Hijab For A Day
On Wednesday, March 15, one of the warmest days of the year thus far
(75 degree and sunny), I was covered up head to toe.
Literally.  I wore leather knee-high boots, black jeans, a
knee-length skirt, a long-sleeve shirt and a headscarf that covered my
hair, neck and chest.
Though it may seem like an odd choice of clothing for a day most
people donned shorts and a t-shirt, the choice was purposeful.
March 12-16 was Islam Awareness Week, sponsored by Loyola's Muslim
Student Association (MSA), and MSA asked Loyola women to pledge to
wear a hijab for a day, in order to unite sisters for a day in
solidarity and experience life as a Muslim woman.
So what was it like for a life-long Lutheran to live a day as a
Muslim? Read on to find out.
Why I decided to wear a hijab for a day
Ever since my 7th grade confirmation trip to Chicago, when our
confirmation class visited a mosque and synagogue, as well as a church
in Cabrini-Green and Korean-language Lutheran service, interfaith
dialogue has fascinated me.  Since then, I have found that when
people have conversations about their faith, they tend to realize just
how many things they have in common, rather than what sets them
apart.  This is also one of the reasons I chose Loyola.
Despite its strong Jesuit Catholic heritage, the university touts
itself as a "home for all faiths", and thus far I have seen this to be
essentially true. However, I felt as a Loyola student I should be
seeking out these experiences and actually embodying the "diversity"
value we hold so dear. I saw this as an opportunity to see what it was
like to walk in another Loyola student's shoes (or should I say,
The preparation (read: what exactly is a hijab?)
Before actually participating in Hijab for a Day, the MSA invited all
pledgers to an information and orientation session to learn a bit more
about Islam, the hijab and the other participants in this event.
Loyola senior Nadia Ahmed  explained what exactly a hijab is, and
what it means to a Muslim woman, which brought up and disproved
several misconceptions about the hijab and Islam.
First of all, hijab does not only refer to an article of clothing.
 It also means modesty, privacy and a devotion to God.  The
headscarf is simply a way to embody these principles.
Second of all, contrary to popular belief, each woman chooses when
they want to start wearing the hijab and they are not forced to wear
it. Several of the MSA women talked about when and why they started
wearing the hijab, and many described  deeply spiritual reasons.
Third of all, many of the women also pointed out that it prevents the
objectification of women.  They explained that by wearing the
headscarf and dressing modestly, there are no distractions from their
intellect, and they feel they can be judged for their word, not what
they are wearing.  This struck me as a rather feminist reason for
wearing the hijab, contrary to the idea that the headscarf is used as
a way to stifle or oppress women.
At the initial meeting, I was surprised at the diversity of the women
who wanted to participate.  There were two women who were Muslim,
and were thinking about wearing the hijab full-time but had not fully
committed.  There was a professor of Asian studies, a woman
getting her second bachelors degree with future travel plans to
Indonesia and a student involved with a Palestinian rights
group.  All were interested in learning more about other cultures
and gaining a better understanding of Islam.
The evening ended with a headscarf wrapping and pinning tutorial,
easily the most intimidating challenge of the night.  There are
countless ways to wrap and pin the headscarf, but the important thing
is that it covers a woman's hair, neck and chest.  Some women
wear headbands to keep the scarf in place, which I also did (see
above).  After trial and error with some more complex wraps,
thanks to the women at MSA, I was able to master a simple wrap around
style with minimal pinning.
Wearing a hijab for a day 
I woke up extra early to ensure that I would have time to correctly
pin my headscarf, as I had yet to do it without the guidance of
someone who actually wears a hijab on a daily basis.  Thankfully,
I managed to get everything pinned and relatively stable on-time (and
I am proud to say it stayed in place all day long) and was out the
door by 9:30 to catch my morning train.  Here are my
  • The el: At the Loyola stop, I didn't feel like an outsider
    at all.  This stop is generally diverse, plus it was so early
    in the morning no one was paying attention to much.  On the
    train, I felt I got a few quizzical glances, but I attributed those
    to the general curiosity of commuters.
