An American high-school Catholic student, Zion Lourdes Perez, wore a hijab on her way back home in Seattle, United States, as part of a “modesty week” programme at school, exposing her to the everyday challenges faced by Muslim women.
Feeling targeted, she tore off the hijab half way through her journey. The 15-year-old, co-founder and president of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) at Franklin High, shared her experience that she describes as “overwhelming”.
“I felt like people were staring at me, whipping around to look really negative vibes, like I was some kind of threat or foreigner. When I tore it off, I was relieved. All I wanted was to blend in,” she said.
However, since Perez had intended to wear the hijab for a full week, and not just a few hours, the next day she put it on again.
“I have a whole new respect now. They really have to be strong. It takes tremendous courage to walk around wearing a hijab,” Perez said, referring to Muslim women.
Perez also took part in a workshop to honour the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, where her, and 40 other guests spoke about Islamophobia.
A senior at the school, Aronwald shared his views saying, “I feel like this is a really large issue. Six months ago, I didn’t understand Muslim people.”
However, this changed when his interest in psychology made him think about the effect of being part of a stigmatized group. He described Islam as “misunderstood”.
This change in Aronwald’s views inspired Perez to form the MSA at Franklin High, which is only one of two in the Seattle School District.
“There wasn’t any place where they could connect with each other,” she said, adding, “I didn’t know much about Islam except what I saw in media. To accept other groups and cultures you have to understand them.”
Perez said wearing the hijab had been a curiosity at first, but seeing the reaction of people, she wanted to keep it on for the week to gain a deeper understanding of how these women are judged and treated. She noted that after a few days, her friends stopped noticing.
Principal of the high-school Jennifer Wiley while speaking about Muslims students in her school, said: “They’re wrestling with really complex issues.”