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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Muslim women's head scarf a veil of mystery

It's all about the veil.

The hijab is a flowing slip of fabric Muslim women wrap scarf-like around their heads, tucking their hair beneath it so that not even a wisp escapes. They wear them pulled down to cover much of their foreheads, as well.

Long before she arrived on the Fairfield University campus as a freshman, Nargis Alizada, an Afghan refugee, donned a hijab in California when she became a teenager.

A motorcyclist spotted Alizada strolling down a San Diego street with her younger brother and drove off the road, onto the sidewalk, cursed her out as a "[bleep]ing Muslim. You're killing our people," and ripped her hijab off her head before knocking her down. The time was two years after the 9/11 attacks. "I was running as fast as I could," Alizada said. "I was so scared."

The experience left Alizada, her family and friends -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- shaken. Alizada's a petite, small-boned teenager with a waif-like look. It belies the dangers she's faced growing up in a fundamentalist country where it's illegal -- even a capital crime -- to teach a girl, or how her grandparents paid a tutor to educate her in secret in a basement of their home. Or how her dad paid smugglers $20,000 to sneak Alizada, her mom, sister and brother out of Afghanistan into Iran, hunched down under piles of hay and blankets in farm trucks and other vehicles.

"All of my friends figured I would stop wearing my hijab," Alizada said. "They told me that they understood if I didn't want to anymore."

Wearing a hijab is "part of our religion and our Quran's teachings to dress modestly," she said. "But I know many Muslim women who are devout who choose not to wear them." [Link]

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