By Matt Holzapfel
On a campus that prides itself on a community of inclusion and acceptance, World Hijab Day seemed to fit right in. This is the second year in a row that Elon has held this event, inviting students of all races, religions, and backgrounds to join in the celebration.
Along with inviting students to wear the traditional Muslim headscarf for a day, Muslim Life at Elon also hosted a presentation and a reflection dinner, accompanied by a speech from Elon Professor Shereen Elgamal in the McBride Gathering Space in Elon’s Numen Lumen Pavilion. Students could sign up to attend this event and to receive a hijab online or at College Coffee during the first three College Coffees of the Spring semester. The scarves were handed out on February 14th at College Coffee, two days before the actual event took place.
Working with Muslim Life at Elon were students Kristina Meyer and Mariatu Okonofua, who wanted to spread the message of acceptance and solidarity on Elon’s campus. “When I was a sophomore in high school, one of my hijabi friends invited me to participate in Hijab Day,” said Meyer when asked what inspired her to start World Hijab Day at Elon. “She invited me again the next year and my senior year. I learned something new each year that I wanted to continue in college. But, I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, so I asked the Coordinator of Muslim Life how she would feel about creating an event. She was totally on board and organized most of it last year. Last year’s event taught me so much on solidarity. With the rising rhetoric of hate and exclusion this past year, organizing another Hijab Day didn’t seem to be a question. Solidarity and support in such a climate is essential.” For Mariatu, the circumstances are a little different. She was approached to aid in organizing the event and gladly joined the combined effort, “I felt compelled to take a stand and be the beacon of hope,” said Okonofua. “For my Muslim sisters amidst the xenophobia and discrimination.”
What does it mean to people like Kristina and Mariatu and others at Elon who believe in the equality of all races and religions to see an event like this have such a large impact on campus? “I am so proud of the people who participated in this event as many stepped out of their comfort zones to do so,” said Meyer. “That’s what my faith means to me: stepping out of my own comfort zone to show others love. To see that love and support in action… there are no words to describe it. To see so many people participating made me feel more hopeful for our country than I have felt in a while.” Mariatu was able to see the event in an even more unique light because she is also a member of a minority group, just like Muslims are at Elon and in many places around the world. “It gives me hope and peace of mind. I am constantly confronted by my minority status on Elon’s campus and regrettably, I often wonder whether or not my non-minority peers care about the struggles I and others like me are facing on a daily basis,” said Okonofua. “To see so many individuals participating and coming to the dinner/discussion shows me that I have more allies on this campus than previously thought and serves as a reminder that despite the negativity the current president and his administration is so adamant to spread, there are those–a significant amount of people–that do not feel the same way.”