Insherah Odeh did not mind being stared at.

She knew when she started wearing the hijab – the head scarf worn by Muslim women – in 1990 her decision would stir different emotions in people.

Some friends were angered by her decision until Odeh explained her reasons. Strangers would stare while she stood in line at the grocery store with her children. A few even came up to her and asked about the “rag” covering her head.

“I didn’t get mad or anything, because anytime you see something different than your culture, of course you’re going to react that way,” said Odeh, who has lived in the United States for 40 years, the last 23 in Rocky Mount.

Then, as now, Odeh’s response to the curious, concerned and even the angered is the same: The hijab is part of her religion, and wearing it a decision she made. Most people accept this, and through the years, the fascination has waned.

“I don’t have any problem with it today. They’ve gotten to see more people wearing it,” said Odeh, 56.

In a society in which fashion has seen skirts get shorter, necklines lower and everything tighter, the sight of a woman in a hijab stands out, said Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the state’s chapter of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation. They become, in many cases, the most visible sign of Islam.

What many people fail to realize is that wearing the hijab is a choice Muslim women make, Sabra said. She converted from Catholicism to Islam in high school in California and immediately began wearing the hijab, a garment similar to the habits she was used to seeing nuns wear.


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