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Saturday, October 27, 2007

An appeal to heart - and head

Muslim students distribute head scarves to foster an understanding of women who wear hijabs

For Kavelle Thorne, the most challenging part of wearing a hijab for the first time was figuring a way to get the earphones for her MP3 player on without dislodging the bright pink scarf covering her hair.

Luckily, Sajda Khalil, a veteran hijabi and organizer of the National Hijab Day initiative at the University of Toronto, was on hand. "You have to go under the scarf, not on top" she said, laughing.

Thorne, a third-year Caribbean studies student, was one of 70 non-Muslim women at U of T to take part in the cross-country initiative to encourage an understanding of the everyday experiences of a hijab-wearing Muslim woman.

Overall, those experiences are the same as any other woman, said Khalil. While most women face relatively few incidents of overt racism in multicultural Toronto, Muslim women on campus have been targeted in the past.

In March 2006, the university was forced to make a statement after incidents including a verbal attack on a hijab-wearing woman and eggs being dropped on two students with hijabs.

The impetus for this year's event was an attempt to open dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims, said Khalil, a volunteer with the Muslim Students' Association.

"The hijab creates a separation between yourself and somebody who is not Muslim," she said. "People are more hesitant to just come up to you and ask you about it, even if they want to. That's why this kind of event makes it a lot easier for people to start a conversation, and makes them realize that there really isn't that much difference between me and them."

Third-year student Zarie Lorne wanted the first-hand experience of wearing a hijab. She wore hers on the TTC to university and felt conscious of the inquisitive stares.

"I've gotten a lot of looks, a lot of confused looks," said Lorne. "I think they're curious and want to ask questions, but they are scared."

Nicole Miller was worried that wearing a hijab for a day would be offensive to Muslim women.

"I don't know if we can really understand their experience by wearing the hijab just one day," she said.

The inspiration for National Hijab Day came after a McMaster University professor created an event last April to draw attention to discrimination against Muslim women. A week later, her office door was vandalized with graffiti. [Link]

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