On Wednesday, Feb. 10, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life hosted an event titled “Wearing Religious Identity-Hijab for a Day.” This event was held in conjunction with a series of events held this week under the theme of spiritual well-being. The event focused on what it means to be identifiably Muslim.
The event ran in two parts. In the morning, students were invited to try on traditional Muslim clothing for a day. Students had the option of wearing a hijab, the headscarf many Muslim women wear, while another clothing option was the kufi, a round cap that some Muslim men wear.
The second part of the event involved a discussion over dinner. Nicole Correri, a prominent Muslim speaker, was invited to give the keynote speech. Correri has a Master’s degree in education and is a Muslim public speaker and activist. She is currently a student of Islamic Studies at Hartford Seminary.
Correri began the lecture by explaining the idea of being identifiably Muslim.
“You are self-identifying, publicly,” Correri began, then went on to explain conventional ideas of what religious clothing signifies.
“[Religious clothing] is often looked at as an act of worship,” she said.
She took time to distinguish different styles of Islamic dress across cultures, and noted that Muslims all around the world wear clothing that represents their culture within the Islamic guidelines of modesty. She stressed the importance of understanding the difference between cultural clothes and Islamic clothes and used the burka, a full-body covering worn in Afghanistan, as an example.
“What’s a burka? It’s the veil that covers the face…but that’s not a hijab,” Correri said.
In an effort to dispel the Western myth that Islamic clothing is vastly different from Western clothing, she used herself as an example. Correri wore loose jeans with a long shirt that stopped at the knee. Her clothing could’ve been found at any popular Western retailer.
“I’m dressed Islamically,” she proclaimed.
The talk transitioned into an analysis on the social implications of being identifiably Muslim. Correri stressed the paradox that many Muslims face.
“[There is] this balance of being exotic but being the villain at the same time,” Correri said. “They’re used for certain purposes, but then they’re discarded for other purposes.”
Islamophobia was a big focus during the talk.
“Another aspect of being publicly [identifiable as] Muslim is carrying the burden of what’s going on in global terrorism,” Correri said. “There’s a whole new layer of difficulty with being identifiably Muslim.”
After Correri spoke, she invited the students to sit down over dinner and discuss Islamic religious identity. This was also a time in which students explained why they did or did not choose to wear the religious clothing for the day.
Ainsley Eakins ’18 shared her experience wearing a hijab for a day. She began by discussing her thoughts and worries going into the event.
“I was scared of experiencing Islamophobia,” she reflected, acknowledging the hate crimes committed against Muslims across the country.
After walking around the University in a hijab, she shared her experience.
“I was feeling intensely visible and extremely invisible,” Eakins said. “People see you but don’t want to interact with you or talk to you.”
Eakins compared this to her experiences growing up as an African-American in the South. She spoke to how she experienced a similar feeling of isolation with wearing the hijab.
Hijab-wearing students were invited to share their everyday experience wearing the hijab on campus. Students spoke about how many people at the University confused them with other hijab-wearing Muslims, despite the fact that they come from completely different backgrounds.
Sifana Sohail ’18 emphasized this point by elaborating on the problematic nature of this occurrence.
“I feel like Wesleyan has a very individualistic culture, so to be grouped together in a culture where everyone else gets to be their own individual is really frustrating,” Sohail said.
Not all of the students were keen on the idea of wearing religious identity for a day. Serene Murad ’18 voiced her concerns.
“This could’ve been problematic just because on a campus like Wesleyan, and for just one day, you might not experience the full extent of discrimination,” Murad said.
Despite the varying opinions about the event, most felt it was productive. Kaiser Aslam, the Muslim chaplain at the University, shared why he felt the event was important and emphasized one of the major points of the discussion.
“The hijab is a very subjective experience and individuals wear it for very different reasons,” Aslam said.
Correri called the event a success and reiterated the need for more dialogue on the topic.
“It’s a very important dynamic to explore and understand why it exists,” she said.