Kate Hobbs, 18, sorted through a pile of scarves on a table at Fresno State, unsure whether she, a white Christian woman, should wear one in the style of a Muslim hijab.
The Muslim Student Association at Fresno State hosted a Hijab Challenge on Wednesday to offer non-Muslim students such as Hobbs a taste of what it’s like to wear a head scarf during a time of nationwide anti-Islam sentiment.
“It’s a little bit nerve-wracking because I know women in hijabs are looked at more,” she said. “As I’m contemplating this, it’s like, am I brave enough to do this?”
She eventually decided she was and sat down for a Muslim student to wrap a black, beaded scarf around her head.
Muslim women handed out free scarves and wrapped them for non-Muslim students. They also offered caps, called kufis, for men. There are several forms of covering, ranging from the full-body burka to the standard hijab, which only covers the hair.
The challenge included taking a photo and posting it on social media with the hashtag #FSHijabChallenge, wearing the headscarf for the rest of the day and reporting back about the experience. It continues Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Free Speech area, across from the Henry Madden Library, on the Fresno State campus at 5241 N. Maple Ave. The day will culminate in a lecture titled “Anti-Muslim, Anti-Arab Discrimination and Civil Rights” from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Alice Peters Auditorium.
It’s kind of sad that we can’t just be seen as human beings.
Thalia Arenas, public relations officer for the Muslim Student Association
Students said the goal is to educate people about why people wear the hijab and kufi, and to show that head coverings are worn in many different faiths, including Catholicism and Sikhism. They also hope to initiate dialogue with the non-Muslims about the discrimination that they – or people perceived to be Muslim – have faced in the wake of terrorist attacks, such as in San Bernardino, during the past year.
Discrimination has taken place in the Valley, including in December, when a Sikh man named Amrik Singh Bal was beaten and run over in what police called a hate crime based on his traditional dress and turban. Most recently, another Sikh man, Balmeet Singh, was allegedly confronted by a white man who yelled that Singh was going to blow up the country, threatened to kill him and then threw a cup of liquid on his face. And a North Carolina man pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in May for grabbing a Muslim woman’s hijab on a plane and telling her to take it off because “this is America.”
Thalia Arenas, public relations officer for the Muslim Student Association, said some people think women are forced to cover their hair. In some cultures, such as Saudi Arabia, it is imposed as part of a dress code. But she said most women here wear it because that’s their interpretation of the Quran (the Muslim holy book) on modesty. She hopes to show people that Muslim women shouldn’t be looked down upon for wearing the hijab or seen as terrorists.
“It’s kind of sad that we can’t just be seen as human beings,” she said.
The Hijab Challenge has been done in colleges nationwide. Some Fresno State professors offered extra credit for students who participate.