‘It’s a part of me’: In a podcast, Rochester students tell their hijab stories

A new podcast developed by school staff in Rochester, Minn., wants to help its community better understand the hard stuff some kids grow up with — like hunger, homelessness, being accepted for who they are. “The Invisible Backpack” was created by Lida Casper, a community schools facilitator at Riverside Central Elementary.

“We all move through the world carrying our own experiences and history that impact the way we see and interact with the world,” said Casper. Her podcast explores some of these often invisible experiences, she said.

World Hijab Day is on Feb. 1, and Casper’s most recent episode focuses on the experiences of Rochester students who wear hijabs — how it makes them feel, their favorite ways to style it and how they dispel misconceptions about the tradition of wearing one.   

“I think there’s just a lot of beauty in the hijab as a style piece,” said Casper. “And here in Rochester it’s a very common piece of clothing to see in our schools and throughout our community, so it made sense to hear from students about what it means to them.”

Here are some of the stories Casper collected from students at Mayo High School and John Marshall High School in Rochester:

Sabrin Adan, 17, Mayo High School

On countering common misperceptions about hijabs: 

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portrait of a girl
Sabrin Aden
Lida Casper
Sabrin counters misperceptions about hijabs

“Some people think it's my hair or something… And I'm like, ‘No.’ And they're like, ‘Oh, can you take it off? Do you take showers with them?’ Just things like that.

And I explained to them: When guys are not around, I can take it off — for my family members.

They asked me if I'm forced [to wear it]. I’m like, ‘No, it’s a choice.’ I feel like it's a part of me when I wear it. And I’m more confident when I’m wearing it.”

Aisha Sheikhibrahim, 15, John Marshall High School

On getting her first hijab:

portrait of a girl
Aisha Sheikhibrahim
Lida Casper
Aisha's first hijab

“I think it was the beginning of kindergarten. I think it was white — it was a white hijab. I had a white outfit, and my mom was getting me ready for picture day. I was really happy. I just remember it had sparkles.

And I remember, just like, ‘This is my hijab.’ I didn’t even think too much of it because it was already a part of me. My sister wore it. My mom wore it. I didn’t think of it as me being different. I just thought of it as me. It was that simple.”

SamSam, 17, John Marshall High School

On how she deals with harassment for wearing one:

portrait of a girl
SamSam
Lida Casper
SamSam: 'These people don't even know what they're saying'

“They would crush paper balls, and like, throw it at us and be like, ‘Allahu Akbar.’ I remember people would say that all the time: ‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.’ That means God is great! But they don't know that. They think is just like some sign of like, terrorism. I don't know what they think that is. But it means God is great.

I'd be really annoyed by it. But I'm like, these people don't even know what they're saying if they're just like throwing that thinking they're saying something bad. But in reality, they're saying God is great.”

Amal Mohamed, 18, John Marshall High School

On how wearing a hijab makes her feel:

Why Amal wears a hijab
portrait of a girl
Amal Mohamed
Lida Casper

“Every time I put it on, I have a connection with God and my ancestors. They've worked hard to show us the beauty in it. So every time I put it on, I'm not just putting it on for myself, I'm also putting it on for younger generations that are looking at us. We’re like ‘Hey, it’s OK to wear it. The world might be scary. But you’ll feel beautiful in it no matter what.’”

On how she picks her hijab: 

Amal's favorite hijabs

“My favorite one is either the black one — because it goes with everything — and sometimes I really like the bright ones that I have, like the red. Or sometimes I put on a yellow, and I’m like, ‘Yes, I'm going places today.’ It’s like when you curl your hair, you're like, ‘Yes, I'm making a statement today.’ That's me: I will put on the yellow one and be like, ‘I'm getting everyone's eyes tonight.’”

Yasmin Ali, 17, Mayo High School

On using social media for styling tips: 

Yasmin's fashion tips
portrait of a girl
Yasmin Ali
Lida Casper

“There was a phase — I like to call it my turban phase, I think this was like sophomore year, where I was like, ‘I want to try something new.’ I put it up into a turban, and I would just wrap the fabric around my bun under the scarf. And that was really nice for me to just try something new and sort of experiment with it.

I think, on the topic of people going on social media to find new styles, really goes to show it just becomes a part of your everyday wear. The same way you'd look for fashion tips, or I guess like on social media, you're looking for hijab tips to integrate it into your life and make it more like personal.” 

On buying hijabs and getting a good deal: 

Yasmin on buying hijabs

“A really fun experience is buying hijabs because to get the best deal, you don’t go out and buy one hijab at a time. You buy these things in big bundles.

The memory that comes to my head is when me, my mom and my siblings went on vacation to Dubai. There was a fashion district in the city, and there was one area specifically where they sold hijabs. We went in, and I remember my mom bargaining. She was doing it all in Arabic, so of course, she was yelling her head off, and I didn’t fully understand what was going on. But I knew she was really putting in the work to get us the best deal. We ended up getting it for probably half price, so she did some great work.”