helps an undergraduate student put on a hijab as part of the “Hijab Challenge.” Photo by Ross French

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — On Tuesday, April 30, more than 70 women from the University of California, Riverside community accepted the “Hijab Challenge;” electing to wear the traditional Muslim headscarf to experience firsthand how women who wear the garment are perceived by those who do not.

The day-long challenge was sponsored by the Muslim Student Association (MSA), which distributed more than 70 hijabs to students, staff and faculty. The headscarves were donated to the MSA by Austere Attire.

MSA President Ali Shamari expressed gratitude for the community’s participation and support and said the event was a success because it showed the hijab  “is part of being Muslim for both men and women.”

“We organized the event to show the huge role of women in our religion. They are the flag bearers,” Shamari said. “I thought the event was awesome because it allowed us as Muslims to show people who we are, instead of them hearing it from the media.”

After wearing the scarf for at least a portion of the day, many of the women gathered to reflect upon their experiences in a group discussion later that afternoon. The majority of women shared that, contrary to their fears, wearing the hijab was not hot, did not obscure vision and, to their pleasant surprise, made them all feel more noticeably beautiful.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel any different at first, it just got in the way of my eyelashes a little bit,” said undergraduate student Jennifer Fernandez. “I got so many compliments today. People kept saying ‘you look so pretty.’”

Others said that UCR’s campus diversity helped to make them feel more comfortable.

Hijab Challenge_2

MSA member Zamzam Abdulwahid ties a student’s hair, preparing her to wear the hijab.
Photo by Ross French

“I have to admit that I was really kind of nervous at first. But then I realized that this is UCR. This is one of the most diverse universities in the country, I’ll be fine,” said Hallie McCormick, transcript assistant for the Office of the Registrar.

“As I was walking through the campus, I can’t recall once looking down and worrying about if someone was judging me based on how I appear,” agreed undergraduate student Lauren Williams. “I know within the African-American community especially, hair is a big deal and everyone always has something positive or negative to say. But wearing the hijab made me feel so beautiful and it made my self-esteem and my self-confidence just shoot up to the roof.”

But while the campus was welcoming, some expressed a concern about wearing the hijab off campus.

“I’m nervous to leave campus,” McCormick said. “I feel very comfortable on campus because we’re such a diverse campus. But off campus, I admit that I’m afraid of what might happen.”

Overall, participants said they felt a strong sense of camaraderie with the women of the MSA.

“This experience and how I was treated by the sisters when I walked in today was an amazing way to start the morning,” said LeAnn Baxter, who works for the campus bookstore.

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