The McBride Gathering Space at Elon University buzzed with nearly 50 women wearing orange, blue, white and multicolored hijabs Thursday evening as the community celebrated World Hijab Day.
Dr. Shereen Elgamal, an Arabic professor at the university who immigrated to the United States from Egypt, spoke about what it's like to be a Hijabi woman in America, and how non-Muslim women can best show their support in a time when fear and hate tends to have a stronger voice than the truth.
"I always say, 'Ask questions.' My students have this strange habit of saying, 'I have this question, but I know it sounds silly.' If it is important you, then it is important. There is no silly question. There is no bad question. If it is on your mind, then I am interested in it," she said.
She says a lack of knowledge and the media's focus on radical situations and practices tends to perpetuate the negativity surrounding the hijab, but wearing a hijab is a choice, and the reasoning behind wearing it and the style of it can vary from woman to woman.
"I will gladly share my reason because I have found a lot of interest in understanding the symbolism behind acts of worship, so when I look at the hijab and how it instructs that the face and the hands are the two parts of the body that show, I find some amazing symbolism behind this because I look at my face, and what does my face symbolize? It actually symbolizes the brain behind it. ... And what do the hands symbolize? For me, they symbolize my ability to work. So let's think and work together. Let's put the other stuff on the side," she said.
Elgamal has two daughters, both of whom also choose to wear hijabs, though she says their style is different since they're younger and more into fashion.
When faced with the idea that the women in her family are being oppressed or forced to cover, Elgamal says she laughs and says, "If there is anyone oppressed in the household, it is not me?" because her husband often does the cleaning and cooking, and supports her by coming to university events. She says she is "being treated like a queen."
She asked that the community continue having events like this to expand knowledge, as well as inter-faith dialogues that show where different religions connect and where they differ.
KRISTINA MEYER, A sophomore religious studies and mathematics double major at Elon, helped organize the event for the second year in a row.
She says it's especially important to celebrate World Hijab Day this year, and she's proud of the community for choosing to come out and experience what it's like to wear a hijab and be a "visible minority."
"Since the election, and since a lot of the actions that our administration has done, the Muslim community is feeling a lot more persecuted so it's even more important to support them and say, 'Hey, I support your presence in my life, in the United States, on this campus. We want you here,' which is contradictory to the message that our administration seems to be sending," Meyer said.
Elgamal told the crowd events like this are an important and appreciated step in combating that negativity, and she hopes to see more gatherings like this one.
"I feel that although there is so much negativity and ugliness out there, these events kind of highlight who we really are on the inside, and kind of also stress the level we are willing to connect at. You go way out of your way, and you probably get some strange looks and some second takes and something like that to just experience my life. ... I think that these times and these events are very much heart-warming," Elgamal said.