By Elizabeth Rembert
27 February 2017
Caryn Friesen is a born and raised Nebraskan; she grew up in Hebron, a town of less than 1,600 people. Friesen is a junior studying French, with minors in history, African and Arabic Studies, and she travels between classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on her long board, with her Hijab flowing behind her.
As a young Nebraskan woman raised in a Christian family, Friesen doesn’t fit into the expectations of someone who wears Hijab. But she’s chosen to wear the Hijab, and the Arabic Studies program’s “Big Arabic Day” event on Feb. 23 emphasized that choice is the most essential—and often most overlooked—part of Hijab.
Hijab is the Arabic word for “cover,” and it often refers to the headscarf traditionally worn by Muslim women. The square scarf covers the head, neck and chest, but leaves the face clear.
The short animated film “The Four Hijabs” was shown at The Big Arabic Day, and the film highlighted Hijab’s full definition: as a way of life. Hijab encompasses conduct, speech, expression and dress. Hijab is absolute modesty for both men and women, and that modesty goes beyond decent dress, the film showed.
The film broke Hijab into four components: visual, spatial, ethical and spiritual.
The visual Hijab refers to the modest dress of Muslim men and women. The spatial Hijab divides private and public space in Muslim’s lives. The ethical Hijab is the set of values and practices required of Muslims. The spiritual Hijab is the barrier Muslims must overcome to reach spiritual growth and deeper knowledge.
With the full definition of Hijab, the film hopes to move past the dichotomous “to veil, or not to veil” question.
The film also hopes to create a space for all people—Muslim or otherwise—to discuss the meaning and value of the Hijab.
“We didn’t want something purely Muslim,” said director of “The Four Hijabs” Jamil Khoury. “We wanted something that would ask universal questions about self presentation and self representation.”
UNL endodontics professor Hany Makkawy was on the panel discussion following the film’s screening and said the Hijab presents a unique opportunity of representation for Muslim women.
“It can be a challenge for nobody to know you, yet still be able to point to you and say ‘I know you are Muslim,’” Makkawy said.
Makkawy encouraged Muslim women to be confident with their choice regarding Hijab.
“It can be a challenge to be confident, but women should stand up and not be afraid to exercise their own willpower and self control,” Makkawy said.
The panelists talked about the western world’s tendency to interpret the woman’s choice for Hijab as misogynistic or patriarchal.
“To have that freedom of choice and determination misunderstood as oppression is a shame,” Makkawy said.
Abla Hasan, assistant professor of practice of Arabic, moderated the panel and said Muslim women generally realize the empowerment of the Hijab as they mature into Islam, but Friesen understood the Hijab’s value without identifying as Muslim.
Friesen began looking into Islamic traditions after being introduced to the religion by a Muslim friend. She would research Islam late into the night, and she kept asking one specific question: “What is Hijab?”
With videos and articles, Friesen found her own interpretation of Hijab: “Hijab is a way of taking back control over your body,” she said.
Friesen had viewed figure-emphasizing clothes as symbols of an empowered 21st century woman, but she had never considered the other perspective.
“I could be walking down the street with shorts up to here and a shirt cut down to here,” Friesen said, gesturing toward herself. “I would feel like an empowered, free woman, but that wouldn’t change the fact that the person next to me saw me as a piece of meat.”
So Friesen started to experiment with Hijab, to study her own and others’ reactions.
n a Wal-Mart in Fairbury, Nebraska, Friesen experienced something she didn’t expect.
Walking through the aisles in a Hijab, Friesen walked past a group of guys who looked to be her age, and she didn’t stand up straighter. She didn’t fix her hair or check her appearance in the nearest reflective surface.
“I was shocked to find myself not wanting that attention,” Friesen said. “It hurt me to realize that for my entire life post-adolescence, I had been regarding my body as this thing that needed to be shown off. I really felt sick to my stomach.”
Friesen talked to her family and her friends and decided to experiment more with Hijab.
With Hijab, she felt like she was given more space and privacy.
“I felt like I had my body back,” Friesen said.
Friesen has been wearing Hijab for six months, and said with the Hijab, she has better awareness of herself in a hypersexual society.
“Wearing Hijab has allowed me to find a new sense of worth,” Friesen said. “I’ve refocused my sense of value, and that has allowed me to grow immensely.”