A headscarf shows less, but reveals more — as Cassidy Herrington found out when she donned one for a project.
HILTON ALS, AN AFRICAN AMERICAN writer, says our worldview and sense of ‘otherness’ is created in our mother’s lap. Mother’s lap is protective and familiar. Leaving this worldview can be uncomfortable, but I can assure you that the rewards are much greater.
Last year, I climbed out of my ‘lap’ and wore a hijab, the Muslim headscarf. I thought this temporary modification of my appearance would bring me closer to an understanding of the Muslim community. But in retrospect, I learned more about my place in the world.
In short, one piece of fabric is all it takes to turn perspectives upside-down.
The hijab is a contested, sacred and sometimes controversial symbol. But it is just a symbol. It is a symbol of Islam, a misconstrued, misunderstood religion that represents the most diverse population of people in the world—a population of more than one billion.
I realised the best way to identify with Muslims was to take a walk in their shoes. Last October, I covered my head with a gauze scarf and grappled with the perceptions of strangers, peers and even my own family. Because of perceptions, I even struggled to write this column. My experience with the hijab was personal, but I hope sharing what I saw will open a critical conversation. My hijab silenced, but simultaneously, my hijab brought unforgettable words.
In the first column I wrote that semester, I compared college to an adage about a clock: ‘We see the face of a clock, but rarely do we see what operates behind it.’ At the time, I did not realize how seriously I needed to act on my own words—as a journalist, a woman and a human.
A few weeks after I wrote that piece, a guest columnist addressed Islamophobic sentiments regarding the proposed ‘ground zero’ mosque. The writer was Muslim, and she received a flurry of feedback. The comments online accumulated like a swarm of mindless pests. The collective opinion equated Islam to violence and terrorism.
In response to her column, one comment said, ‘[The writer] asks us to trust Islam. Given our collective experience, and given Islam’s history, I have to wonder what planet she thinks we are on.’
Although I did not know the voices behind these anonymous posts, I felt involuntarily linked to them because I, like them, am not Muslim. I wanted to connect people. Almost instinctively, I decided that a hijab was necessary. A hijab could help me use my affiliation with ‘white’ non-Muslims to build rapport with the Muslim community and, at the same time, show non-Muslims the truth from an unheard voice. Above all, I wanted to see and feel the standard lifestyle for so many women around the world—because I am curious, and that is why I am a journalist.
Before I took this step, I decided to propose my idea to the women who wear headscarves every day. Little did I know, a room full of strangers would quickly become my greatest source of encouragement and would make this project more attainable.