Women Come Together to 'Unveil the Veil'

Last Wednesday in the Student Center, women of various faiths and backgrounds gathered to discuss one of the most visual elements of Islamic culture: the hijab.

Unveiling the Veil 2013
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Olivia Ginn (left) gets assistance in wrapping her head scarf from Sumia Basunia at Unveiling the Veil, an event hosted by the Muslim Student Association to discuss hijab in the Muslim culture.

As part of both Islamic Awareness Month and Women’s Awareness Month, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) hosted Unveiling the Veil. At the event, guests were invited to try wearing a headscarf for two days to experience the custom themselves.

“We wanted to dispel some of the misconceptions and emphasize the idea of empowerment through modesty,” said Hala El-Shaffey, a biomedical engineering major and one of the organizers of the event. 

Guest speaker Zaynab Ansari, a Muslim woman and doctoral student at Georgia State University, gave some background on hijab from a religious and historical perspective. She indicated that the term “hijab” is often misused to refer to a specific type of dress or article of clothing when it actually denotes the Muslim practice of women covering the body and wearing modest dress as a way to feel closer to God.

Olivia Ginn, a civil engineering major who attended the event and chose to try wearing the headscarf, had an appreciation for it after just 24 hours. 

“It's really cool to see how people react to my wearing it and to be able to explain why I'm doing it,” she said. “Having learned about the true meaning of it and how it's not supposed to be a symbol of oppression, I got to explain this to a lot of people and, hopefully, change the way they see it. I was nervous at first, but so far I have loved getting out of my comfort zone and putting myself in someone else's shoes.”

On March 8, International Women’s Day, a second event gave participants the opportunity to reconvene and discuss the experience.

“One girl felt that [wearing the headscarf] had made her more reflective and God-conscious during the day and had even brought her closer to her own faith of Christianity,” said El-Shaffey. “Their reflections and feelings reminded me of my initial weeks starting the hijab my freshman year.”

A few Muslim men also participated in the discussions, some leaving with changed or renewed perspectives. One came to college with a negative and oppressive view of hijab from family experiences but has since developed a respect and admiration for the women who do it, as he has made friends who practice hijab by choice. Another views the practice as a badge of honor for women and a symbol of the beauty of Islam. 

“Overall, the event made us all more tolerant and understanding of one another,” said Kinza Shekhani, a biomedical engineering major and president of the MSA. “I truly felt that each individual left with positive views on the hijab.”

The hijab-wearing women commended the guests who committed to wearing headscarves for the first time during the suggested two-day trial.

“It took a lot of guts for them to try the hijab, and I really admire them for their participation,” said El-Shaffey. “Listening to their thoughts … really brought me closer to my faith and caused me to reflect on how empowering and liberating modesty can be.”

Women from the Christian-based Bryan College, who had met women from Tech’s MSA during a recent visit to Atlanta, partnered with Tech for the event by participating virtually from their campus in Dayton, Tenn.

Events to recognize both Islamic Awareness Month and Women’s Awareness Month will continue to take place throughout March.