(Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune)
University of Utah students Bushra Hussein, left, Naima Mohamed and
Faeiza Javed wear headscarves on the campus in Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake Tribune
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Last month’s murder of a 32-year-old Muslim mother in California was just the dry kindling needed to ignite a global protest.
After learning that the attacker reportedly
left a note saying, "This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist,"
outraged Muslims and sympathetic friends organized a worldwide Facebook
effort known as One Million Hijabs, urging women of all faiths to post
photos of themselves wearing headscarves.
Such a massive gesture, organizers believed,
would signal solidarity with the victim, Shaima Alawadi, and empathy for
the hostility Muslim women often face.
Questions remain about the Iraqi woman’s
slaying, but that hasn’t slowed the protest from sweeping across the
Internet and into the hearts and homes of women everywhere — including
"Shaima’s death was shocking," says Naima
Mohamed, a senior majoring in human development at the University of
Utah, "shocking to me."
Like Alawadi, Mohamed wears a hijab, or
headscarf, in public and has been doing so since she was 6 years old in a
Kenyan refugee camp.
She is among the 40 to 50 Muslim students at
the U. who do, which is about half the estimated number of Muslim women
at the Salt Lake City school. They come from various countries — but
predominantly Somalia and Pakistan — and have varying feelings about why
they cover their heads.
But they share one motivation: a commitment to their Islamic faith.
"The purpose of hijab is to secure a woman’s
beauty for herself and for her family alone," says Muhammed Mehtar, imam
at the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City. "When a woman
begins to expose herself to strangers, then generally it creates
unnecessary desires in others. When a woman wears a hijab, it is to
protect herself from the evil gaze or sneer of strangers around her."
In short, most Muslim women view their hijabs as protection, not oppression.
But the rest of the world does not always allow Muslim women the freedom to express their faith in that way.
France passed a law in 2005 that prohibited the
wearing of all religious symbols, including headscarves. Five years
later, it specifically outlawed any face-covering veils. Turkey long had
barred hijab-wearing women in public buildings and on college campuses,
but modified that ban in 2010, allowing loosely tied scarves. Some
Muslim athletes were prevented from participating in the Olympics
because of headscarves, but that will not be enforced at London’s 2012
Summer Games. Last month, the International Football Association Board
decreed that female soccer players could wear headscarves — if they are
fastened with Velcro for safety.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar require women to be fully covered in public.
A Muslim woman who doesn’t cover her head,
Mehtar says, is not "a bad person." It merely means she "has not
attained the perfection of faith."
But hijab customs, including the color, fabric, texture, coverage and tightness, vary from country to country — a phenomenon evident in the U.’s young Muslim women.