Not just the Girl with the Hijab

by Yalda Rahimi

This year marks my first involvement in Interfaith Week at the University of North Florida, actually my first experience of Interfaith Week ever. We had a kickoff promotion the week before with Turban Day at UNF. Wandering around the student union and detecting people with bright garments wrapped around their head, I couldn’t be more pleased to see that we were not only promoting Turban Day but also diversity. It was wet, chilly, and rainy outside, but the most amazing staff here at Interfaith Center managed to pull off the ever first Turban Day at UNF. We got to the point where members of the Sikh community were taking off their turbans to offer to the students because we ran out. Students were enjoying the warm Samosas, jamming to some Indian music, and rocking on the Turbans. This made me look forward to one of our interfaith week events, the Interfaith Friendzy!

For the Interfaith Friendzy, clubs and students from different religious and non-religious identities came together to host an interfaith fair for UNF students. Each booth was presenting an activity about the a particularly religious/non-religious tradition. Leading the Muslim table, me and two other students decided on presenting a quick preview of how Ramadan is celebrated around the world and offered dates to “break their fast”. I also offered to tie hijabs on willing participants, a traditional Islamic scarf worn by women. Not only did I learn that I tie hijabs very well on others, but how open minded people were towards a tradition not their own.

Students of different religious and non-religious identities, background, color, and even gender all wanted to wear a hijab during the event. Students would come to the table, wondering what color, what print, or what shape of garment to choose. After the oh-so-hard decision, they would hand me their choice of scarf and sat down for the transformation. As I would wrap the scarf according to the shape of their face, I couldn’t help but notice the excitement on some faces, curiosity on other faces, and hear the chit chat behind me. And then came the moments, where we would turn the mirror to them to reveal the masterpiece that I just created! I heard phrases such as, “oh wow that looks beautiful”, “well that was easy”, or “you did a good job”. The night went on with a countless number of students trying hijabs, and some even decided to wear it after the event.

As the night was coming to an end, I began to ponder what I learned from the other booths, such as the significance of Ash Wednesday or the ideological view of the Krishna table, but most importantly I learned about the diversity that inhabits our campus. From this experience I learned that people don’t just look at me as a girl with a scarf wrapped around her head or as a girl whose identity limits her from diverse interaction. People were embracing my diversity by trying on the hijab which gave me more confidence of not only presenting myself but promoting cultural, religious, and ethical diversity of everyone. For students to look beyond how the media represents Muslims made me to look beyond the visual representation of people. So next time I go on about my day thinking that what someone else might have as a representation of me, I am going to leave that thought at the dumpster, because one important lesson that I learned was how diverse, open-minded, and welcoming others can be.

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