Fifteen-year-old Rahma Mohamud is in the cafeteria of her high school in Columbia Heights. It’s lunchtime, the room is full of classmates and it smells like the nachos that are being served for a meal.
But Rahma isn’t eating right now. She’s standing in front of a table piled with colorful scarves. It’s World Hijab Day, and Mohamud and her friends from her school’s Muslim Student Association have set up a booth to give their non-hijab-wearing classmates a chance to ask questions.
“I feel some of the students who don’t wear it don’t really know what it is. They just see it and I feel like they might have questions but may be too shy to come up without seeming ignorant,” Mohamud said. “Today is just a day where everybody can just learn what it is, get questions that might be uncomfortable to them out of the way and just bring our community closer.”
Mohamud has been wearing a hijab since kindergarten. Today her hijab is black — her favorite color — and it’s made out of jersey. It’s just easy to throw on, she said, and she likes that it stays in place easier than chiffon. She’s also wearing a black abaya — a full-length dress, which she also loves — it’s an easy, instant outfit.
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But she wants her classmates to know how important the hijab is for her.
“Hijab is something that’s a choice. A lot of people when they talk about the hijab, they try to make it seem like it’s something that’s forced on Muslim women, but in reality, it’s our own choice,” Mohamud said. “It’s something that it might not be beautiful to some, but to us we feel like it’s a beautiful choice to make and modesty is beautiful in our eyes.”
While Mohamud is talking, a few students wander over from their tables to take a look at the booth. There’s a mirror set up at the table and one of Mohamud’s friends offers the girl, Lydia Kennedy, who’s a senior, a chance to try a hijab on.
“I guess it’s World Hijab Day, so we came over to ask some questions — we were a little bit curious about the hijab,” Kennedy said. “I asked if there’s a certain age you have to start wearing it, and they said, no, it can kind of be whenever you want.”
The hijab booth was an idea thought up by members of Columbia Height’s Muslim Student Association.
Rehab Diriye, a senior, is the group’s president. After the initial months of the pandemic, when she returned to in-person classes, she noticed her Muslim classmates were doing their daily prayers in random corners of the school. So she talked to other students and staff at the school, and she set up a prayer room, complete with rugs.
“We just really wanted to unite the school and specifically the Muslim population and I think we accomplished that last year with events like a Ramadan event and culture night and we hope to continue that,” Diriye said.
This is the first year they’ve been able to put on the hijab day event. Diriye hopes she’s able to communicate what it means to her to wear a hijab.
“I love seeing other Muslim women and being identifiably Muslim. It’s just a great feeling to say ‘Salaam Alaikum,’ and then being able to recognize you as Muslim,” Diriye said. “Obviously there are downsides of that in terms of like, violence, thankfully I haven’t been through any of those experiences.”
Diriye said wearing a hijab is something that also has an effect on her Muslim friends.
“I like making other Muslim women feel comfortable just by my presence and just because I wear hijab.”