On World Hijab Day, women from all ethnic and religious backgrounds are invited to wear the hijab in solidarity with Muslim women who experience discrimination.

Women worldwide celebrate World Hijab Day (WHD) on February 1 to raise awareness of Muslim women's discrimination and re-assert the head covering as a fundamental right. 

The first WHD was celebrated in 2013, when Bangladeshi-American Nazma Khan came up with the idea “as a means to foster personal freedom of religious expression and cultural understanding by inviting women from all walks of life to experience the hijab for one day,” according to the organisation’s website.

Launched with the hashtag #UnapologeticHijabi, the 11th annual WHD campaign invites women from all ethnic and religious backgrounds to wear the hijab for one day and post pictures of themselves on Twitter to show solidarity with Muslim women who experience discrimination and marginalisation.

“Hijab doesn't oppress us. On the contrary, it gives us the power to strengthen our faith. We have a right to believe in our religion, and we have a right to wear our hijab,” tweets Marziya Fatemah from Burma with the hashtag #UnapologeticHijabi.

 In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Nazma Khan, the founder of WHD, says “hijabophobia only worsened” with time. 

Hijab in solidarity

New York-born Khan contemplated marking February 1 as World Hijab Day for about three years. She had faced discrimination in school and much of her teenage years because of wearing hijab.

Now, World Hijab Day is more than just a day-long celebration. It has turned into a campaign in which over 150 countries participate yearly. Many volunteers and ambassadors around the world as well as high-profile individuals, endorse this event.

The recognition of the day by the New York State in 2017 was one of the milestones for the campaign. The same year, the UK House of Commons hosted an event for World Hijab Day. The House of Representatives of the Philippines passed a law in Parliament to commemorate February 1st as National Hijab Day.

Last year, Facebook and Instagram owner Meta company helped celebrate the 10th annual World Hijab Day by posting a video promoting the campaign.

WHD is a nonprofit organisation fighting discrimination against Muslim women, giving them platforms to share their diverse hijab experiences and holding annual events to encourage women of all backgrounds to wear the hijab in solidarity.

Systemic discrimination 

Several countries are debating banning the hijab or burqa in public spaces, government departments and schools. France, Denmark, Belgium, India, China and Austria are among the countries where hijab-clad women face systemic discrimination.

The “hijabophobia” is faced at the societal level, especially in European countries, alongside the governments’ restrictive and inhumane regulations that became systematic.

Today in many working areas, hijabi women are still not completely welcomed with their chosen clothing.

An experiment conducted with the CVs (curriculum vitae) of the same people by using the same content and information with both veiled and unveiled photos claimed “veiled Muslim women” face more discrimination than others when applying for jobs in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

In the Netherlands, 35 percent of women with headscarves got responses from employers, while this rate rose to 70 percent among those not wearing them.

The scenario was similar in Germany, showing that 25 percent of the hijabi candidates and 53 percent of the non-hijabi ones received responses.

In the Dutch labour market, 48.5 percent of non-hijabi Muslim women received responses from employers while this number decreased to 34.5 percent among hijabi Muslim women.

The WHD does more than spread awareness about the rights of Muslim women. It reaches out to Muslim women and girls who are hesitant to wear the hijab because of the hostile environment. It not only counsels them on how to tackle fear, intimidation, or hesitation" but also builds solidarity networks these subjugated women could fall back on should they face any threat to their lives. 

“It is important that Muslim women did not allow themselves to be affected by the stereotypes and stigmas attached to wearing the hijab,” Ridwana Wallace-Laher, a British Indian hijabi from Bradford in England, was quoted in Arab News as saying. 

WHD is the movement by Muslim women who choose not to reduce their identities to the way it is biasedly defined by the ones who haven’t tried putting themselves in the other’s shoes. 

“We should not give up on our identity simply because of negative perceptions by others” says Nazma Khan in her inspirational TED Talk.

WHD is needed to “turn struggles into strength, wounds into wisdom and pain into power by keeping hope and courage alive,” she adds.

By opening up new pathways to understanding, Nazma hopes to counteract some of the controversies among many in the world.

Despite being an act of devotion toward God, the hijab means much more than a piece of clothing for Muslims. It constitutes one of the essential pillars of practical worship in Islam. 

For every Muslim woman, choosing to wear a hijab is akin to declaring her utmost submission to God. And this open declaration visible in all public spaces keeps Muslim women at peace with themselves. 

Apart from the religiosity of the hijab, the choice of wearing it complements the women's rights movement, and an event like World Hijab Day sends a message that women can “stand up" and assert their "right to choose what they want to wear-whenever, wherever, and however,” Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Scotland’s first Muslim woman MP, wrote in The Times.

“World Hijab Day is an event that we should be proud of celebrating, not just for religious tolerance but for women’s rights around the world,” she said.

Source: TRT World