For Sameeha Ahmad, the decision to put on the hijab came in psychology class at the University of Maryland. She hadn’t worn one for five years. Her mom did, as did her sister. But like many young Muslim women across the U.S., the very independence that drove her to cast off the traditional head covering has since drawn her to don one.
Since the election of President Donald Trump, the debate around Islamic dress has taken a new turn: The hijab has emerged as a symbol of resistance to Islamophobia amid policies from the Trump administration targeting Muslim immigrants.
Scores of non-Muslims have donned hijabs to express solidarity with Muslim women, too, though some criticized the move, arguing that the garment represents oppression of women.
Young Muslims like Sameeha disagree.
“I do believe hijab support feminism,” she said outside the Muslim prayer center at her school’s College Park campus. “The way you look at it from a religious perspective, it empowers you by strengthening your relationship with God. It’s a step you are taking to further yourself within your own religion.”
“No one forced me to dress this way,” she added.
Dalia Mogahed, director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a non-profit organization working to empower American Muslims, says while some countries do require a hijab, “the ‘hijab oppresses women’ narrative is not only racist, it is also sexist.” To assume a woman’s hijab was forced without asking her is to presume she views Western styles as ideal, Mogahed said.
Citing Gallup surveys of 90% of the global Muslim population, Mogahed said that “hijab is a choice by the vast majority of women who wear it, especially in the U.S. where there is great societal pressure to not wear it, rather than the reverse.”