Thursday, April 17, 2014

Muslim Student Association Presents Hijab Awareness Day

Women wearing hijabOn Wednesday, the Muslim Student Association educated the UNO community about traditional hijab and the value of modesty.

Hijab is a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of adult men outside their family. The term can also be symbolic, meaning "the veil which separates man or the world from God." On Wednesday, Muslim men and women attending the University of New Orleans helped students to understand Islamic hijab.

"Hijab shows modesty in our religion, covering skin, covering your hair, wearing loose clothing," said Tarannum Begum, 21, who grew up in New Orleans and attended Haynes Academy. "Part of how you behave is hijab, you behave modestly," Begum said. "Hijab is also for men. Men also have to wear loose clothing, be modest and respectful."

Begum, who came to the United States from India with her family at age three, has worn the traditional Muslim veil since age 11, but didn't truly embrace its beauty until she turned 18, she said. Growing up, she sometimes faced challenges in high school and typical teenage notions of exploring and fitting in. As she grew older, she said she began to more deeply understand covering up as a way of expressing humility and devotion to God. At UNO, she joined the Muslim Student Association, an active student organization on campus and there became inspired to begin creating more awareness. On Wednesday, Begum and other Muslim students stood in the breezeway outside the University's Earl K. Long Library distributing hijabs to fellow students and helping them to understand the Muslim tradition.

"It's about humility and devotion to God," said Begum, explaining why she covers her hair and wears a long loose-fitting black dress called an abayah. "My definition of being modest is going to be different than someone else's," she said, explaining why some women may wear more or less make-up or varying colors. "What's really important is your relationship with God. Only God knows what matters."

Begum wore a black abayah and black long-sleeved cardigan, as well as iridescent purple eyeliner and a brightly colored patterned scarf purchased at the clothing store, Forever 21. Smiling, she said that hijabs are a fashion industry unto themselves and that choices are meant to be personal.

Ahmed Albayoumig, a 19-year-old student and Muslim man from Egypt, was pleased with the turnout, which had about 25 people per hour, stopping by the library breezeway to learn more about the tradition of wearing hijab and Muslim culture. He also practices hijab, he said, with a gentle voice and smile.

"Although we don't wear the head scarf, we have to be modest, we have to be pious, we have to lower our gazes, we have to be respectful of women — basically treat every woman like she's our sister," he said, explaining gentle and pious behaviors. "... I wouldn't want to hurt my sister."

Twenty-four-year-old Nina Balan, an undergraduate student from Moldova, came out to support friends she met through the Office of International Programs. UNO's international student population, which constitutes eight percent of the student body, includes students from 97 countries. Balan, who was baptized Russian Orthodox, befriended Muslim women from the Middle East and wanted to learn more about her new friends, their religions and cultures.

"Since I was in a good relationship with them, I wanted to learn more," said Balan, who on Wednesday received a rose-colored hijab and a tutorial. "During the last year, I started to read the Koran to really understand Muslims and Islam and I wanted to learn more," she said. "Lately I've discovered that (wearing hijab) is not to feel oppressed, it is supposed to help them feel protected."

Balan, who is exploring major world religions, has recently visited both Catholic churches and mosques. Over the past two months, she has devoted time to understanding the Koran.

"Now I believe the Muslim religion is a beautiful one," Balan said. "I have come to believe that it is a wonderful thing to have such a beautiful thing inside you. It's a true value."

Hijab Awareness Day, which also included an evening lecture, is the first event of its kind at the University of New Orleans and Albayoumy is hopeful next year the Muslim Student Association will once again help to create awareness with a spirit of love and understanding.


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