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Wearing Hijab at School

Another Day in Muslim Women's Life

By Tasneem Moolla

Wearing the hijab has been a controversial topic for many years. However, after 9/11, it has come under international spotlight. Since then, a lot of people around the world have been afflicted with Islamophobia. Women wearing the hijab became the center of attention wherever they went, and they have become the target of many insults, prejudice, and racist remarks. This has also been the case among many Muslim females attending public schools.

Many public schools and other educational institutions banned Muslims from wearing the hijab. They try to justify their decision by saying that it is unacceptable, as it does not promote the integration of students. Another reason cited is that hijab is a sign of discrimination against women. Other major criticisms of the head cover are that it denotes women's subordination and signals political extremism.

Previous Incidents

There have been numerous incidents in various parts of the world in which young women and girls were expelled from schools because of wearing hijab. In one incident that occurred in February 2002 in Singapore, four 7-year-olds were thrown out of school for wearing hijab. These young, innocent girls were then forced to travel abroad to continue their education.

There are other similar incidents that have taken place in the UK, Spain, Turkey, France, and various other countries. In France, two sisters Lila and Alma, aged 18 and 16 respectively, turned up at school one day wearing hijab. The school suspected that their parents must have "encouraged" the girls to wear the hijab, but after some investigation, they were "shocked" to discover that their father was a non-practicing Jew. The father explained that his daughters had come under no pressure from radical Muslims. "They have simply 'got God' - like so many teenagers always do, and their religion of reference happens to be Islam." Unfortunately, they were also expelled from school. Now, they are continuing their studies from home.

Light Amid Darkness

However, despite the negativity there is a glimpse of hope. There are several young Muslim women who are successfully wearing hijab in public schools. These young Muslim women feel modest when they are covered up. Hijab brings about self-respect and makes them feel more confident about themselves.

Sumayya Syed, a 16-year-old from Canada, maintains that when a woman is covered, men cannot judge her by her appearance, yet are forced to evaluate her by her character and morals. "I tell them that hijab isn't a responsibility, it's a right given to me by Almighty Allah who knows us best. It's a benefit to me, so why not? It's something every woman should strive to reach and should want."

Syed emphasized that a major plus is that people actually evaluate her on who she is and not on her beauty or clothing. "It protects me from the fashion industry. Wearing hijab liberates you from the media that brainwashes you into buying this and that," she added. "Hijab allows me to be who I am. I don't have to worry about being popular by buying things that are considered 'cool'."

Another student, Hana Tariq, a 15-year-old, said that hijab lets you know who your real friends are. "People who are friends with you because of the way you look aren't real friends, but people who judge you according to your personality, because you can alter your looks, but you can't really change your personality." Tariq added that hijab helped her develop a real identity.

A sixth grader in the eastern Oklahoma town of Muskogee was asked to leave school because she refused to remove her hijab. The US government joined her lawsuit against the school and she emerged victorious.


Young women from different countries face challenges daily because of wearing hijab. Nowadays, unfortunately, people who do not adhere to their society norms are disrespected. Those who are different are often treated with disdain and are ostracized.

There is almost no difference among reactions toward hijab: Girls are treated with hostility, not only by fellow students, but also by teachers. They are often a minority and become outcasts, which makes them feel insecure. They become alienated from the rest of their classmates, and they are constantly ridiculed.

Most people are under the impression that all women who wear hijab do not know English and are immigrants. One student said that her classmates think she is uneducated, and to prove the opposite, she makes extra effort to answer questions asked in class. This takes many of her classmates by surprise ,as she contradicted their thoughts about young Muslim women wearing hijab.

Students are also treated differently by being looked at in a strange manner; often making those wearing the hijab feel uncomfortable. Their school property is at times vandalized and even stolen.

After 9/11, the ill feelings that have been portrayed by others toward Muslims have heightened. Hijab is one of the symbols of Islam, and therefore when Muslim women are seen wearing it, they are hated, not for personal reasons but for political reasons. However, this has a direct impact on them and on how they are made to feel.

