On most afternoons I hear a faint knock on a door and always think it is my door. For two years, I even opened it to make sure. It was always my neighbor’s door, her two children pounding on the door returning from school. Samara, the older of the two, is 11 years old, quiet and loves to draw and sketch. During the summer, she would draw beautiful art with sidewalk chalk, when none of us were around the common area in our Santa Clara, California apartment complex.
“Are they not going to the public school down the street anymore?,” I asked Samara’s mother. Hesitantly, she shared that Samara has been feeling uncomfortable being in our local public school. Not only other children, but also teachers made her uncomfortable with her identity and how she fit in America today. I fell silent for a minute; it was everything I was reading in the news, but now it was happening to the girl next door. For as long as I remember, Samara has worn a hijab and many times I would be in awe of the lovely colors she chose and the subtle embroidery and designs on her headscarf. It often transported me to the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, where I went to college. I had once remarked to a Muslim friend that the Muslim girls in the city wear so much fashion that only they can make a burqa look cool.
I remember Samara’s mother telling me that when she was a little girl, she never wore a headscarf and that she never felt the desire or the compulsion to do it, but when Samara was a little over 6 years old, she asked if she could wear it looking at other little girls in the community wearing hijabs in different colors and styles. Considering that the debates about hijab often take a very religious color and is critical of religion, sometimes it can be a choice: an empowering identity for some or simply a fashion statement for others.
In 2016, Nura Afia from Colorado had been chosen as the first hijab-wearing woman to model for CoverGirl, one of the biggest cosmetics companies in the United States. Nura was a well-known YouTube blogger with tutorials on makeup for young Muslim women, like her. While the company perhaps eyed the growing market of Muslim women using makeup, many felt that a hijab-wearing woman on a billboard in Times Square could change perceptions of the hijab and its popular opinion from a conservative religious instrument that restricts women’s freedom to, perhaps, a more liberal clothing choice for some.
Image Credit: CoverGirl
The same year, Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan created history at New York Fashion Week (NYFW) by presenting a collection that featured a hijab in every look. It was the first time the designer was presenting at NYFW, but that did not deter her from becoming the first designer to showcase all her looks with a hijab. While she continues to emphasize that politics don’t drive her fashion, it certainly seems that fashion is her chosen tool to be political.
Image Credit: Getty Images
Image Credit: Instagram - Anniesa Hasibuan
This year, she is again in the headlines after casting her show entirely with immigrants and second-generation children of immigrants. Considering the current political climate, it is a bold move to express how she feels about current policies that discriminate against immigrants.
In an interview with Elle magazine, she said, “The ability to express diversity in this business is a value that I hold on to. Diversity is what fashion is for me. This show was the opportunity to show that Islam is beautiful. I believe everyone should be presented with equal opportunities, especially if he or she has passion, talents, and skills, because not all immigrants are 'bad.' We've proved they are beautiful and a great contribution to the States."
Image Credit: Getty Images
I only hope that little girls like Samara are watching all this. Along with the hate and humiliation, I hope they can see that for every person who has ever made her feel uncomfortable, there are many people who want her to feel confident and comfortable with making her own choices. For now, I should watch Mona Hayadar’s ‘Wrap My Hijab’ rap with her. The song goes:
I can already hear her breaking into laughter.