Minu Gandhi is not Muslim. But for one day, she found out what it was like to be a Muslim at the U.
In cooperation with the U’s Muslim Student Association, Gandhi wore the hijab — the head covering worn by Muslim women — for a day.
Gandhi, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, said her Muslim friends have discussed the reactions of people on campus when they see someone who is wearing the hijab. Her friends said they are often stared at and complete strangers have approached them to ask if they were forced to wear the hijab.
“I thought it would be fun to see if that really happens,” Gandhi said.
To show that people who wear the hijab are treated differently, the MSA wanted a non-biased and therefore non-Muslim student to experience wearing the hijab.
Gandhi works as a research assistant in the Kennecott Building on campus and shares a room with several other doctoral students. Although she is well acquainted with those in her department, many people did not recognize her when she wore the hijab.
Besides surprising a few of the people with whom she works closely, Gandhi said, it was amusing to see the reactions of casual acquaintances. People wanted to ask about the hijab but felt uncomfortable doing so, she said.
To gain an even broader understanding of a Muslim student’s experience, Gandhi accompanied her Muslim friends to the Union Building where many Muslim students go to say their daily prayers.
Gandhi didn’t participate in the prayer, she said but walking through the Union in the hijab was an interesting experience.
“I noticed some people really staring,” Gandhi said. “I don’t think they’re being critical or anything, I think they’re just curious about who these people are.”
Although Gandhi expected to see adverse reactions from students on campus, one group she didn’t expect to see reactions from was the Muslim student body.
“Just because I wore the hijab…they were very friendly,” Gandhi said.
For Gandhi, this was not the first time she went out of her way to understand the beliefs of others. Gandhi was raised in New Delhi, India, a country populated primarily by Hindus. In 2003, she enrolled at Brigham Young University to complete her master’s degree. While there, she met with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so she could better understand friends’ Mormon faith.
“At BYU, I became more open to different religions — just taking things in that were common,” she said.
Jumana Abu-Khalaf, a fellow mechanical engineering doctoral student, supplied Gandhi with the hijab. Abu-Khalaf has worn the hijab since she was 16 years old.
“The whole idea is to encourage modesty,” Abu-Khalaf said.
Even though many think Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab, Abu-Khalaf said that this perception is not true. Many people overlook the fact that depictions of the Virgin Mary almost always portray her wearing some type of head covering, she said.