Dunedin students wear hijabs in solidarity with Muslim women

7:57 pm on 21 March 2019

Hijab solidarity in Dunedin: 'I'm here standing with you'

University of Otago students have donned hijabs in a show of solidarity for Muslim women in Dunedin today.

University of Otago students wear hijabs

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Some Muslim women had come forward saying they were scared to wear the hijab in public following the Christchurch attacks.

The university's Muslim Students Association started a Hijab Day to help Muslim women feel more comfortable in public.

It coincided with the university's Vigil for Peace in the afternoon.

While university student Maia Curtis was originally told by her friends not to wear the hijab, she chose to wear one once she saw the Muslim community supported the event.

"It's super sacred to them and for them to even offer this up to us and be able to say 'hey, we're actually willing to share our religion with you'. Why wouldn't we take the opportunity to learn about what is going on for them?"

Muslim women had invited them to learn how to put on a hijab properly, she said.

"We're not so different after all, blood is blood, religion is religion, love is love."

A Muslim student who asked to remain anonymous said she was pleased to see women wearing a hijab.

"I was so happy because I feel that all of New Zealand locals, they want to respect us, they want to feel what we feel ... they want to be us for a day," she said.

"Sometimes we are afraid to go out because there are always people looking at us weirdly so it will open their eyes to the Muslim community here."

The pavement out the front of the university's staff club quickly filled with people as the Te Roopū Māori kapa haka group began to sing.

The vigil was opened with a Mihi Whakatau and a reading from the Quran before silence filled the campus to remember those killed in the Christchurch attacks.

Sabrina Alahady hoped people would recognise that Islamophobia and discrimination had no place in New Zealand.

She's a Muslim who chooses not to wear any head-covering.

"But today I felt it was really necessary to do that. There are a lot of people I know, friends and family, who would have been really afraid to wear a hijab."

Ms Alahady wore a hijab during the vigil service, saying it was a sign of solidarity.

"I want to be able to say 'I'm here standing with you and you shouldn't be afraid'."

'It's not going to change a whole lot of things'

University of Otago students wear hijabs

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

A Muslim woman, who asked not to be identified, said wearing the hijab was a way for her to show devotion to her religion.

"For me, it's about owning my space and myself, and saying that this is my body, and I only allow you to see it when I deem you worthy of seeing it. It's something that for me is empowering and liberating."

She welcomed open conversations about what it was like to wear a hijab in the community, although she wasn't sure the Hijab Day or National Scarf Day would make a difference.

"Honestly, I'm a bit sceptic about it because it's not going to change a whole lot of things. I feel like even if other people started wearing it for a few hours in a day, they're not going to feel the sorts of things that we are subjected to just for wanting to wear one," she said.

"I do think it's a nice gesture, but I think it's largely symbolic and it's not something that is useful in the long term."

Booths were set up at the university to provide hijabs for people interested in wearing one in solidarity.

Te Roopū Māori member Toni Hoeta said singing a waiata at the vigil while wearing a hijab was a way of reciprocating and mixing the cultures.

"We are one people. There might be a super super small minority of hate, but look how much love trumps everything else," Ms Hoeta said.

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