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    Sira Athar and Julia Ramirez model the Hijab. Photos of the Pop-Up Hijab workshop by Emma Chapple.
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THE TRUTH OF HIJAB

BY EMMA CHAPPLE

It’s still rare to see women wearing hijab on the streets of Fredericton.

But the sight will become more common as the number of Syrian refugees here grows.

Many of the Muslim women among the more than 300 refugees already here choose to wear hijab.

Social Innovation Fredericton is trying to demystify the hijab in a community where it’s still seen as foreign. It held a Pop-Up Hijab event downtown on Jan. 31. Women who stopped in to the Blonde Inc. salon could try on a headscarf.

Sandi MacKinnon works with Social Innovation and helped organize the event. She said the idea was to have a fun activity where citizens can celebrate their differences.

“And also because women were so curious about the hijab and how to wear it, what we would look like in it,” said MacKinnon. “My friends who wear the hijab say that people are asking them all the time questions about it.”

Sira Athar usually works as a family doctor in the city. But that Saturday she played stylist to participants curious about hijab.

Athar wears hijab herself, and that day chose a green and gold scarf that popped with her bright yellow shirt. She buzzed around the front of the store carrying scarves of vibrant colours, while songs from Rihanna and the Spice Girls blared in the background.

Athar says there are many misconceptions about women who wear hijab. A harmful misunderstanding is that hijab is a sign of Islamic extremism. One of the most common misconceptions is that women who wear hijab are being oppressed.

“Women in Islam are supposed to be given a choice and most often have the choice about how they choose to dress,” said Athar. “Many Muslim women don’t wear hijab.”

Many of those who choose to wear it do so as an expression of their faith or as a way to preserve their cultural identity.

Athar recalled her own days in university, where she was the only one in hijab. Her non-Muslim friends were interested in understanding the practice and seeing what they would look like with one.

Most participants at the pop-up event were trying out hijab for the first time and had many colours and styles to choose from. The more than 10 women who participated were all smiles as they learned from Athar the different ways women can style their hijab.

“It brings out your eyes,” or “It makes your cheeks pop,” were some of the compliments that flew across the room.

MacKinnon said the workshop was especially timely, with the number of Syrian refugees in Fredericton expected to grow to 500 in the coming months. She said it was about breaking down barriers and making newcomers feel welcome.

“[These are] new Canadians coming to our community.”

HIJAB FACTS

  • Hijab (حجاب) is an Arabic word meaning “cover” and refers to the headscarf that many Muslim women wear.
  • The most common hijab worn by women is a square scarf that covers the head and neck, but leaves the face clear.
  • A Muslim woman may choose to wear hijab as a visible expression of her faith or cultural identify.
  • Some wear it to reflect a personal devotion to God, who commands modesty, and it is typically worn with loose, non-revealing clothing (also called hijab).

Other women choose not to wear hijab; some believe that wearing it is just one cultural interpretation of Qur’an scripture (similar to how Christians may choose to follow the Bible).