To some, wearing the hajib as a non-Muslim is a sign of solidarity. To others, it is a sign of misappropriation. Some women wear the hajib as part of their Muslim faith. Others do not. If not forced by another person to don the hajib, then the hajib seems to be a garment of personal choice.
Muslims are being attacked in the United States because of the actions of extremist terrorists. And many people are afraid. Not everyone is afraid that every Muslim is a terrorist. However, some people are afraid of offending Muslim people because, surrounded by non-Muslim people, they do not know how to show a Muslim person that they are a friend. Wearing the hajib makes a rather bold statement. I’m not going to put down anyone who chooses this path.
When I was teaching English as a Second Language as part of my commitment to Americorps, I took to wearing colorful kerchiefs. I chose to cover my head for speed (I’m not a morning person), for vanity (because I won’t dye my grey hair, nor am I happy about the inevitable), and for fun. My colorful kerchiefs, with peace signs, cherries, flowers, and butterflies, kept my hair out of my face and brightened my rather dull wardrobe. I am not my kerchiefs and my kerchiefs are not me, but my kerchiefs did set me apart from the other teachers. And I was asked if it was a religious thing. This gave me an opening to ask my Muslim students about their head coverings.
Had I not been teaching that class, I would not have met many wonderful people of all faiths. Now that I am not teaching the ESL class, I feel comfortable meeting my students as friends for breakfasts or lunches or other informal get togethers. I still get some funny looks when the friend I am waiting to meet does not appear to speak the same language I do, wears a hajib, or is in some other way different from me.
But this isn’t about me. Attacks on Muslims who are not terrorists do not attack me. So I don't need to don a hajib to show solidarity. I agree with noorulannshalid who said “It’s much more constructive to actually give Muslim women a platform- sit down with us, talk to us, listen and observe. Don’t speak on our behalf or play dress up and then write [an article about it].” But others, like unveiledthought, appreciate any sign of solidarity, and see no harm in non-Muslims wearing the hajib. Neither woman is the appointed spokeswoman for all other women – Muslim or otherwise. But both bring valid points to the table of the conversation.
How should we show solidarity to our sisters when we aren’t Muslim and don’t know any Muslims? We post our solidarity on Facebook and comment on blogs, but those voices can be fairly faceless. (It is, however, a good way to present ideas to people who are reading, but afraid to speak out. Maybe something we write will inspire whatever freedom someone else needs to express their own agency.) We can talk to our friends. But if all our friends look like us, then maybe we don’t learn very much. Some of us have the opportunity, skills, or experience to work or socialize with someone who is different from us. We can learn a lot from those friendships. Other people wear the hajib as a flag – “Hey! Notice me! In a sea of hate, I would be your friend!” I can’t hate on a person willing to do that.
Hopefully, if you are one who is offended by cultural appropriation (which means you likely lean left enough to know what those words mean), you will engage the hajib-wearer positively. Befriend them. Once they know YOU, they will have a better understanding about why you feel wearing the garment is misplaced. Then they can make a decision about their attire that includes their concern for your friendship.
It is extremely awkward to approach a group of people and request friendship and a greater appreciation for other cultures. You might look for a college or an adult education center where you might volunteer. This would give you more opportunities to engage with others and learn their stories.
In the meantime, I think the best thing EVERYONE can do is be themselves (the nice version) and be a friend. Go public places with your friends in hajib and show that hajib and non-hajib wearers alike can be friends. Talk about the things you have in common – crazy family members, a love of reading, pets, disgust with traffic. Be visible being YOU with your friend as two people (or a group of people) who are different, and comfortable being different. I think that is the way to show the Great American Melting Pot – turned mosaic – that brings so many people here.
For further reading on the hajib: