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World Hijab Day in Minnesota, Champaign

Students at several schools celebrated World Hijab Day on Wednesday, February 1, mostly by having female students wear the Muslim head scarves, even if they weren’t Muslim. The day also gave people unfamiliar with Islam another chance to end bigotry by engaging in constructive dialog with their Muslim neighbors and friends and to share what they learn.

At Central High School in Champaign, Illinois, for instance, more than 130 students turned out for the symbolic celebration, which included a little education about Islam as well, the News-Gazette reports.

“We were expecting maybe 60,” the paper quoted sophomore Malaak Saadah as saying. She wears her hijab every day at the central Illinois school and opened the discussion by explaining that the root of the word Islam means “peace.”

Along with a few of her friends, Ms Saadah explained to other students the founding pillars of their religion and answered questions about everything from the symbolism behind the hijab to how many times a day Muslims pray.

Then, at about 8 AM, female students dropped by and picked up one of the scarves laid out by the Muslim Student Alliance group. Many of them needed a little help pinning them on, but it worked. Both boys and girls also came by to pick up a green ribbon to wear around their wrists, even if they didn’t want a hijab, to help celebrate the day and learn a little more about Islam.

“I wanted to do this discussion … because with the refugee ban being in the news and the labels they get, I feel like this is needed because it educates people about what Islam truly is and it helps people be more sympathetic,” the News-Gazette quoted Ms Saadah as saying.

In St Paul, Minnesota, students did the same thing, according to a report in the student newspaper for the St Paul Academy & Summit School.

When asked why green was used for the wrist ribbons, senior Tabeer Naqvi told the Rubic Online, “It’s the color of Pakistan—the color of the flag.”

This is the second year students at that school are celebrating World Hijab Day, which spreads awareness not only about the diverse reasons Muslim women choose to wear the hijab but also about the social and political climate that regularly comes with the choice, reports Kelby Wittenberg for the paper.

Celebrations for Muslim students in Syria have a different focus

For many Muslims in Syria, war and hardship tend to put the social and political climate that surround the hijab low on the list of concerns. Even in this mix of horror and danger, though, brave students persist in their studies, the BBC reports out of Aleppo.

Mariam Hammad, 22, says her city “has turned to ruins” and constant shelling around her home has forced her to live without regular supplies of electricity or water. Her studies at the University of Aleppo began four years ago, marked by dozens of students being killed as the university was hit by rockets.

“I saw my friends killed and still now I can’t forget what happened,” the BBC quoted her as saying. “I saw a lot of students hurt and injured. There was blood, death. Everything was terrible.”

She went on to say she stubbornly carries on toward a business degree from the US-based University of the People, often studying by candlelight and using her studies as a way of honoring those who have died. “The hardest thing about being a student in Aleppo? Actually, it’s being alive,” she told the BBC.

It’s not just the shelling—Syria is under a ceasefire at the moment—but the little things like being able to find working electricity to charge her phone. Many students and others use generators, which can only operate for a few hours at a time. And the power isn’t the best: it sometimes takes her up to 12 hours to charge her phone and laptop.

But study she must, as the war has made education seem much more important, linking Syrians to the chance to build a better life, even if they can’t find an internet connection to take tests and complete school assignments.

“We have this strong motivation to seek [education] no matter what,” she says. “You can see that in young children going to their schools, even though they can be hit at any time.

“Education was always important in my life. … It will help me to rebuild my country and everything that’s been destroyed.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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