Home Environment Comfort level, culture determine use of hijab among Muslim students

Comfort level, culture determine use of hijab among Muslim students

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Although Muslims are a fast-growing segment of the country, the hijab continues to be a mystery for some Americans.

The Pew Research Center estimated that in 2011, there were about 1.8 million adult Muslims living in the United States. In the same study, about 60 percent of Muslim-American women surveyed said that they wore a hijab at least some of the time.

“Hijab…is not about covering your hair. It’s about being modest,” said Areej Ahmed, a Saudi Arabian native who teaches Arabic at Ohio University.

The Quran, or the Islamic holy book, instructs women to dress modestly.

However, there are differing opinions among Muslim men and women on what is appropriate to wear in public.

According to the Pew survey, in some Muslim-majority countries like Saudi Arabia, people prefer a woman to not only wear the hijab, but also a piece of cloth called the niqab that covers the nose and mouth.

In other Muslim-majority countries like Lebanon, though, it is acceptable for women to go completely without a headscarf.

“That doesn’t make them less Muslim than we are,” Ahmed said.

The hijab is a religious symbol, but that it’s not only about religion, she said.

“It’s religion, it’s culture, social expectations. …It’s not only one point that directs (Muslim) women to wear (the) scarf,” she said.

Though Muslims make up a small percentage of the Athens population, Saudi Arabian sisters Reem and Maram Alsalem say they feel welcome in Athens.

“I think they respect us and they treat us better (in Athens),” Reem said. “But in Nelsonville, no. They are different.”

Reem said that in Nelsonville, where she studies at Hocking College, she will get a lot of stares because of her dress. One woman even verbally affronted her this month.

Women’s right to wear the hijab is protected under the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution, as well as the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. However, some Muslim women in America feel a social pressure not to don the hijab or the niqab.

Abeer Alaijlan, a Saudi Arabian OU student, wears the hijab because “it is part of my religion,” but she chose not to put on the niqab as she usually does in Saudi Arabia.

“Here…I don’t want to look very different from other people,” Alaijlan said.

But that is as far as she will go.

“I have my mind. I have my ability to do and achieve,” she said. “I don’t need to take off my hijab so I can please people, to see me differently.”

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