A University of Wisconsin-Madison event seeking to help the campus forge bonds with the Muslim community and better understand hijabs was promptly accused of cultural appropriation.
The “Hijabi for a Day” event, organized by the Muslim Student Association and Wisconsin Union Directorate Global Connections Committee, invited women to wear headscarves and also to talk with a Muslim woman about the head covering’s meanings, which can vary widely.
But Farhat Bhuiyan, one of the event’s organizers, said that two or three students claimed it was cultural appropriation, while four more expressed worries that participating could be offensive or “problematic.”
“I personally don’t understand why some people thought it was cultural appropriation, because first of all, Islam is not a culture,” Bhuiyan tells Heat Street. “It’s a religion. The religion does not associate with any one culture.”
Bhuiyan says she hoped the event would help those who view Muslim women with fear understand that “we are humans too, and normal, good people.”
“I think some people thought that this event was some sort of ‘step into hijabis’ shoes and feel discrimination,’ or something stupid like that,” Bhuiyan says. “But this was really focused on normalizing something our society often associates with different or dangerous people.”
Bhuiyan says that whether or not to wear a hijab is a personal religious choice. Right now, Buhiyan says, she has opted not to wear one, though she’s considering whether to do so in the future.
Most of Buhiyan’s family members do wear a hijab, she says, explaining that she’s knowledgeable about that choice. Muslim women wear the hijab for a wide variety of reasons, she said, and she wanted her fellow students to understand some of the garment’s cultural and religious significance.