Wear a hijab for the day as part of this ‘challenge’

“They don’t look at your appearance. They look at you.”

MJ Slaby / The Incline
MJ Slaby

“I’ll be your first person,” Alexa Connors said as she saw Yosra Kandil start to unpack scarves.

Connors pulled out a scarf, and together the women arranged it to cover her hair.

Members of the University of Pittsburgh Muslim Student Association didn’t anticipate that their Islam Awareness Week events would get as much attention as they have — but they also didn’t anticipate the outcome of last week’s election.

Earlier this week, at a breaking stereotypes event, participants wrote stereotypes about themselves on wooden boards and broke them“People needed an outlet, and there was a a sense of unity,” said Aya Shehata, a sophomore and a social chairperson for MSA.

Today’s event was the “hijab challenge,” which asked people to “wear a hijab for a day to walk in the shoes of someone who wears one every day.”

MSA board members gathered in the lobby of Litchfield Towers on campus to help fellow students don a hijab.

“The concept of a hijab can be intimidating,” Shehata said, adding that the event can make them feel more approachable and normal.

Connors, a junior, said she’s a part of the campus women’s organization and wanted to participate because of reactions to the election.

“I have a friend who is Muslim, and I want to see how she’s feeling,” Connors said, adding that she anticipated getting a lot of looks from people.

What you should know

MSA board members Saman Hasan, Yosra Kandil and Aya Shehata

MSA board members Saman Hasan, Yosra Kandil and Aya Shehata

MJ Slaby / The Incline

As MSA board members waited for more students like Connors, they chatted with The Incline about their hijabs and what they want others to know.

Of the four women, two said they wear hijabs daily. And the choice to wear one is personal, they said.

“It’s a big step in the faith,” Shehata said. For her, she was 14 when she started wearing a hijab daily. Shehata said she was already wearing it five days a week to the Islamic school she attended, but that’s when she added the weekends, too.

Shehata said the hijab is a symbol that she’s more than her physical appearance. And because of it, she said people get to know her for her, not for her looks. Plus, it helps her avoid shallow things.

“It helps me focus what I should spend my time on,” she said.

Although she doesn’t usually wear a hijab, Saman Hasan, a freshman rep for MSA, said she agreed with Shehata that a hijab is empowering.

“They don’t look at your appearance. They look at you,” Hasan said.

Wearing it also makes them almost an ambassador for the the faith, they agreed. Because it’s an outward sign of their faith, they get a lot of questions.

Shehata recited her usual answers with a laugh: “I wear it to the gym, I have hair, and I don’t wear it in the shower.”  

It can be hard sometimes to know if people are being serious or mean, she added, saying sometimes it’s about swallowing her pride and engaging people.

Once, someone saw the pin holding the scarf in place and asked if it hurt, because that person thought it was pinned to her face, Shehata said.

And, no, women aren’t pressed to wear them, said Razan Shaker, who is a senior and MSA secretary. She started wearing hers daily at 13. “It’s not a limiting thing.”

The other women were quick to point out that Shaker always coordinates her hijab with her outfit. On Thursday, her light pink scarf matched her shirt.

There are no rules on the type of scarf to use, the women said. In general, the longer the scarf, the easier it is to wrap. Most of the time, compliments on their scarves come from non-Muslim women, Shehata said.

So what is it like?

The Incline asked Connors to update us on what her day was like, wearing a hijab.

About an hour after Kandil helped her put it on, Connors texted The Incline to say that another woman in a hijab stopped her on her way to class.

“You look beautiful,” the woman said.