  • WLUW Lunchtime News: This was my first surprise of the
    day.  I help produce a breaking news broadcast three times per
    week for my college radio station with a crew of eight
    people--needless to say, we have gotten pretty close through the
    stress of putting together a broadcast in two hours. However, when I
    walked into the newsroom, no one asked why I was wearing a
    headscarf, which I thought was strange, since I have never mentioned
    before that I was Muslim nor had I ever worn or even discussed
    wearing a headscarf. About halfway through the day, a friend who
    knew this day was going on asked me about how things were going thus
    far.  But that was it.
  • Work: I had emailed my co-workers ahead of time to let them know that I was
    wearing a hijab for a day, simply out of professional courtesy, so
    it was nice to have someone ask how the day was going.  I even
    received several compliments throughout my work day, people
    commenting on the beautiful color of the scarf and that I could pull
    off the headscarf "look". A fellow intern who I talk to occasionally
    even stopped by and asked if I had converted, which led to a
    discussion on how the hijab is perceived in different
    cultures.  This isn't a conversation I ordinarily would have
    had in my office, and it was really interesting to hear how it was
    perceived in a professional setting (very well).  I realized
    that these conversations were not as difficult as they may seem, and
    once a simple question was asked a connection could be made.
  • A cupcake shop: A fellow intern and I walked a few blocks
    to a Gold Coast cupcake shop.  I thought that I may get some
    weird looks along the way, especially from tourists wandering off
    Michigan Avenue who may not be used to a headscarf, but just like on
    the el, I didn't feel anyone really perceived it to be too out of
    the ordinary.  By the time we got to the cupcake shop, I had
    even forgotten I was wearing it, which was a bit of a surprise when
    I caught my reflection in a store window on the way back.
  • The bank: I had to deposit a paycheck, and I thought going
    into a bank may provide a different experience.  However, what
    happened on the walk to the bank was what really struck me. I walked
    past a local YMCA where a few people usually sit, and in the past I
    have been yelled at in this area.  As I walked past one man, he
    yelled something, but I couldn't quite understand what he said, so
    in typical city etiquette I continued walking without looking at
    him.  As I walked away, I heard him yell it again and added,
    "You have to say it back!" which confused and startled me: did I
    just commit a major cultural offense? Was there a greeting that I
    hadn't learned?  As it turned out, I later figured out he most
    likely saidassalamu alaykum, a traditional Muslim greeting
    that means "peace be upon you".  In return, I was supposed to
    say  wa-alaikum assalam, meaning "and upon you be
    peace".  Later when I discussed my experience with women from
    MSA, I asked if I had committed any offense.  They assured me I
    had not done anything gravely wrong, thankfully, but inwardly it was
    another reminder that wearing a hijab is only a small part of a much
    larger religion.Once I got to the bank I also felt the same way I
    had on the el: there were a few prolonged looks, but it could have
    been for a number of reasons.  Regardless, it was a bit
    unnerving to constantly second-guess peoples' glances.
I ended the day at an event hosted by the MSA called "Beyond the
Veil".  I talked about my experience throughout the day, and we
heard from a Karen Danielson, outreach director of Muslim American
Society of Chicago. After my day wearing the hijab, I was exhausted,
but happy.  I felt connected to a new experience and community of
people. And after a month of reflecting on my experience, and seeing
how it has had a profound effect on how I perceive my own faith and
the Muslim experience, I am happy to share my conclusions.
  • "Questions are always better than judgement"  During the
    orientation session, we asked countless questions, some of them very
    honest.  Though one woman apologized for asking so many
    questions, one MSA student said she had been asked questions daily
    since the day she started wearing the hijab, but she said she always
    prefers when people ask her about her beliefs, rather than judge
    without questions.   I found this to be the biggest
    takeaway from the day.  I have never made any indication that I
    am Muslim before, and though I have been known to wear some
    interesting outfits in the name of fashion, I have never worn a
    headscarf.  I was very surprised at how few people who I know
    from classes, work and extracurricular activities did not ask me why
    I was wearing a hijab.  On one hand, it felt like a good sign:
    people in Chicago and at Loyola are so accustomed to other cultures
    and different lifestyles, Islam isn't necessarily questioned in a
    negative way. At the same time, it frustrated me.  I had
    stepped outside my comfort zone to do this day, hoping to engage in
    interfaith discussion, and yet very few people seemed interested in
    asking even the most basic question: why are you wearing a
    headscarf?  I feel this may be because people are scared to
    have these talks, that something they say may offend or even show
    their naivete. I know I felt that exact same way before I had this
    experience.  Now I realize how important faith is to Muslim
    women, and how they want to share their experiences as a way to
    encourage solidarity among all women and reflect on a choice that
    has become a huge part of their identity. Simply asking when a woman
    began wearing a hijab opens up stories about personal growth, family
    life and faith journeys, and can be the path to a new connection.
