Choosing to cover: Student wears a hijab for one day

Ani DiFranco, a feminist songwriter, sings in “Everest,” Take a few steps back, and put on a wider lens. That’s exactly what I did last Friday, when I donned a headscarf by choice – just like dozens of Muslim women on campus do every day. The personal effects were astonishing.

I was asked to participate by my friend, Nida Syed, earlier that week. I quickly responded, “Sure!”

I was curious about Islam and events such as “World Hijab Day” since high school so when I heard about Cover a Mile in Her Scarf, I knew I wanted to try it out.

My Friday actually began on Thursday, when the UB Muslim Women’s Council executive board met with me to discuss wearing the hijab. That afternoon, I met with Montaha Rizeq and Samiha Islam, along with a few other MWC members, in the Student Union Lobby. Each of the ladies thanked me for participating and made me feel welcomed into their community in minutes. With Rizeq, I made sure I could pin the hijab correctly come the next morning.

The scarf I chose was my mother’s – a blue-beige paisley, warm for the frigid Buffalo temperatures. I don’t think I knew fully what I was getting into, but I was enthusiastic and (mostly) relaxed.

Thursday night, I shared the event on my Facebook wall and told my friends why I was doing it.

When I woke up on Friday, however, I was a little bewildered.

There was the scarf. And there was my face, in the mirror. I tied my hair back, and wrapped the scarf around my hair, tucking in the ends and framing my face. Near the base of my chin, I safety-pinned the scarf so it wouldn’t fly off and then pulled one end toward my left ear, pinning it back with a flowered brooch given to me by the e-board.

I stared into the mirror and smiled. I never felt more beautiful and in control. I got out of my car and walked into the Union.

Eyes. That was all I noticed for a solid 10 minutes. The hardest thing I did all day? Staring back. I was defending my decision, without words, to everyone. Not only was I defending a personal choice, but I was serving as a representative of the Muslim community – a weighty decision, but one I stood by.

Some of my friends and professors ignored the hijab on Friday, while others asked about what I was doing. Aware that I was representing a community of sisters, I treated everyone I met with respect, smiles and peace.

Sometime around 10:30 a.m., the anxiety set in.

Is my chocolate chip muffin halal? Are Muslims supposed to pray right now? When am I going to run into another woman in hijab? Is that hijabi a participant, as well?

All these thoughts rushed into my head and refused to leave. When I wasn’t in class, I sat in the library, alternating between studying and looking up facts about Islamic life. Every time I passed another hijabi – or woman wearing the hijab – in the hallway, I was overwhelmed with relief.

Occasionally, a fellow hijabi would mouth: “Salaam,” the Arabic word for “peace,” to me. Several times, I thought, “ Is this what it’s like to wear hijab every day?”

My questions were answered later on Friday afternoon, at the forum held by the MWC.

Around 40 women (and a guy or two) – old friends, new friends and close friends – gathered in Baldy 101 to talk about Islam, the hijab, how their days went and how the participants’ days went.

Rizeq and Islam began their presentation with the idea that “Muslim women are like superheroes. They represent something greater than themselves, and even have a cool costume.”

All the hijabis in attendance expressed similar feelings. No Muslim women I spoke with ever felt like they were forced to wear it, nor did they resent it. Many described it as a willing and loving expression of faith, complete with a sisterhood under God. Many women even thanked me for wearing it, telling me that I was an “example” for Muslim non-hijabi women who have never tried it.

As a result of participating in Cover a Mile in Her Scarf, I gained a much greater understanding of “a day in the life” of a hijabi. I felt more connected with my Muslim friends and also felt more inspired to re-examine my own beliefs. I left the event that night with a rose from the e-board, a wider perspective and more knowledge about how Muslims practice their religion in the United States.

What did wearing the hijab do for me? Well, it made me think about what I consider beautiful and what others around me believe is beautiful. In addition, it framed that day’s actions in terms of a religion I knew little about.

What did it do for others? I cannot say. But I hope I inspired others to think about Islam in a new way: a religion of sisterhood, brotherhood and peace.

Kayleigh Reed is a contributing features writer and can be reached at