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On wearing a hijab for a day: 'People look at you differently'

She is by no means the only girl in her school to wear a hijab – a head scarf.

But Farhiya Diriye, 16, wanted her classmates to understand why she wore one. She wanted them to know how hot it can be underneath that veil wrapped around her head or how it evoked stares when she walked into a room.

So she invited them to wear one for the day.

On Thursday, 46 female students and teachers at Leonardo da Vinci High School took her up on the offer.

“I’m not a Muslim – I’m Christian,” said Than Oo, a freshman primping at the mirror in her new hijab. “But this helps me see things from other people’s perspective.”

The social experiment was part of what’s become known as World Hijab Day, a movement started five years ago and celebrated each Feb. 1 to foster tolerance at a time when hijab have made Muslim women a visible target for ridicule or even violence.

The exercise was particularly relevant for da Vinci and a school district like Buffalo, where head scarves have become more and more noticeable as refugees and immigrants of the Muslim faith have resettled in the city.

“Understanding,” Farhiya said, “is really what I want people to take from this.”

Farhiya is a senior, a member of the debate team, yearbook staff, Student Council and the student representative on the Buffalo Board of Education. She helped organize Thursday's event with Board Member Sharon Belton-Cottman, who heard about World Hijab Day and reached out to the Arab American Business Association for help.

The business group provided 50 scarves – pink ones, blue ones, printed ones – for the da Vinci students.

Farhiya provided the introduction.

Principal Gregory Lodinsky takes a photograph of the group during an event to celebrate World Hijab Day at Leonardo da Vinci High School on Thursday. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

While there are a variety of hijab, the most common is the scarf that covers the head and neck, but leaves the face exposed.

Muslim girls often wear a hijab as a sign of modesty and outward expression of their faith, a decision they usually make once they hit puberty. Others, however, feel they’re not obligated by their faith to wear a hijab and choose not to.

“A hijab is something you wear on your own,” Farhiya explained. “You decided to wear one because you feel that’s a part of who you are. It’s totally optional.”

While they are commonly associated with Muslims, head scarves are worn by women from other cultures, as well, particularly during a wedding ceremony, Farhiya said.

Farhiya even pointed out Nike and American Eagle ads hawking trendy hijab, but she also noted their association with Islam still makes Muslim woman an easy target for discrimination.

“That negative stigma has been in our society for a while now,” Farhiya said, “so something like this event could make a change – even if it’s a small change.”

She thanked her da Vinci classmates and teachers for taking part on Thursday.

“I think it’s brave,” she told them. “I think it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and spend a day in a hijab and see what it’s like.”

The girls were given their scarves along with assistance in wrapping them.

There's different styles, Farhiya explained.

“Everyone wears it differently to stand out," she told them.

Cottman, who noted how warm she was beneath her head scarf, said this was a good education for students, as the district grows more diverse with other nationalities and cultures.

“I think it’s phenomenal what they’re doing here,” said Adel Munassar, president of the Arab American Business Association, which donated the head scarves.

“I can walk down the street and maybe be mistaken for someone else,” Munassar said. “but the young ladies, they bear our religion and our culture on their shoulders 24 hours a day.”

Da Vinci, a diverse high school of 385 students on Porter Avenue, probably has 50 girls who regularly wear the hijab, said Principal Gregory Lodinsky.

Freshman Alysha Mercado wore a hijab Thursday in support of them.

“Sometimes people feel isolated and I want them to feel integrated,” said Alysha, 14. “That’s what we do at da Vinci.”

“I have a lot of Muslim friends and I think they look really pretty wearing their hijab,” said Than, also 14. “I wanted to experience what it was like."

Junior Mariya Sami wore a hijab for three years until she was no longer able.

But she put one on Thursday in solidarity.

“People look at you differently,” said Sami, 17, a junior. “Some people respect you. Some people don’t. You just have to feel comfortable with it.”

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