World Hijab Day: encouraging understanding, or an empty gesture?

February 1st is World Hijab Day, a day on which women who aren’t Muslim or don’t observe the practice of hijab (dressing modestly and covering the head) are encouraged to wear a scarf for a day to “feel what it’s like to live as a Muslim woman.”

The event was launched by New Yorker Nazma Khan with the aim of demystifying the hijab and helping those who don’t understand why woman wear hijab, get a sense for what it’s like to go about your day wearing a scarf and flowing clothing. Khan said that she suffered “a great deal of discrimination” due to her hijab – she has been called “terrorist” and “Osama Bin Laden” – and believes that one way to end the discrimination is to ask other women to experience what its like to wear hijab themselves.

Opinions on whether this is a good idea are divided, so AAISHA DADI PATEL set out to ask people what they thought the effectiveness of such a day and practice would be.

Naadiya Vania

Naadiya Vania, 23, law student, Linden
As a Muslim who doesn’t wear scarf, I think it’s a ridiculous notion to think the only way to experience Islam is to dress in a specific way. From my understanding, Islam doesn’t actually prescribe a dress code except that one should dress modestly, but Islam propagates modesty in every aspect of a believer’s life. At the same time, I do not wear a scarf so I wouldn’t belittle the commitment that it does take because it’s hijab day every day for those individuals, and I don’t think that as a society we should do that.

Kgomotso Motlousi

Kgomotso Motloutsi, 38, domestic worker, Limpopo
It will definitely work to make you learn something, because you get to know someone else’s culture more. Even in my culture I do it. (I am Sepedi.) We believe that a woman must wear something to show that you are married  and this shows respect to your husband, in-laws and elders. So just looking at it that way, I think hijab has a similar kind of symbolism and it will be nice for people to also take part in that.

Zodwa van der Merwe

Zodwa Van Der Merwe, 28, cleaner, Kimberley
I think I will feel different if I put it on for a day. But I really don’t think that if it’s for one day only, it will make me feel like I understand what women who observe hijab live through daily. I have to say though, I would be very keen and willing to try it out.

Amina Navlakhi

Amina Navlakhi, 33, stay-at-home mum, Parkview
I don’t think that you can be open to the experiences of woman in hijab by wearing it for one day. But a day like that could be cool to be getting it out there, and exposing hijab on a public forum is a good idea. But I don’t agree with the idea of wearing it for a day – you can’t experience what a woman experiences in her life in one day. Given the negativity towards Muslims overseas, maybe if it’s observed there, there could be different reactions.

Diane Latham

Diane Latham, 62, Wits University, Blairgowrie
How can you just suddenly wear a scarf for a day and experience what it’s like? It’s not about the scarf, it’s about your conscience and conviction. I know a Muslim woman who is the kindest, sweetest person who will do anything for anyone but she doesn’t wear a scarf – and that doesn’t make her a bad person. It’s not about what you portray to others, it’s about what you portray to yourself.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons