For many Muslim women, a hijab is more than a simple headscarf. It’s a representation of their faith and a point of pride.
“For me, the hijab exemplifies your inner beauty rather than your outer beauty,” said Heba Osman, an Osteopathic medicine student at Michigan State University. The fact that I have the choice to put the hijab on makes me feel more powerful.”
“It’s my choice to put it on every day. It makes me feel more powerful because I’m not falling into what society wants.”
Wearing a hijab, however, may come with risks. There number of hate crimes against Muslims rose 67 percent from 2014 to 2015, according to data released by the FBI in November. The hijab often makes Muslim women stand out more than Muslim men, who may wear more traditional American clothes.
There were 257 incidents reported against Muslims last year, up from 154 in 2014. It was one of the largest increases of any group tracked by the FBI’s hate crime data.
Osman’s friend, Susan Edlibi, said the hijab may just appear as a religious symbol to the outside world.
“When they see me walking down the street and see me wearing the hijab, they automatically know that I represent Islam,” Edlibi said. “For me, that makes me feel powerful inside.”
Since Michigan State University has such a diverse student body — with more than 138 countries represented — Edlibi and Osman said they have not faced many issues with the students or the faculty. Any minor incidents were handled respectfully, they said.
“I’m the only person in my class who wears a hijab. I’m the person people go to to ask questions,” Osman said. “Sometimes it’s a burden when people come to you and look at you as the Muslim person.
“One girl felt bad for me because I told her I didn’t celebrate Christmas, but we have other celebrations and she was almost going to cry,” she said. “I think eventually people started to realize we are just like any other student at school. In the beginning, some people have never dealt with hijab before.”
But not everyone likes taking on that responsibility. Sidrah Najam, who chooses not to wear the hijab, grew up in a predominantly white community. She was one of the only Muslims who lived there, and she felt like everyone turned to her to represent Islam, which made her uncomfortable.
“In terms of MSU, I’m lucky to have found some Muslim people that I can feel comfortable with,” Najam said. “I feel comfortable with everybody that makes me feel like I am a little bit closer to home. There’s not that many Muslims in our class. It’s not been that hard of an adjustment for me because I’ve grown up around diverse groups of people.”