Beneath the hijab

Carly Simpson

Oppression is a word often associated with Muslim women who are seen wearing a hijab or headscarf.

To combat this stereotype, the Muslim Student Association handed out 40 hijabs to students at Grand Valley State University to wear for “Try the Hijab for a Day with the MSA” on March 10 and March 11.

“It’s naive to think that those stereotypes don’t exist,” said Nargilya Gasanova, the risk management officer for MSA. “It’s upsetting to know those ideas exist and that there is a mentality of ‘them’ versus ‘us.’”

The event was concluded by a discussion with members of the MSA, which allowed students to ask questions about Islam and the practice of wearing a hijab.

The biggest misconception is that the hijab is only practiced by women, said Gasanova.

“It’s very inaccurate to think that,” she said. “It’s for all of us. The whole idea is to make sure it’s going to be balanced and fair. The reason men don’t have to completely cover their bodies is because women are the ones that are seen as the beautiful creations.”

The translation for hijab is barrier. It is meant as a form of protection and discipline. Many Americans view it as a sign of oppression, though, saying that women are forced to wear it.

“When and if someone looks different from you, you’re already comparing them to your standards and to your norms,” Gasanova said. “If you feel free to wear short sleeves or a bikini, then you automatically assume that someone who doesn’t do that is oppressed. I don’t wear a headscarf all day, but I only wear long sleeves and long pants, and I can assure you that is my comfortable level. If one day I were to wake up in a country that bans me from wearing long sleeves and long pants, that would be oppression to me.”

Jenna Stoken, the president of MSA, has been a Muslim for six years and does not wear a hijab.

“It’s a personal choice and I know I’m not ready yet to wear one,” Stoken said. “I’m taking my time and waiting until I’m ready.”

On the other hand, Yousra Hamed, the secretary of MSA, chose to wear a hijab at the age of 13.

“It was against my father’s will,” Hamed said. “He didn’t tell me to put it on. I said I was going to put it on. My sister still hasn’t worn it and she’s in high school. You’re not forced to put it on. Some cultures force women to, but that’s a cultural thing, not the religion.”

Hamed moved to the U.S. after living in Jerusalem for five years.

“One thing I don’t like is when we, and I’m American, want to look at people in the Middle East or other countries where they are male dominated and change them when they like it that way,” Hamed said. “You can’t liberate people who don’t want to change. Did you guys ever ask them if they wanted to be helped in the first place? This is a question everyone should ask themselves.”

The event is part of the Intercultural Festival hosted by Laker Traditions and the Cultural Programming Council. For a complete list of events, go to