World Hijab Day Takes on New Meaning in Midst of Immigration Ban

Bill De Blasio - Getty - H 2017
Noam Galai/Getty

Bill De Blasio - Getty - H 2017

"Your hijab is beautiful, and we welcome you just as you are," tweeted NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Today marks the fifth World Hijab Day — a celebration of a woman's right to wear a hijab as well as an open invitation for non-Muslim women to experience what it's like to wear the traditional head covering in public.

The movement began on Feb. 1, 2013, at a time when some countries, including France, were under fire for banning women from wearing more concealing head coverings (such as niqabs and burqas), and other Muslim women reported repeated harassment for choosing to don the hijab.

Launched by New York resident Nazma Khan, an immigrant who came to the U.S. from Bangladesh at age 11, the holiday was intended as a celebration of a woman's right to choose whether or not they wear the modest covering as well as means of fostering religious tolerance.

“Growing up in the Bronx, in NYC, I experienced a great deal of discrimination due to my hijab," wrote Khan on the World HIjab Day website. "In middle school, I was ‘Batman’ or ‘ninja.’ When I entered University after 9/11, I was called Osama bin Laden or terrorist. It was awful. I figured the only way to end discrimination is if we ask our fellow sisters to experience hijab themselves.”

However, in the midst of President Donald Trump's immigration ban, which temporarily prohibits immigrants' entry to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries, World Hijab Day has taken on deeper meaning. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Assemblyman David Weprin are among the politicians voicing their support.

"Your hijab is beautiful, and we welcome you just as you are," tweeted de Blasio, referencing the immigration ban. "We've got your back." The mayor previously had tweeted in opposition of Trump's executive order. "I can’t read the president's mind but if we take him too lightly we will regret it. He talked about a Muslim ban. His order is a first step," he said.

The official World Hijab Day Twitter account itself indirectly addressed the political climate by posting, "During a time when HATRED is at an all time HIGH, support a cause with PROVEN success in fighting prejudice." 

Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who made headlines during the 2016 Summer Olympics for being the first woman to compete while wearing a head scarf, also tweeted in celebration of World Hijab Day. 

Non-Muslim women across the U.S. are participating in the movement, with some tweeting that their experiences have helped spark debate. "Born in the US. White. Christian. And I stand for the right to wear hijab without harassment," wrote a participant on Facebook. More than 27,000 photos have been posted to Instagram with the #WorldHijabDay hashtag.

That being said, not all Muslim-identifying women have come out in support of the movement. In an op-ed penned for the Washington Post, Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa write, "We reject this interpretation that the 'hijab' is merely a symbol of modesty and dignity adopted by faithful female followers of Islam." They continued that the wearing of a hijab perpetuates a conservative Muslim way of thinking, and that they disapprove of the movement given that within the religion itself, women are discriminated against for choosing not to wear the hijab. "Today, in the 21st century, most mosques around the world, including in the United States, deny us, as Muslim women, our Islamic right to pray without a headscarf, discriminating against us by refusing us entry if we don’t cover our hair."