The Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted World Hijab Day on campus for the fourth year in a row Friday, Jan. 31.
Members of the Muslim Student Association set up a table outside the cafeteria for students, faculty and staff to ask questions they had regarding the Islamic religion and to choose from a wide variety of hijabs to wear for the whole day. The hijabs varied in different colors, patterns, lengths and ways that they could be worn.
“The purpose of this holiday is to inform fellow UALR students, faculty and staff that Muslim women aren’t oppressed and that they aren’t forced to wear the hijab,” Nataly Abu-Halimeh, president of MSA, said. “World Hijab Day encourages women of all backgrounds to experience what it’s like to wear the hijab.”
World Hijab was founded in 2013 by New Yorker Nazma Khan, but didn’t become an event at UA Little Rock until 2016. Since its founding, it has become a popular event celebrated by over 140 countries around the world. The purpose of World Hijab Day is to encourage women from all backgrounds to wear and experience the hijab.
The hijab is head scarf or covering worn by Muslim women that represents modesty.
“The hijab is a requirement,” Abu-Halimeh said. “However, it’s also the woman’s choice to wear it or not.”
Abu-Halimeh does not currently wear a hijab, but hopes to in the future. Although she doesn’t wear one, she still feels it is important to celebrate the practice for the UA Little Rock campus.
“We’re a really small minority group on campus,” she said. “Because of that, it’s really good to celebrate World Hijab Day on campus because it brings awareness about who we are and what we stand for to the UA Little Rock community.”
According to a study published in 2018 by the Pew Research Center, 3.45 million Americans identify as Muslim and two percent of adults in Arkansas fall into this category, making Arkansas tied for second alongside D.C. and New York, just behind New Jersey with three percent.
With Arkansas being a largely conservative state situated right in the center of the Bible Belt, discrimination against Muslim-Americans can be a worry for some.
“It’s difficult being a Muslim in Arkansas,” Abu-Halimeh said. “There are a lot of prejudice people here who discriminate against us just because of our religion.”
Abu-Halimeh does say, however, that she is one of the lucky ones that haven’t been faced with the struggle of discrimination.
“I believe this is because by not wearing the hijab, I don’t necessarily show that I am Muslim,” she said. “However, I have seen instances where other Muslims have been faced with that challenge.”
Despite the challenge looming over her and other Muslims living in the state, Abu-Halimeh does see a bright side to the whole thing.
“Being Muslim in Arkansas brings us closer to our religion in a way,” she said. “Because of what we’re surrounded with, which isn’t much for us, it requires us to come together which makes ourselves and our faith stronger overall.”
To continue the hope and positivity, as with every year UA Little Rock has celebrated World Hijab Day, a balloon launch took place at the end of the event. The balloon launch is to honor Muslim women around the globe who have been victims of violence and discrimination because of their choice to wear the hijab. People who participated wrote the names of friends who wear the hijab on white balloons as well as special messages that showed their support for the victims. These messages ranged from special hashtags to uplifting quotes such as “Hijab is Beautiful.”
“This has been the highlight of my day,” said Paxton Richardson, a social work graduate student. “I am here especially for the balloon launch. I like that we are putting positivity into the world.”
The MSA plans on returning next year with their fifth annual World Hijab Day celebration.