As a student in Johannesburg, South Africa, I was fortunate that for eight years of my schooling days, I attended Islamic schools and there was no pressure imposed on me for wearing hijab. However, in the late 1990s when I attended public schools, I was confronted by many challenges because of wearing hijab. The principal of my school was a Muslim, yet I encountered many problems with him when I requested permission to wear the headscarf. I was fortunate that he eventually agreed. The journey was not without obstacles though, as I used to be subject to racial prejudice by some teachers and fellow students.

Overcoming the Challenges

Despite what many people think, there are thousands of young women who feel liberated wearing hijab. The misconception among many people is that women are forced into wearing it; they are also of the belief that these women are oppressed. In fact, for many Muslim women and girls across the globe, the decision to wear hijab is a personal choice.

Irrespective of our race, ethnicity, religion, or geographical location, all people share a common set of values and goals. This is also true for the diverse set of students and teachers that are found in schools and educational institutions. People need to realize that we are alike and our choice of dressing should not exclude us from the rest of humanity. The intrinsic qualities of human beings are homogeneous, and young Muslim women are no different.

A lot of people believe that women who wear hijab are uneducated and enslaved. We need to show the world that young women who are wear the hijab are empowered and can excel in various fields of life.

In Australia, an MP called for a "ban" on the wearing of headscarves in public schools. In an unguarded moment, she made a stand for what she believed is women's rights, asking why "one section of the community should be stuck in the Dark Ages of compliance cloaked under the veil of some distorted form of religious freedom."

This proves that people don't know enough about the concept of hijab. They are unaware of the progression of this concept and therefore resort to this sort of belief. conducted a project that was undertaken and sponsored by the Montclair State University's Muslim Student Union and its women's center. Fifteen students took a two-day challenge to wear the hijab. Both Muslim and non-Muslim young women participated in this project. The young women were questioned a lot and initially felt uncomfortable, but overall they received a positive reaction. They felt liberated and one of them is now even considering wearing it. This is just one example of how we can educate people about hijab and its implications.

As Muslim women and girls wearing the hijab, we need to present ourselves in an exemplary manner. We need to portray to the world that despite what they think, hijab represents freedom for us. It is a means of modesty and a representation of our faith and spirituality. We should be open to questions about our hijab in order to be understood by others; we need to make an effort to educate them about Islam. The key to overcoming the obstacles faced by veiled young women in public schools is to educate our fellow classmates and teachers about our religion. This also applies to people that we come into contact with in our everyday lives.

{O you Children of Adam, We [Allah] have bestowed on you clothing to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you. But the clothing of righteousness, that is the best. Such are among the signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition!) (Al-A`raf 7:26)

It's a challenge wearing the hijab nowadays. It requires us to be strong and courageous. We should confront the challenges with fortitude and remember that if "Almighty Allah is for us, who can be against us?" We need to hold on to our faith, have strength to overcome the obstacles, and have hope for a better future.


"A Two Day Glimpse of Muslim Life." North Jersey. 13 March 2008. Accessed 14 April 2008. Accessed 8 July 2008.

"Girl Wins Right to Wear Hijab in School." About. 20 May 2004. Accessed 8 July 2008.

"Hijab Ban: An Attack on Our Daughters ." Innovative Minds. 24 June 2004. Accessed 8 July 2008.

Karvelas, Patricia."Headscarves Deny Women Rights: MP ." The Australian. 6 Sept. 2005. Accessed 8 July 2008.

"Why Do Muslim Women Wear the Hijab? " Islam for Today. Accessed 8 July 2008.


Tasneem Moolla is studying tourism management at the University of South Africa. She has a great interest in reading and writing. She is also interested in learning about various cultures and people's lifestyles all over the world. She is a part-time, voluntary nasheed singer who performs at various Islamic functions. She can be reached through

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