Opinion: I wore a hijab for one day – and this is what happened

In today’s social climate, the value of seeing life through someone else’s eyes in priceless. A couple of weeks ago, I got a chance to experience that for myself.

After attending a cultural event at my university, I was offered the chance to participate in something called “The Hijab Experiment” in which I would wear the Muslim veil for the rest of that day. The goal was to walk a mile in a Muslim woman’s shoes: an attempt to educate and promote understanding of what it’s like to openly observe Islam in America.

Wearing the hijab, I was received as a woman of self-proclaimed devotion to something greater than myself. Such a responsibility, even for those few hours, gave me an appreciation for not only Muslim women, but all who so courageously observe their faith.

— Amber Lowry

At first, I didn’t jump at the idea of wearing the hijab. For one, I didn’t think I could manage to wrap my wild head of curls into any kind of head garment, let alone a scarf whose main purpose is to cover hair. And two, the weather had just gotten nice, and the idea of having something covering my head and neck seemed less than ideal during such a rare spring day.

But regardless, I found myself drawn to the experience, and volunteered. A member of the group sponsoring the experiment patiently put the veil on me as best as she could without the customary pins to keep it in place. Once it was on, I took a glimpse of myself using my phone’s front camera and was surprisingly pleased with how it looked on me.

I joined the others who participated in the experiment and marveled at how beautiful we all looked. Being a part of such a physical expression of unity and sisterhood was new to me, and I enjoyed laughing and reciprocating compliments with the other women. So far, so good.

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I left the site of the event feeling beautiful in a way I had never felt before. But as I made my way toward the train home, a sense of worry consumed me. With the Brussels attack having occurred only a few days before, I realized that I was walking around looking like Muslim woman in a culture that wasn’t so enthusiastic about Islam at the moment.

My train ride was uneventful until I arrived at my destination. My makeshift hijab came undone as I hustled out of the station, creating a moment of panic similar to that of the most revealing of wardrobe malfunctions. I freaked out at the thought of strangers seeing my hair emerge from my scarf.

Thankfully, I managed to adjust it enough for it to stay put, with minor alterations having to be made every few minutes or so. I was surprised at how much I cared, considering I’m not actually Muslim. Representing a faith that wasn’t my own made me feel a sense of personal responsibility that was foreign to me, a responsibility that I would soon unknowingly neglect.

Later that evening, while still wearing the hijab, I went out to dinner with my boyfriend. As I entered the restaurant, I got a few glances from around the room, but nothing overtly biased or negative.

After ordering my meal, I noticed my waitress and another staff member looking my way while exchanging whispers. Not wanting to jump to any conclusions, I ignored them and continued eating. As I looked down at my plate, I realized the reason for their glares: I, a perceivably Muslim woman, was shamelessly chowing down on a grilled cheese with pork bacon and sipping on a cocktail.

After making this realization, I could barely touch the rest of my meal, which at that point was almost finished. If this was the one time bacon didn’t seem amazing to me, this was it.

After dishonorably taking the last sip of my cocktail (you thought I wasn’t going to finish a $10 drink?), I slithered away out of the restaurant, feeling embarrassed and hyper-aware of what a commitment displaying your faith to the world is.

I never had to be accountable for my behaviors in such a way, and it made me see myself in a different light. As a 20-something year old woman, I spend much of my life in front of the mirror trying on body-hugging clothes and styling my hair in ways I hope make me seem attractive. Doing the hijab experiment showed me the beauty in modesty, and gave me a glimpse of the rewarding feeling of saving your favorite physical traits for yourself, and those you trust to cherish you.

After going home and taking off the veil, I felt a tinge of relief for myself, as well as a great deal of respect for the women who choose to literally wear their love for God for the world to see.

I learned that wearing the hijab goes deeper than the stereotypical notion of oppression that many people think is going on when a woman wears her veil.

Through listening to Muslim women talk about their experiences in addition to my own short experience, I learned that wearing the garment is a choice, a responsibility, and a statement to all, but most importantly, to God.

As a Latina, I’m used to being looked at for one thing or another. But while donning this sacred piece of clothing, any lingering looks were more likely for a different reason, a reason that had more to do with how I saw myself in relation to how the world saw me.

Wearing the hijab, I was received as a woman of self-proclaimed devotion to something greater than myself. Such a responsibility, even for those few hours, gave me an appreciation for not only Muslim women, but all who so courageously observe their faith.