The first Islamic Awareness Week at Boston College featured an event in which women were invited to wear the Muslim hijab and learn more about the lives of Muslim women.
The “Hijab Booth” has been a popular event worldwide used to encourage Western empathy for Muslim women.
“A lot of people want to stereotype and say that Islam oppresses women and makes them cover their hair, or something like that,” Muslim Student Association (MSA) president Ahad Arshad said, according to The Heights, the newspaper of the Catholic Jesuit school and its surrounding community. “But obviously there are women who do it in their own free will, and it’s better if people can just see that.”
Arshad said the hijab event helps non-Muslims understand why Muslim women choose to wear the head garment.
“It eliminates that fear factor, like that ‘Oh this is so foreign to me, I’ve never seen that before,’” he said. “If you see it on campus, you know girls wearing hijabs and talking openly about it and how they’ve made that choice on their own, independently, it definitely makes it less alien.”
However, a recent Muslim educational video – “Salma and the Hijab” – featured a young Muslim girl who is taught by her mother that to choose not to wear the hijab – or to wear Western style clothing – would bring her “closer to Satan.”
Salma’s mother says in the animated video produced by Qatar’s government-owned Islamweb.net:
The hijab, my daughter, is a natural thing for the Muslim woman. The Prophet Muhammad ordered us to wear it, so anyone who abides by this is being obedient to Allah and His Prophet, and she gets many rewards. As for someone who does not wear the hijab, revealing parts of her body, like her hair, her arms, her neck or her legs – she is closer to Satan and denying Allah, the All Merciful. A Muslim woman must wear the hijab, and must not wear just any item of clothing she sees in the market. Islamic clothes have special requisites.
In December, Muslim women Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa denounced these “hijab booth” events in which they claim Americans are getting “duped” by a Muslim sexist agenda. They say they would rather see Americans stand against the ideology of Islamism that represses women and demands Muslim women cover themselves.
Nomani and Arafa explain that while both were born into conservative families that had no edict for women to cover their hair, following the Iranian revolution of the minority Shia sect in 1979 and the rise of the “well-funded” Saudis from the majority Sunni sect, they “experienced bullying to cover [their] hair from men and boys.”
“This ideology promotes a social attitude that absolves men of sexually harassing women and puts the onus on the victim to protect herself by covering up,” the women write. “The Muslim Reform Movement, however, supports the right of Muslim women to have the option of wearing the hijab or not.”
“As Americans, we believe in freedom of religion,” the women state, adding:
But we need to clarify to those in universities, the media and discussion forums that in exploring the “hijab,” they are not exploring Islam, but rather the ideology of political Islam as practiced by the mullahs, or clerics, of Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State.
Though Arshad says he himself has not experienced any “ignorance or hatred” at Boston College (BC), other colleges’ MSAs have been holding these types of awareness events.
“I have never really faced any stereotyping or ignorance or hatred, at least not to my face,” admits Arshad. “I can’t think of anyone who has done or said anything Islamophobic.”
The MSA president said the goal of Islamic Awareness Week is to present Islam as a “religion of peace.”
“Given that this is a Catholic university, and most students are Catholic, what better topic for Muslims to engage students with than someone as revered as Jesus?” he said.
The MSA at BC was reportedly launched six years ago as a means to educate people about Islam and gather together the Muslims on the campus.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) observes that the MSA of the United States and Canada was incorporated in January 1963, when members of the Muslim Brotherhood came together at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with the goal of “spreading Islam as students in North America.”
“Islamic extremism is on the rise on college and university campuses across the United States,” IPT states. “The spread of radical Islamism on campuses has proven to be an effective tool to garner support and gain legitimacy, exploiting the right of free association with academic institutions.”
IPT maintains that the Muslim Brotherhood-influenced MSA often uses college and university campuses as a means to gain support through campaigns based on diversity and tolerance.
“International and domestic groups that advocate extremist or radical causes frequently host lectures and other events on campuses to shore up support and recruit members,” IPT states. “Indeed, universities are a fertile field for radicals searching for the next generation of activists and sympathizers.”
Islamic Awareness Week at BC also featured lectures, presentations, art, free henna tattoos, snacks and chai, and a forum for open questions about Islam.