Conversations Around the Hijab

September 25, 2017 at 11:33 am Leave a comment

Photo via Savita Iyer

When Maha Marouan, associate professor of African-American Studies and Women’s Studies, was teaching at the University of Alabama, some of the Muslim female students on campus would come by her office to chat about what was going on in their lives. A number of them wore the Hijab, or head scarf, and they confided in Marouan that more often than not, the scarf invited a certain kind of negative scrutiny that made them feel unwelcome on campus.

Marouan documented the experiences of five of these students in a movie entitled “Voices of Muslim Women in the US South.” Produced by New York-based company Women Make Films, the half-hour documentary examines how Muslim women carve a space for self-expression and identity in a part of the country that often has unflattering views about Islam and Muslims. The United Nations Association of Centre County showed “Voices of Muslim Women in the US South” at Schlow Library on Tuesday, and invited Marouan to facilitate a discussion about her film.

Although the documentary was made in 2013, Marouan believes it is even more relevant today, when many Muslims across the U.S. and on campuses feel unwelcome, if not unsafe. It echoes some of what we heard from Muslim students at Penn State in our March/April 2016 cover story. The film is a good conversation starter, she said, to help counter the prevailing narrative around Muslims, Muslim women and the Hijab.

“Sadly, many stereotypes persist, and so many people associate Muslim women with being backward, not educated, subjected to terrible Muslim men and so on,” Marouan said. “We need to start different conversations, to be more properly informed to understand that our identities are multi-layered.”

The students featured in Marouan’s film are like students on any campus. Their majors are different, they have different plans for the future, and concerns, Marouan said, like all young women their age, “about their weight, their looks.” Each one has a different ethnic background—one is from Yemen, another is African-American, a third is a second-generation Pakistani, and a fourth student, an Alabama native, is a recent convert to Islam.

Most importantly, each one has a different and personal reason for wearing the Hijab—or, like the fifth student from Saudi Arabia, a nation where women face many restrictions—not wearing it.

“The scarf is a visible ‘opposite’ of what’s generally considered American, but in fact, it is the last thing Muslim women talk about,” Marouan said.

Marouan was born and raised in Morocco, and spent most of her adult life in Europe. She is a founding member of the United Nations Faith and Feminism Group.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

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