What’s That Thing On Your Head?

Muslim students address what a hijab is and incidents that occured in the Blue Valley district

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Aminah Syed, Reporter

With a Muslim population of 1.8 billion, seeing someone wear a hijab is not out of the ordinary. The hijab is a religious scarf worn on a Muslim woman’s head to maintain modesty and to keep a constant reminder of God. Wearing the hijab is a choice made by a woman, and by her alone.
“The hijab is a culturally and religiously beautiful sign of modesty,” sophomore Yusra Farrukh, a Muslim student, said.
As simple as it may seem, the freedom of this expression has been marred by misunderstanding, acrimony, and aggression. It can also often be fueled by political rhetoric.
Many incidents have occurred all over the country in which people rip hijabs off of women’s heads. In other states, pulling off a woman’s hijab has been labeled as an assault as well as a hate crime. At a school in New Jersey, a student who ripped off a girl’s hijab was charged with assault and harassment. In Oregon, a 23-year-old woman was charged with two counts of hate crimes for pulling off a Portland University student’s hijab.
A similar incident happened to BV West freshman Nargis Suleman. Suleman reported that she asked a classmate to borrow a pen in her AP Human Geography class, and he obliged. The student had always been a little bit quiet according to Suleman, but she also said he seemed a little passive-aggressive.
“I had asked a kid to borrow a pen, and I dropped that pen,” Suleman said. “I was moving my MacBook to see where it went because I didn’t realize it [fell] on the floor. So he said, ‘Where’s my pen?’ Then he said, ‘Well if you don’t grab it right now, I’ll take whatever the hell that is off your head.’”
Considering the number of Muslim students at BV West and the number of young women that wear hijabs, Suleman said that she did not expect the student to take her hijab off her head.
“I was like, ‘Really?’ So, he did it,” Suleman said. “After he [took the hijab off], I was kind of in shock.”
Suleman said the incident happened so discreetly that she doesn’t believe anyone noticed that he pulled her hijab off. The student didn’t apologize until he was pulled into the principal’s office.
“He said that he was sorry, but he didn’t receive any punishment,” Suleman said.
Another incident took place at Lakewood Middle School in 2017, according to junior Rafia Siddiquea. She said she was walking to her friend in her pre-engineering class and as a student passed by her, they took her scarf.
“I just felt like a whoosh. You can’t really like describe the feeling of your scarf pulled off, it just wasn’t there anymore,” Siddiquea said. “All my friends were like, ‘What the hell dude? Why did you do that?’”
The student who pulled off her hijab walked along as if nothing had happened while Siddiquea rushed to put her hood over her head in an attempt to cover her hair. She was upset over what they had done to her and so were her friends who witnessed it.
“I felt hurt because, why would you pull my scarf down?” Siddiquea said.
She told the teacher. The teacher spoke with the student and advised Siddiquea to tell the principal but she said that the principal did not punish the student.
Neither Dr. Potts nor the Lakewood Middle School principal were able to comment on the incidents or any specific sanctions that were issued to the students. However, Dr. Potts did address the situation in the context of bullying.
“We try to investigate the accusation of bullying and harassment and then respond appropriately,” Potts said. “Maybe, get a couple students together and have them work it out. It could range from that all the way to an out-of-school suspension.”
According to Dr. Potts, the BV West staff is working on trying to reduce the problem of harassment.
“Our teachers and other staff members have been spending a lot of time in the last year, really trying to take a hard look at ourselves, as the adults in this school and how we might prevent some of these instances from happening,” Potts said.