By Jessica Hill
Apr 18, 2016
Zam-Zam Jama, who was born in Somalia but grew up in College Station, Texas, has not taken off her Hijab since she started wearing it in high school.
She said that when she catches someone staring at her for too long, she’ll walks over to them and say, “Here’s my Instagram. Feel free to like it. You can stare at that however long you need to.”
Jama said she uses humour to “disrupt the linear process” of offensive questions and judgemental stares from non-Muslims.
With recent terrorist attacks abroad, some Muslim students at Ohio University have felt the United States has become a more marginalized space for members of the Islamic faith, as Muslims practice their religious traditions, such as praying in public and wearing the Hijab.
Women and the Hijab
Muslim women have different reasons for wearing Hijabs, Jama, a second-year graduate student studying health communication studies, said.
Loren Lybarger, an associate professor who teaches Islamic studies, said “xenophobia,” an intense dislike or fear of people from other countries, has caused Muslims to assimilate by shaving their beards or taking off their Hijabs. Other Muslims, however, sought a claim to their American identity by embracing public prayer or wearing the Hijab, Lybarger said.
Jama said a reason for wearing a Hijab is to show her “subservience to the Lord.” She said the Quran mandates that women wear a Hijab and that men grow a beard and wear a Taqiyya, which is a Muslim prayer cap.
Other reasons for wearing a Hijab are that it makes her less likely to commit sins and serves as a conscientious reminder of her spirituality, Jama said.
“You shouldn’t be judging others on outside appearance because at some form we are all uniform,” Jama said. “Really, you should be focusing on the spiritual beauty of a person.”
Bonita Kalinga, a junior studying African studies, only wears a hijab during the season of Ramadan and when she visits her extended family in Kenya. Kalinga said there are different ways people can interpret and express every religion and its texts.
“My relationship with Allah doesn’t necessarily have to be your relationship with Allah,” Kalinga said.
Kalinga is considering wearing a hijab more often, though she said she wonders how she will deal with questions and looks from others.
As a feminist, Jama said she does not believe the hijab oppresses women.
“The choice to go against societal expectations of the woman’s image is a beautiful, central concept to what feminism is — giving women the right to make their choices, outside of gender boundaries, outside of social constructs,” Jama said.
Fatma Jabbari, a first-year graduate student studying African studies and political science, is from Tunisia. Though Jabbari said she has never worn a hijab, her mother and sister do.
“The world just sees the whole Arab world as brushed with one brush, but there are nuances between one country and another,” Jabbari said.
Terrorism’s Effects on Muslim Women
Following recent terrorist attacks, Lybarger said the U.S. has treated Muslims similarly to how Japanese-Americans were treated after World War II, following the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
“If you happen to be brown, if you happen not to be Christian, then your place in American society is called into question,” Lybarger said.
Hashim Pashtun, the president of International Student Union, said at the TedX Talk on March 30, that whenever there is a terrorist attack, he hopes the perpetrator is not a Muslim.
“When it comes to terrorism, I think Muslims should stop being apologetic about terrorism,” Jabbari said. “Because they are just confirming that terrorism is a part of Islam, which is not the case. Islam is a religion. It’s not evil. It’s not good. It’s what you as a person brings to the table.”
Jama said the media often shapes people’s perspectives of Muslim women in Hijabs as quiet, oppressed and lacking agency.
Lybarger said with the increasing number of terrorist attacks in the world since 9/11, such as the ISIS-attributed March 22 attacks in Belgium and the Nov. 13 Paris attacks; Muslims have been identified as outsiders.
“People just assume if you look Arab or Middle Eastern, you might be Muslim,” Jama said. “But for a female, regardless of their nationality, if they are wearing a headscarf, you immediately know they’re a Muslim.”
When societies feel threatened, scapegoating a race or religion is a predictable response driven by fear, Lybarger said. This idea is highlighted by the more xenophobic aspects of Donald Trump’s political campaign and his calling for the registration of all Muslims, he said.
In a 2015 poll conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post, 36 percent of 1,002 respondents supported a banning of Muslims from the U.S. However, only 28 percent believed banning Muslims would make the country safer.
“It’s a kind of American authoritarianism that draws on fear of the outsider, the xenophobic fear, and a kind of Christian nationalism that defines what it means to be an American,” Lybarger said.
More Acceptance In Athens
In 2015, Muslims made up 1 percent of the total U.S. population, and it was estimated that the population would double by 2050, according to Pew Research Centre.
OU students have recently organized and engaged in events such as a TedX talk and the Bobcat Unity Walk, which tried to create cross-cultural dialogues about the Muslim faith and cultural traditions.
Pashtun wants to build an interfaith prayer room, or a meditation room, in Alden Library, which would have prayer mats and multiple religious texts for people to use. Pashtun is in the beginning stages of planning for the meditation room.
Galbreath Chapel is one of the only places on campus open to members of all faiths for practicing their beliefs. It is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“I think (the meditation room) will be useful,” Pashtun said. “I will try to involve as many other faiths and religions as possible. It’s not only for Muslims, but for everybody.”
Kalinga said people could get over their fear of Muslims the same way they could get over their fear of heights — take a big jump.
“Get to know something and someone to get rid of the fear and ignorance, and embrace Islam,” Kalinga said. “You don’t have to necessarily agree with it, but I’m sure you can better understand it.”