Muslim women grapple with spotlight after 9/11

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Plantation High School/Plantation, Fla.
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Shahnaz Talukder prepares for prayer at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri on Friday.
Photo by Michelle Kanaar/MUJW

Shahnaz Talukder prepares for prayer at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri on Friday.

COLUMBIA — Samiha Islam, 18, is accustomed to getting suspicious glances from strangerswhen she’s at the doctor’s office or in the parking lot.

At 13, the Columbia woman made the decision to wear the hijab — a head covering worn by many Muslim women to adhere to the Quran’s instruction on modesty. As the years progressed and Islam took more interest in her religion, she also decided to wear the niqab — a cloth covering everything on the face except the eyes.

“After wearing hijab, I’ll find that people are anxious and look at me strangely,” she said.

Some Muslim women who wear traditional clothing such as the hijab said they have felt like they’ve had more of a spotlight on them since Sept. 11, 2001.

Even so, Islam hasn’t tried to change her ways to fit in more with society.

“Being a Muslim didn’t mean I needed to be culturally accepted and succumb to conformity,” she said.

Instead, she continues to embrace her religion and tries to change the assumptions made about her by other people. When she notices people giving her strange looks, she uses the opportunity to strike up a conversation with them. She opens the doors to social interaction.

Arwa Mohammad, 20, is a senior at MU. She started wearing the hijab in seventh grade and said she hasn’t felt any discrimination for being Muslim.

Some younger Muslim women worry about wearing the hijab

in their teenage years when they are concerned about fitting into society. But for Mohammad, it strengthened her identity, and she’s thankful for that.

Some people assume that Muslim women are oppressed and silenced because of wearing the hijab, or that it is enforced on them by their husband, she said. But for Mohammad, it was all her own choice.

“The hijab is more of a free choice and is a liberating one,” she said.

It’s important to Mohammad that people understand that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 don’t reflect Islam. In her eyes, they were not only attacks on Americans, but also on American Muslims, who also

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lost family members and relatives in this tragedy.

Shahnaz Talukder, a Muslim woman working at an architecture firm, said she has never experienced any racial profiling or prejudice since she moved to Columbia from Bangladesh six years ago.

She doesn’t cover her face or head on a daily basis. Rather, she wears pants and shirts to the office and in public.

But when she goes to the mosque, she strictly follows the dress code and wears the hijab. She hasn’t had any bad experiences while wearing it in public, she said.

In the future, Talukder said she might wear the hijab on a regular basis

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and is not too worried about how others will react to the change. But she still has some hesitation.

“I get concerned because of my profession, if they judge me while giving a presentation” while wearing the hijab, she said.

Islam decided to wear the niqab after she began exploring her religion and establishing an identity for herself. She took a year off of school and started to take interest in religious texts.

“I’m a walking banner of Islam,” she said. “Islam encourages me to be civil and polite. What has to come forward is how I want to represent myself through my actions and words.”