World Hijab Day: The Social Movement Empowering Muslim Women

World Hijab Day (WHD) was celebrated across the world on February 1st, by both Muslim and non-Muslim women. Women from 140 countries across the world united to support hijab-wearing Muslims, with the aim of encouraging solidarity, confidence in hijab-wearing women, and breaking stereotypes of what the hijab means in a modern-day society.

Islamophobia has grown substantially since the post-9/11 era which saw a height in Muslim focused attacks. The 2017 annual report conducted by Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) revealed that women wearing the traditional Islamic clothing faced more abuse than other Muslim groups. Trending across the world, hateful rhetoric adopted by government officials and people of influence has encouraged the growth of Islamophobia on the national level.

Executive director for the New York-based CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) office, Afaf Nasher, praises the annual event and the WHD initiative asserting that it contradicts “false stereotypes” and emphasizes the diversity of Muslim women around the world, Al Jazeera reports. Nasher hopes that by demonstrating to the public that wearing the hijab does not equal terrorism, prejudice against hijab-wearing women can be mitigated. Contrastingly, Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco Bay area, voices the concerns of many Muslim women stating that wearing the hijab for a day could “risk tokenizing the experience” that is a Muslim woman’s life. WHD has been endorsed by dozens of influential individuals across the world. Senator Persaud, New York State, cheered for WHD reciting that “knowledge is power” and that we must unite in the face of religious hate and prejudice.

Islamophobic rhetoric is becoming increasingly used by national leaders and their respective governments across the world. Rather than upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Articles 2,7 and 18, referencing the right to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination, in particular, governments are isolating and targeting Muslim minority communities in their witch-hunt against terrorists, fueling hatred and fear within their communities.

In Austria, Islamophobia has grown substantially since the election of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right People’s Party (OVP) and their coalition government, the far-right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), originally founded by former Nazis. Al Jazeera reports that the term “Islam” was referenced 21 times during the Austrian coalition’s new-founded program, “Together. For our Austria.” The focus on Islam is attributed to the growing terrorist-based attacks across the world, however, the program itself does not distinguish between ‘political Islam’ and the Muslim community itself, with Islamic preschools being monitored by the government.

United States President Donald Trump has similarly not actively discouraged the rise in Islamophobia across the nation. On December 4th, 2017, the US Supreme Court passed the third version of President Trump’s travel ban, also referred to as the “Muslim Ban,” limiting entry of nationals from six Muslim majority nations, including Syria and Iran. Although this ban ignited protests from both Muslim and non-Muslim’s across the world, it also recharged bigotry and hatred.

Since the rise of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), Muslim communities have become targeted in attacks and consequently many live-in fear. The CAIR reports that in the first six months following President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the US increased by 91%, when compared to the 2016 data. Abuse against Muslim peoples not only involves harassment but also FBI targeting and customs and border protection prejudice. Although most often focused in the media, Islamophobia is not contained to the Western world. Hate crimes against Muslims in India have grown. Attacks include the hacking and burning to death of a Muslim man in Rajasthan, December 2017. WHD has gathered support and enlisted ambassadors from 145 countries of different races and religions to unite together to end religious fueled hate attacks and to support Muslim’s across the world who are too afraid to proudly wear their religious garments.

WHD is a ground-breaking initiative aimed at targeting social Islamophobia in local communities. However, the matter of Islamophobia stretches beyond the four-wall confinement of a home and must be addressed on the governmental level. National leaders, such as President Trump and Chancellor Kurz, are undermining the social movements occurring on the local level by encouraging Islamophobic behaviour which they refer to as ‘anti-terrorist actions,’ which often target and oppress innocent Muslims. Contrastingly, WHD gains momentum every year, with plans to release an educational program, “Corporate Anti-Islamophobia Program,” to address discrimination in the corporate sector. If Muslim minority communities are going to live in peace and without fear, anti-Islamophobic campaigns must maintain their momentum and target national leaders and influential peoples to reach each corner of today’s society.

Zoe Knight