In New York City, Muslim women have become front-and-center of the anti-Trump resistance. They’re organizing protests. Speaking at rallies. And doing work behind-the-scenes. For many of them, it’s become a moment to break down stereotypes–both in their public and private lives. And one way they’re doing this is by reclaiming a symbol that’s often misunderstood in this country: the hijab. Meg Dalton reports.
DALTON: Blair Imani is standing in front of a mirror in the living room of her Bushwick apartment. She grabs a black headscarf off her couch. It has gold trim along the edges. And she starts wrapping it around her head.
IMANI: I’m taking the scarf, lengthwise, folding it over slightly, I am taking it from the back of my head , the folded side down, and cross it over in the front, like you’re about to towel dry your hair.
DALTON: She tucks in her hair, ties it, and winds the fabric down…
IMANI: Like a little rope. And then I’m just kind of winding it around in a circle and I have to pin it because it’s not long enough to tuck in the back.
DALTON: Imani is a 23-year-old black Muslim activist. And, yes, she observes hijab. In Islam, the hijab is a head covering worn by some women.
DALTON: It’s become a widely misunderstood part of the religion in the U.S. And many Americans might be surprised someone as young and progressive as Imani is embracing the garment. But for her, the hijab represents the complete opposite of those stereotypes.
IMANI: Anytime you’re forcing ideas or a way of dressing on women it’s negative. And so for me liberation was wearing hijab but for other women it might not be that. And that’s not really for me to decide.
BOUKADOUM: The American imagination has a completely warped understanding of what it means to be a Muslim woman.
DALTON: That’s Iman Boukadoum, a social activist and human rights lawyer.
BOUKADOUM: There’s this perception that the muslim woman is docile, she’s oppressed, she’s uneducated. And she’s certainly not empowered.
DALTON: Though she doesn’t cover her head, Boukadoum says it’s powerful to see Muslim women being so public with their faith. Like Linda Sarsour, she’s the Pakistani American civil rights activist who was one of the organizers behind the Women’s March on Washington.
DALTON: Boukadoum says public figures like Sarsour are reshaping the narrative of Muslim women in this country. It’s a surprising AND unintended consequence of Trump’s recent executive order.
BOUKADOUM: We’re seeing different types of muslim women different women who prescribe to Islam, who have all different types of understandings of Islam who are coming from different ethnic backgrounds who come from different levels of education. Who come from different classes.
DALTON: Muslim women have always held leadership positions; it’s not a new phenomenon. That’s according to Sahar Aziz (SA-HAR A-ZIZ). She’s a law professor at Texas A&M who’s written extensively about stereotypes Muslim women face post-9/11. She says Muslim women today are just more visible. As public speakers, as civil rights advocates, and in the media.
And i think that’s changing the image of the hijab particularly in the american public’s mind but even among muslim women. Who may have thought well if i wear this hijab I may be presumed not to be smart or I may be treated in a way that i find offensive.
DALTON: Back in her Bushwick apartment, activist Blair Imani is getting ready to start the day. With her hijab on, she will meet some friends at a local brunch spot. Sometimes she worries about harassment on the street, or being gawked at on the subway. But she doesn’t let it phase her, at least most of the time.
IMANI: Their stares can’t do anything to me, um other than make me think there’s
something in my teeth. And at the end of the day they have to live with themselves being hateful spiteful people. And while I can hope that they overcome that it really has nothing to do with me
DALTON: Today she wore her hijab. But, on another day, she might not choose to wear it. She decides to cover on a case-by-case basis. And like many Muslim women, observing hijab is a personal decision. Whatever she decides, it’s her choice.
Meg Dalton, Columbia Radio News