  • I need to care less about what I wear: As I mentioned above, I could not
    believe how often people on the 'el' adjusted their hair and
    clothing, how many accessories were added for the sake of completing
    an outfit and how each person checked out their reflection in the
    windows when an attractive man or woman stepped on the train. It was
    mostly unbelievable, however, because it was so familiar- I realized
    I am guilty of these actions on my own daily morning commute.
    I realized that I am dressing for how other people will perceive me,
    far more often than how it reflects on me as a person. Wearing the
    hijab offered the chance to step outside of my usual fashion
    routine: instead of pouring over my closet the night before or in
    the morning, constantly changing outfits, I knew exactly what I had
    to wear and why I was wearing it.  The purpose of my dress was
    entirely changed.  Instead of dressing to impress others, to be
    perceived as fashionable or trend-conscious, I was dressing for my
    beliefs.  Though the headscarf and covering up only reflected
    my beliefs for this particular day, I was amazed at how freed I felt
    and how comfortable it was to put on an outfit in the morning and
    not think about it for the rest of the day.
  • Students do not necessarily lose faith in college: I will be the
    first to admit that I have not been to church in a long time, and
    this is likely because I don't go to a Lutheran school and a college
    environment does not always foster a faith-centric lifestyle.
    However, for these women, their faith is with them at all times,
    most noticeably wrapped around their head everyday.  I was
    intrigued to hear at the initial meeting that the hijab acts as a
    daily reminder of their faith as Muslim women, and also reminds them
    that they are representing their religion whenever they wear
    it.  One woman pointed out that it helps with her road rage--
    once when she was driving with her sister, she was cut off in the
    tangled mess of Chicago traffic. Though she said she was tempted to
    honk, or cut off the next car, she said her sister reminded her she
    was wearing a headscarf, and whatever she does may then influence
    someone's perspective of Islam.  I was struck at this
    observation.  Never have I second guessed something that I was
    doing in fear of it reflecting poorly on Lutherans, notably because
    there is nothing I wear that physically represents my
    religion.  In this way, it struck me as very brave that these
    women are willing to wear the headscarf and take on the daily task
    of knowing what they do may affect people's perceptions of their
    entire religious group-- one that totals over 1 billion people
  • When in doubt, smile: Throughout the day, I constantly wondered if
    second glances, prolonged looks or extra courtesies were a product
    of wearing a headscarf.  As I mentioned before, especially at
    the bank, I felt that I was being looked at by the tellers sitting
    alone in their offices.  This could be because they were
    suspicious, or simply because they were bored and interested in
    someone walking through the doors. I asked Nadia and several
    other members of the MSA about this, and they said this is a feeling
    that goes away with time.  They pointed out that when you do
    something different, it is nearly impossible not to feel that you
    are standing out, and that you want to find a reason this is
    happening.  I mentioned that I was a bit put off by this, and
    didn't know how to respond in case it actually was an aggressive
    look. However, Nadia gave me the best advice of the day in response
    to my concerns.  "I always simply turn around and give them a
    huge smile back," she said.
 Over all the experience was amazing.  I want to extend
a special thank you to the Loyola Muslim Student Association for
sponsoring this opportunity, and providing support for those
Would you wear a hijab for a day?  Do you agree/disagree with any of my
observations?  What do you think of inter-faith relations
today?  Let us know!  Comment below, tweet us @Chicago_U
or send us an email 1ChicagoU@gmail.com.