Nazma Khan: After 9/11, I realized that I wasn’t the only one facing discrimination for my hijab. My sisters around the world were in similar situations. I remember getting a message from a 14 year old girl from Europe. She shared how her classmates pulled off her hijab and put chewing gum in her hair. That incident resonated with me a lot and took me back to my teenage years in school. It was like a flashback to my high school where a student was waiting outside my social studies classroom to pull off my hijab or those moments when I was shoved against the lockers for no other apparent reason than my hijab. It also took me back to the time where students would constantly make fun of me by calling me names such as “Batman” and “Ninja”.
I remember wearing a white hijab and students called me Mother Teresa. When I think about it, I find it funny now, but as a teenager it’s embarrassing and humiliating. I have not worn a white hijab for years after that incident. I also remembered being surrounded by students who spat at me. When 9/11 took place, I was being chased down the street and was labeled a terrorist and “Osama bin Laden” for being a visibly Muslim woman.
People refused to sit next to me on the train or public buses. I felt humiliated. Also, shockingly, I was being picked on by academics at college. Their xenophobic remarks were very subtle, but very undeniable. Also, I remember going to a store to buy toothpaste and this elderly lady looked at me and called me ‘Osama bin laden.” It was very hurtful. Therefore, I didn’t want my sisters in hijab to go through what I went through.
I thought about inviting women from every background to wear the hijab for a day on February 1st to better understand the most misunderstood piece of fabric in the world. I called this day ‘World Hijab Day.’ Alhamdulillah, over 150 countries commemorate World Hijab Day every year.
Nazma Khan: World Hijab Day is a great opportunity for Muslims to participate in clearing misconceptions about the hijab and Islam, in general. This is a day to say hello to your non-Muslim neighbors and invite them over to show them what Islam stands for. This is a day when Muslim women can voice their opinion about the hijab and shatter all the stereotypes out there. This is a day for Muslim women to show how proud and empowered they are in their choice of wearing the hijab.