Three Muslim women from the Oklahoma City area recently talked about wearing hijabs, the traditional head coverings many Muslim women wear as a symbol of their faith. Buthiana Jwayyed of Edmond, longs for the day when people take no more notice of the headscarf she wears than if she wore a Christian cross around her neck. Until that day arrives, Jwayyed and two other Muslim women said they will continue on as highly visible members of the Islamic faith. Imad Enchassi, prayer leader of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, said Muslim women who wear the traditional head covering called a hijab are “on the front lines of the faith” because people more readily identify them as Muslims. The traditional headscarf made headlines recently with a US Supreme Court case involving a Tulsa woman and the clothing store Abercrombie Kids. In her lawsuit, Samantha Elauf said the Tulsa area store violated her religious rights when it refused to hire her in 2008 because her headscarf violated the company’s “Look Policy” regarding employee appearance. Jwayyed, who is 37 years old and is principal of Mercy School, an Islamic school in Oklahoma City, along with two of the school’s teachers, recently spoke about issues that arise with the hijab. She said Muslim women wear the traditional headscarves because it is decreed by God that they do so. She added: “It’s a personal covenant between you and God.”
Tania Mian, who is 33-years old and also lives in Oklahoma City, said the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an, specifically states that women “draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty” to males other than close relatives such as their fathers, husband, brothers and sons. The same views were echoed by 37-year old Sajida Shahjahan, who is originally from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. She said wearing the hijab is a sign of modesty and obedience to God. The three ladies, like Enchassi, said it is obviously also a sign to non-Muslims of their Islamic faith. Shahjahan said non-Muslims have treated her with respect, but she is often aware that her attire draws curiosity. She added: “When people look at you, you can tell they have questions, they are curious.” She said she is always aware that because her hijab is a visible symbol of her faith, she may be one of few Muslims people come in contact with, especially in Oklahoma where Muslims are a distinct minority as compared to other states with larger Islamic faith communities. Shahjahan further said: “When I wear it, I feel like I am a model for the Muslim faith. It’s not just that I am seen as a woman shopping, I am seen as a Muslim woman shopping. I tell my friends, ‘I feel like I’m always a celebrity — everyone is watching.’”
Jwayyed agreed, saying: “Whereas, everyone else is judged by their idiosyncrasies, for us, we are judged by our faith,” Jwayyed said.
The women said they realize that some of the attention from non-Muslims is due to misconceptions others may have about the Islamic faith and the head coverings. For instance, Jwayyed said her daughter attended public school for several years, and one of her school friends thought she had shaved her hair because she wore a hijab. Mian said non-Muslims have reacted positively to her. She said she recently ate at a restaurant, and one of the other customers told her she liked her headscarf and wanted to know where she purchased it. Mian said another time she was at a department store and overheard a little girl, who was watching her, make a remark to her mother. “She said, ‘Mama, look, there’s Jesus Christ!’ I think she meant Mary (the mother of Jesus), but I took it as a positive,” Mian said, laughing.
Jwayyed said she came to Oklahoma in 2007 from Brooklyn, New York. Shahjahan said she is from Pakistan and has lived in Oklahoma since 2002. Mian is a Toronto native who has lived in Oklahoma for 11 years. Jwayyed and Mian said their headscarves did not attract attention in their hometowns of Brooklyn and Toronto, because both cities are very diverse. “In Toronto, they don’t look at you twice,” Mian said. The women said the Supreme Court case involving Elauf of Tulsa certainly brings their religious right to wear their hijab to the forefront. Jwayyed said discriminating against the Tulsan for wearing a symbol of her faith is as wrong as discriminating against her because of race, weight or sexual orientation.
Communication and more interfaith efforts are key to dispelling the myths and misinformation about hijabs and Muslim women in general, the women said. They said opportunities to change misconceptions abound in the metro area, and the resulting partnerships and friendships have been gratifying. Such positive relationships help outweigh incidents such as the anti-Muslim protestors who berated Muslims as they attended the first “Muslim Day at the Capitol” civic participation event on February 27. Mian said she was heartened when students from a local Jewish school recently brought a nice card to Mercy School to present to Islamic students there. “We’ve definitely made friendships that will outlast the hate,” she said, adding: “For every one negative person, we’ve probably met 1,000 people who are not that way.”