by C. Shardae “Shae” Jobson
On February 1, the first day of Black History Month and National Freedom Day, unbeknownst to me, it was also the fifth annual World Hijab Day. Initiated by Nazma Khan, a Bangladesh-born Muslim who’s lived in New York since age eleven and raised in the knockabout Bronx, the purpose of World Hijab Day is to foster understanding for Muslim women that wear the cultural veil. Non-practicing Muslims are encouraged to try on the well-known head wrap style for size, experience, and as a sign of solidarity for this group of women that happen to pray and dress differently.
The hijab is of course more than just a head-wrap (that looks effortlessly glamorous in the process). It is perpetually linked to girls and women of Islam faith in demonstrating Muslim identity. They wear the veil-like scarves in the name of modesty and acknowledgment of being a God-fearing and God-loving woman. For decades, misconceptions ran wild that the hijab was just a delicate chain for women indebted to their culture’s (archaic) view of them as property. (Meant to be seen, not heard). These assumptions were marshaled by the reality that in a lot of Muslim-heavy countries, women were treated as subordinate.
Muslim women and Hijab-wearers have passionately decimated such notions, especially Islam millennial women now coming of age. They have voiced respect, seeing it as an extension of their roots. A testament especially full of warmth when coming from American-born Muslim citizens. There is too the agonizing reality for hijab wearers in that wearing an accessory so emphatic of culture and religion makes them a walking hotbed for political representation and discussion. Similar to wearing a bindi, Jewish men and kippahs, traditional African garb, and sad to say it, just about everybody’s skin tone.
For research, I found photos online of women who participated in World Hijab Day. It was pretty great seeing women of all shades, and from Nigeria to Spain taking part as they used the hashtags #IStand4Hijab and #World HijabDay. The occasion can appear hokey for some viewing it as a non-Muslim. Wearing the scarf (for a day) by no means makes you an expert or fully comprehend the weight of being an actual Muslim woman. Keep in mind, World Hijab Day’s intent is to educate, not merely suggest dress-up. So what does one learn in wearing a hijab in a public space, knowing they are not Muslim underneath? I can attest that even wearing one for a few hours can be a memorable experience. For whatever reason, when my then new life began in New York City six years ago, I steadily adapted the hijab-style into my own wardrobe and comfort zone.
I don’t know about other American cities, but in New York, you can easily buy a silky smooth pashmina for an amazing $5 from a street vendor. During spring and fall seasons, such vendors, often with kind salesman behind them, are as ubiquitous as halal food. One day, I bought a pashmina in jet black. The first time I wore it, instead of wrapping it around my neck, to hang loose like an infinity scarf, I instinctively rose my arms above my head, with a handle on both ends, estimated the middle, and placed the middle atop of head, slowly covering my neck and decolletage. I felt regal. As a New York transplant, I felt lavishly protected.
I would continue this hijab look well into the following year off and on. It was really an adult version of a security blanket. Thankfully, I never got questioned by my scarf or harassed for it either.
I even once wore my pashmina, hijab style, during a job interview to be a hostess at a since-closed hole in the wall, but their plates were just as expensive as six pieces of Nobu sushi, restaurant. I remember this not just for the outrageous reality that I had forgotten to take it off, but for the moment that occurred right as I agreed to do a trial hosting night later that week.
The manager asked, as he had held the door for me on my way out, if it was mandatory to wear my scarf for religious reasons. Writing that, it reads obnoxious, but it wasn’t at all in real life. His tone was sensitive and inquisitive. I froze a bit but I was able to muster a relaxed chuckle and admit that it wasn’t. He laughed it off too and we agreed again on my trial run. Regarding that potential hostess gig, I knew within an hour of being in that incredibly infinitesimal space that I wouldn’t like it and volunteered myself to head home. That day was also the last time I wore my eyebrow ring as I definitely couldn’t wear it while on the floor. That night was the end of my and my eyebrow piercing together. As well as twenty-something body art experimentation. (For a month, I also had a Monroe piercing that I impulsively got done in hellcat zone, otherwise known as St. Marks street. My lips unleashed major Lana Del Rey vibes).
Another incident of my hijab wearing days was a random one. It involved getting on or off the train. Ah, I recall it now. I had already gotten off the N, Q, or R and was above the MTA system on Broadway. An older gentleman, of seemingly Middle Eastern or Indian descent, approached me. He was gingerly in movement, so I came to an agreement to entertain what he might have to say in my head. He was also quite beautiful, obtaining that silver screen, old Hollywood kind of handsome. I had a minute or two to spare him.
He asked if I was of Middle Eastern descent because of my head scarf. I grinned sheepishly and said no, but disclosed that I liked the style a lot. He smiled and said I wore it well. And I can’t recite verbatim how he said what he said next but he included that as a man of the culture, he didn’t find I wearing it disrespectful. I was touched by his approval because it was never my intention to appropriate the hijab. I really did, and still do, find it pretty. Akin to a Native American headdress. The women that wear them are subtle glamazons. I rarely view them as victims and recognize an alternate freedom in donning a hijab or burka.
I slowly stopped wearing my hijab style scarf some time after that day in Soho. It must be similar to when I chose not to put my eyebrow ring back in my right brow. But I miss my hijab tribute. I’m not sure if I grew out of it or just felt like I was being a poser. I’m not Muslim, but I support my Muslim sisters. For the latter argument, I think that’s why I haven’t worn one in so long. I want them to reign in their culture. I admire them not from afar but next to them. I am thankful for the days of those hijab style scarves when I was a semi party-girl and anxious editorial intern in New York that also laid her head at night in the Bronx. I needed some kind of reminder that I was indeed my own keeper.