More American women who follow the Muslim faith are wearing a hijab, the head-covering scarf that publicly identifies them as a follower of Islam. The hijab can be just a square of cloth, folded in half and pinned under a woman’s chin. Or some hijabs are custom-made, lightweight gear in which a premade opening is fashioned to snuggly frame the woman’s face and cover her hair, neck and shoulders.

The hijab is a symbol of a Muslim woman’s faith and modesty. Thousands of Muslim women in Michigan wear a hijab (pronounced hee-JAHB) in public. Hijabs vary in color, cut and fabric, and women can treat them as fashion accessories to coordinate with their outfits.

This week, Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which will mark the end of the Ramadan fast. The Eid festivities bring together families and communities for celebration, and it’s not unusual to buy outfits and matching hijabs for the get-togethers.

While some non-Muslims may consider the hijab a symbol of female oppression and second-class status, Muslim women say it was a choice they made to renew their relationship with God, and identify with their faith rather than stereotypes. Hijabis — as women who cover their hair call themselves — say they aim to strengthen their faith and challenge stereotypes about Muslims reignited in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A 2003 University of Michigan survey of Detroit-area Muslim Arabs found that 42% felt their religion was not respected by mainstream society, with Muslim women more likely than men to share that view. Muslim women — who come from various ethnic backgrounds — aim to command respect for their faith by wearing the hijab, says professor Rabab Abdulhadi, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

“The majority of the women who have chosen to wear the hijab chose it by themselves. They didn’t grow up with it,” the professor says. “It is an assertion of identity … a sign of distinction and definition, and sometimes a sign of defiance.”


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