Wear a Hijab Day - Nov 13
- WEARING HIJAB ON NOV. 13 HONORS SLAIN AFGHAN MOTHER
Melanie Gadener was at home in Fremont three weeks ago when she began
receiving calls about the killing of Alia Ansari, the 38-year-old
mother of six who was shot in the head as she walked with her little
girl through a quiet Fremont neighborhood to pick up her children at
Glenmoor Elementary School.
Very quickly, Gadener was struck with the same suspicion as many
others in town. They wondered if Ansari was killed simply because of
the way she was dressed, in a loose scarf that some Muslim women wear
to cover their heads out of modesty.
``I was shocked and saddened, but I was not surprised,'' Gadener told
me when we met recently. ``There is growing racism in Fremont, and a
lot of this has come out since 9/11.'' Whether or not Ansari's head
scarf had anything to do with why she was killed, it's significant
that so many people have no trouble believing it was the reason.
Support for Afghans
Gadener has been especially sensitive to these tensions since she set
up the Foundation for Self-Reliance, a non-profit organization that
develops programs to promote economic independence in the Afghan
community. Over the past three years, she has had a crash course in
Muslim beliefs and traditions.
``I've learned not to be afraid to ask questions and be honest about
my own ignorance,'' Gadener said. ``We've got to bring the
conversation to the table.''
In that spirit, she had an idea about how to memorialize Alia Ansari.
What if women of all religions pledged to wear a Muslim head covering,
a hijab, for one day? It would not only show support for the Ansari
family, but it also would be an intriguing social experiment. How
might people treat you differently if, for one day, the only thing
different about you was what you were wearing on your head?
Nov. 13 was the date chosen for ``Wear a Hijab Day,'' and the plan has
taken on a life of its own. Gadener has been deluged with messages of
support from all over the world. Soon it became clear that men wanted
to participate as well, so the event's title was changed to ``Wear a
Hijab or Turban Day.''
Sikhs included, too
Reshma Yunus, who is active in the Muslim community and the founder of
Semah, a domestic violence-prevention organization based in Newark,
said she suggested adding turbans to the event because many Sikh men
also have been victims of the backlash since Sept. 11, even though
they are not Muslim.
``This is another version of walk-in-another-person's-moccasins,''
Yunus said. ``It's just walk-in-another-person's-headgear.''
Gadener is still setting up a panel to speak at noon next Monday at
Lake Elizabeth in Central Park, 40000 Paseo Padre Parkway in Fremont.
And Shahla Arsala, a prominent member of Fremont's Afghan community,
said she hopes that those who show up aren't there only as a gesture
of solidarity. ``I'm hoping that people really come to get educated,
too,'' she said. ``I'm looking forward to learning from other Muslim
women who wear head scarves, since I do not.''
Samina Sundas, executive director of American Muslim Voice in Newark,
said many more days like Nov. 13 will be needed. ``Getting to really
know each other is now a matter of survival,'' she said. ``There's no
way we can break down barriers if we only embrace what we believe in
and live behind closed doors.''
Alia Ansari may be remembered not only as a devoted mother of six but
also as a woman who helped her neighbors to understand each other.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
For more information about ``Wear a Hijab or Turban Day,'' go to
Contact Sue Hutchison at shutchison @ mercurynews.com.
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