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Hijab Sign Of Modesty, Pride For USF Wearers - The Tampa Tribune, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    Hijab Sign Of Modesty, Pride For USF Wearers By GARY HABER ghaber@tampatrib.com Published: Sep 26, 2004 http://tampatrib.com/floridametronews/MGBUITFIKZD.html
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 29, 2004
      Hijab Sign Of Modesty, Pride For USF Wearers
      By GARY HABER ghaber@...
      Published: Sep 26, 2004


      TAMPA - On a college campus where hot weather and MTV
      make shoulder-baring tank tops and above-the-knee
      skirts the norm for many women, Rehana Hakeem's modest
      attire makes her stand out.

      The 18-year-old University of South Florida freshman,
      who is Muslim, scribbles notes like the rest of her
      Introduction to Philosophy class.

      Unlike them, Hakeem is dressed in khaki pants, a long-
      sleeved black T-shirt and a traditional Muslim head
      scarf, known as a hijab.

      Her light green hijab matches her Kate Spade handbag.
      Her T-shirt reads ``Hijab: Oppression or Liberation.
      I'll decide.''

      Hakeem, born and raised in Plant City, is a bubbly,
      thoroughly modern young woman. The daughter of a
      surgeon father, and a mother who manages an apartment
      complex, Hakeem plans on becoming a dentist.

      She also is among a growing number of female Muslim
      students at USF who follow the dictates of the Koran
      by wearing a hijab and loose-fitting clothing.
      According to the Koran, Muslim women should dress in
      clothes that do not accentuate the shape of their
      bodies and cover all but their hands and faces.

      Garment A Sign Of Modesty

      Wearing a hijab is something many, but not all, Muslim
      women choose after the age of puberty as a sign of
      modesty and religious devotion.

      About half of the roughly 250 to 400 female Muslin
      students on campus wear hijabs, said Hassan Sultan,
      president of USF's Muslim Student Association.

      The practice has received more attention on campus
      after the school said on Sept. 10 it would petition
      the National Collegiate Athletic Association to allow
      a Muslim basketball player to wear a head scarf,
      long-sleeve jersey and long pants on the court.

      The player, Andrea Armstrong, later quit the team,
      saying she did not want to become a distraction to her

      USF students who wear the scarfs call it a liberating
      experience, a declaration of faith that has brought
      them closer to their religion. They say have
      experienced few problems on campus.

      It has also become a bond at a school where Muslims
      number fewer than 1,000 out of a student body of
      nearly 42,000.

      Groups of friends exchange them. They hold ``hijab
      parties'' to encourage women who have started to wear

      Choosing to wear a hijab is a decision made after much
      introspection, students such as Hakeem say.

      ``It's not a phase you're going to grow out of,'' she
      said. ``It's a serious decision you don't take

      Hakeem began wearing a hijab at age 15, while in high
      school, the only Muslim student at Tampa's Academy of
      the Holy Names, a Catholic girl's school.

      Hoping To Dispel Stereotypes

      She had been thinking of wearing a hijab for some
      time, but decided to do so after the Sept. 11 attacks.
      She wanted to identify herself publicly as a Muslim.

      ``I'm not a bold person,'' Hakeem said. ``But I
      thought it would be a good thing for people to see
      there are good Muslims out there.''

      That was the experience of many other young Muslims,
      who felt if they were more apparent about their faith
      it could dispel anti-Muslim sentiment, said Ahmed
      Bedier, Florida communications director for the
      Council on American-Islamic Relations.

      ``People would recognize that my neighbor is Muslim,
      my co-worker is Muslim, and they're not bad people,''
      Bedier said.

      Danya Shakfeh, 18, Hakeem's cousin and an
      international studies major from Spring Hill, began
      wearing a hijab when she was 10.

      ``It's a statement that says I am who I am,'' Shakfeh
      said. ``I want you to look at me for what I am, not
      what I look like.''

      Many non-Muslims have the wrong impression of the
      hijab, said Shakfeh, whose mother, also a student at
      USF, wears one.

      ``They assume that because we cover, we're back 200
      years ago,'' Shakfeh said. ``They think it's
      oppression. We don't see it that way.''

      Mehnaz Ismail is one of a group of Muslim students
      seated at a table outside the USF library discussing
      what the hijab means to them.

      ``It's like this indescribable feeling,'' said Ismail,
      21, an English education major from Tampa. ``Once I
      started wearing it, I felt so complete inside, so much
      closer to God. I regretted not wearing it before.''

      Both Ismail and her sister Mahwish, a 19-year-old
      sophomore, wear a hijab. Mehnaz Ismail remembers the
      day in January 2001, when at 17, she took the step
      shortly before starting at USF.

      Their younger sister, who was 14 at the time, wore a
      hijab, but Ismail was hesitant because of what some
      people might think.

      ``That's such a silly thing to not follow your
      religion because you're afraid people are going to
      stare at you,'' she says.

      Four years later, Ismail said, ``I feel weird without
      it. It's such a large part of my life.''

      Ismail said wearing a hijab makes her feel she must be
      a role model because non-Muslims will form impressions
      about all Muslims based on her behavior.

      ``I just have to be a better person, because I'm
      carrying this flag with me wherever I go,'' she said.

      Mahwish Ismail started wearing a hijab just after her
      16th birthday, when she was a student at Wharton High
      School. She returned from winter break wearing it.

      ``I got a lot of surprised looks from a lot of
      people,'' says Ismail, whose book bag sports a button
      reading ``I am a Muslim. Ask me about Islam.''

      ``You find out who your friends are,'' she said.
      ``Some people avoid you, and some people want to get
      to know you better.''

      These young women say wearing a hijab hasn't slowed
      them down on the athletic field.

      Last March, 2,500 Muslim students from across Florida,
      and as far away as North Carolina and Alabama, came to
      USF for the Muslim-American Society Olympics. The day
      included volleyball and soccer tournaments for the
      women, who played dressed in hijabs, long-sleeve
      shirts and long track pants.

      The Tampa team, on which Hakeem, then a high school
      student, played, won both events.

      ``We had no problems,'' she said. ``We kicked
      everyone's butt.''

      Reporter Gary Haber can be reached at (813) 259-8285.

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