By Leah Jones, Features Editor

From Left to Right: Noreen Heyari, Nouri Abdelaal, Alaa Saffaf, Tagreed Salameh, and Edrees Sidiqi – Courtesy of Leah Jones/The Current

 

Though many people outside of the Muslim community know that a hijab is the head covering worn by some Muslim women, not everyone knows what the experience of wearing a hijab is like, much less how to actually put on one. Alaa Saffaf, senior, biology/pre-med, serves as the president of the Muslim Student Association on the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ campus, and this is exactly what she and her organization did on February 1 on the second floor rotunda of the Millennium Student Center (MCS).

“MSA’s goal is to spread awareness about Islam and Muslims, to break stereotypes, and to bring students from different backgrounds together,” said Saffaf. “We want to bring diversity and a better understanding of Muslims to the St. Louis community and to the UMSL campus.”

Alaa Saffaf Explains World Hijab Day – Courtesy of Alaa Saffaf

MSA formed on UMSL’s campus in 1998. However, last year the MSA closed in the middle of the semester when the advisor for the organization was no longer a full-time faculty member, and the previous president and vice president graduated. While the organization itself was not active last semester, Saffaf says that interest in the organization remained active. In response to this, Saffaf; her brothers, Omar Saffaf, junior, biochemistry and biotechnology, Khalid Saffaf, senior, biology; and her friend, Noreen Heyari, senior, revived the organization at the beginning of the spring 2017 semester. The Saffaf siblings all serve as co-presidents of the organization, while Heyari serves as vice president. Edrees Sidiqi, senior, accounting, serves as the Student Government Association representative, and Tagreed Salameh, sophomore, business administration, serves as treasurer. Rouba Kaziz, freshman, pre-optometry, acts as secretary, and Nouri Abdelaal helps out with MSA events, though she is not an officer.

Students and faculty experience what is like to wear a hijab. – Courtesy of Alaa Saffaf

On February 1, the MSA celebrated World Hijab Day (WHD) in the MSC. MSA members showed UMSL students how to wear the head covering that many Muslim women choose to wear. “The purpose of this event was to show girls what it’s like to wear a Hijab and what the hijab means in Islam. It showed how we are all standing in solidarity with Muslims not only around campus but around the whole world,” Saffaf said.

“We want to encourage people to come ask us any questions that they may have about our religion, the way we dress, or the things we believe in. We want students to know that we don’t get offended when asked about that stuff. We aren’t what the stereotypes portray us to be!” she continued.

The event was also covered by Fox2 News.

A little girl grins after Alaa Saffaf helped her put on a hijab – Courtesy of Alaa Saffaf

Worldhijabday.com further explains the purpose of WHD. “The overall mission of WHD is to create a more peaceful world where global citizens respect each other. Particularly, WHD focuses on fighting bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice against Muslim women. This is most crucial in these times where Hijab is being banned in some countries while in other countries, Muslim women are being targeted and harassed verbally and physically,” the website states.

WHD took off five years ago after New York native Nazma Khan launched the initial event in 2013. Khan asked women of all belief systems to try wearing the hijab for a day after experiencing discrimination and both verbal and physical harassment while growing up in New York City. Today, 140 countries worldwide celebrate WHD, though as the recent terrorist attack on the mosque in Quebec City and the recent travel ban in the United States indicate, the discrimination persists.

Saffaf and the MSA hope to undermine this discrimination though through open dialogue with UMSL students and the St. Louis community about not only the hijab but about Islam as a religion as well. “We hope to show students that Islam is a religion of peace. Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc.; we are all one, which is exactly what the UNITED States of America stands for. At the end of the day, we are all built the same way, no matter what we look like or believe in,” she said.

Though outsiders may see the hijab as oppressive, many Muslim women experience the hijab differently than this stereotypical interpretation. According to the Institute of Islamic Information and Education, many women feel that it is a statement of their modesty and identity, which encourages others to see that the woman has more than just her beauty to offer.

After the event, Saffaf posted to the group’s Facebook page, saying, “The hijab is a headscarf worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty. It allows Muslim women to be noticed for more than just their looks, but also for what’s on the inside.”

Noreen Heyari and Alaa Saffaf hug – Courtesy of Alaa Saffaf

The MSA will host other events promoting awareness of Islam throughout the semester, including Islam Awareness Week, Henna drawings, as well as other events.

For more information, visit the MSA’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/UMSL-MSA-185257288225358/

You can also visit their Triton Sync Page at https://orgsync.com/73969/chapter