By Sorwar Alam and Sena Guler
World Hijab Day is all set to launch its 2019 campaign on Wednesday, aiming to encourage women to “voice their choice” of wearing the hijab, according to the founder of the annual event.
“#FreeInHijab is the much needed hashtag for our current global situation where women in hijab are labeled by media as oppressed and symbolically imprisoned,” Nazma Khan told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview ahead of the campaign launch.
“Through this hashtag, women are encouraged to voice their choice of wearing the hijab; thus dispelling common misconceptions,” Khan added.
World Hijab Day, created in 2013 to encourage women of all religions and backgrounds to wear the hijab in support of Muslim women.
It is celebrated worldwide every year on Feb. 1.
In 2017, World Hijab Day became a nonprofit organization, with a mission to fight discrimination against Muslim women through awareness and education, according to its official webpage.
She said 2019’s motto for the day is “Breaking Stereotypes, Shattering Boundaries”, while the campaign also includes “promoting World Hijab Day both online and offline globally”.
Khan said her motive behind the creation of the day was the hardships she faced due to her hijab when growing up in New York City.
“I was constantly bullied in middle school and high school. Discrimination took on a different height after 9/11,” she said, recalling the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S.
“Every day, I would face different challenges just walking on the street; I was chased, spat on, surrounded by goons, called a terrorist, Osama bin Laden, etc,” she said, adding that it was “devastating” and she did not want anyone else to go through the same thing.
“Therefore, I thought to myself, if I could invite sisters from all faiths and backgrounds to walk in my shoes just for a day, perhaps things would change,” she said, and thus, Khan came up with the idea of World Hijab Day.
She said women wearing hijab for one day in solidarity would give an idea of the things hijabi women face on a daily basis.
“Perhaps, this one-day experience will make them see the hijab in a different light,” she added.
Khan said there were many milestones in the past five years and one of them was the recognition of the day by New York state in 2017.
The same year, the House of Commons of the U.K. hosted an event marking the day, where Prime Minister Theresa May also attended, she added.
In 2018, the Scottish Parliament also hosted a three-day exhibition to mark the day, and the Philippines also took steps to declare Feb. 1 as national hijab day.
“With the aforementioned recognitions by government bodies, our movement is continuously working towards reducing gender discrimination,” Khan said.
On accusations of spreading an ideology of political Islam, Khan said: “There’s no politics involved in a movement which tries to bring awareness about women who are being unfairly targeted simply because they choose to wear the hijab. It’s simply awareness.”
Stating that it was a nonprofit and volunteer-based organization, Khan said since the beginning of the campaign, “they have seen positive changes in many people’s lives”.
“We have seen non-Muslim mothers accept their Muslim daughters by experiencing what they go through by donning the hijab for a day,” she said, adding people from different walks of life stand in solidarity with their “hijabi peers” for one day.
“Stories like this go on, and it only takes one day. And this is to remind anyone that wants to change the world, that it only takes one day,” Khan noted.
She said the day “serves as a reminder to be a Muslim who has responsibilities for the betterment of the society at large.”