Afaf Humayun was born and raised in Jackson, and says no one tells her she must wear a hijab on her head.
She chooses to do so.
“Women seem to cover more, but that just has to do with our anatomy,” she said. “Women are held high and are encouraged to be educated. Men are supposed to cover from their navel to their knee. They have to be modest, too.”
For her and other young Muslim women in the United States, deciding whether to wear a hijab can be a tough choice. If they don’t wear it, they might not fit in among other Muslims. If they do, they might not fit in with their American peers.
Because of how she dresses, Humayun and other young Muslims are forced to deal with the backlash from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. . .
Michigan is the home of more than 3 percent of the U.S. Muslim population, with the majority living on the east side of the state in and around Dearborn.
Despite their larger numbers, metro Detroit women who are Muslim deal with issues similar to the ones faced by Afaf Humayun, said Rabiah Ahmed, 30, a Muslim who was born in Detroit.
She also wears the hijab, and says she’s been called a terrorist and even Osama bin Laden.
But the whispers and stares from passersby about her Muslim head scarf do not bother her. Ahmed encourages people to ask her questions about her faith.
She still wears business clothes from stores such as Express, as long as everything is covered – except her hands and face. She’s a “fusion of American and Muslim.”
Ahmed decided to wear the hijab her junior year of high school and said pressure from American culture hasn’t made it easy to wear her religious clothing because it’s not considered “normal.”
“It’s a natural thing to look at something you’re not used to seeing,” she said. “It’s only when staring is accompanied with rude words or gestures that it becomes problematic.
“But in places like Michigan, with one of the largest (Muslim) populations in the country, people are a little more (accepting). I’m sure people stare at me, but I just don’t notice any more.”
When middle or high schoolers wear the hijab, it can be challenging to try making friends, she added.
“That’s usually a time when teens are trying to fit in,” she said. “You’re automatically going to stand out. It might not be a good stand out, and you definitely face that.”
The best way to change minds is to educate others, Ahmed said. Now she works for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a nonprofit, Washington-based civil rights advocacy group that aims to eliminate Muslim stereotypes by educating people.
“For example, my head scarf is associated with oppression because (it) may be forced on in different countries,” she said. “I remember I started wearing it in high school. People were curious, and they didn’t know how to deal with it. But more people respected me for it because I wasn’t trying to flaunt my beauty.
“It takes away from the daily struggle of bad hair days, and the rash of trends is also taken away from that. Modesty and simplicity are very empowering.”