As the sun peeked through the clouds and warmed the air Tuesday afternoon, University of Maryland students scurried around campus, ducking in and out of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, enjoying the spring weather.
In front of Stamp, students of the Muslim Student Association urged their peers to take a moment to look into their everyday lives by distributing free head scarves as a part of Islamic Inspiration Week.
The scarves, called hijabs, serve as a prominent symbol of Islamic culture through emphasizing modesty for women and symbolizing their dedication to God.
After choosing amongst an array of colorful headscarves with various patterns, MSA members helped students wrap their scarves properly, provided a mirror and watched their reactions upon seeing their reflection. Participants were then given an informative pamphlet and encouraged to ask questions.
The act of wearing the headscarf is a choice for each individual, a concept often skewed in today’s society as a forceful act of oppression of men over women.
“I think a lot of society is built around what men want or how men want to do things, but then when you’re taking what you want—what God says you should do—and you do it for yourself, you’re defeating all of these societal barriers that tell you to ‘act like this because you’re a woman so you have to do this or you have to do that,’” explained sophomore speech and sciences major and MSA member Sanna Darwish.
For those who wear the headscarf, it is an aspect of daily life that forces others to view them differently, focusing on their inner qualities as opposed to their outward appearance.
“People start seeing you for who you are, versus how you dress, or how your hair looks on a certain day or how much makeup you have on,” Darwish said. “To me, you see yourself as God sees you. You are gorgeous. You are like a diamond, and diamonds don’t stay uncovered. They stay covered versus a less expensive jewelry.”
Wearing the hijab is sometimes met with opposition and prejudice, an experience senior linguistics major and MSA member Ayana McWillis is familiar with.
McWillis, who spent most of her life in southern Maryland, is employed at a Lowe’s store and recalled a time when a co-worker informed her a customer voiced a complaint regarding her employment at the store because of her headscarf.
“I wasn’t expecting that because this is generally a really educated area. I was shocked by that,” McWillis said. “But nothing to my face has been negative. I’m just happy about that.”
It is this kind of attitude the MSA was hoping to change with this event.
“I hope that they [students] could learn what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience what someone else is experiencing,” continued McWillis. “It’s such a short time [wearing the scarf at the event], but in that short amount of time, they can experience what it’s like to wear a scarf and maybe have people look at them a certain way or to talk to them a certain way, and also to appreciate modesty.”
Students responded in various ways.
Upon looking in the mirror for the first time and seeing her reflection, sophomore psychology major Melly Huang initially thought she looked different, but also felt out of place because she didn’t practice Islam. Despite this, she also saw it as an opportunity to see through the eyes of a Muslim, even if only for a few moments.
“I felt a little weird because I don’t necessarily believe in Muslim culture. But at the same time, it’s interesting to step in their shoes and see what it’s like,” said Huang. “I didn’t know much about it [Islam] before, but I’ve worked with people before who wear hijabs, and I’ve always wondered what it was like. They just seem like very genuine girls, and they’re like everyday people.”
Some students had their reservations rooted in their own religious practices, but were able to appreciate the beauty of the scarf itself.
Such was the case for sophomore letters and sciences major Jessie Smolt, who associates herself with Christianity.
“I just thought it was pretty because of the nice colors. I always liked scarves, but I’ve never really thought of wearing it like this before … but I like this,” Smolt said after looking in the mirror.
Jordan Stovka is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.