As part of the college’s Muslim Heritage Month celebrations, a panel discussion on July 19 sought to break down the barriers and stigmas surrounding the hijab, the head covering worn by Muslim women.
Officially dubbed a “Hijab Forum,” the event took place at the Taylorsville Redwood campus. Students Rawya Bashir and Umme Haq facilitated the conversation between three panelists: student leader Asma Bano, SLCC staff member Jamilla Al-ani, and Gachi Guet, with the Utah Department of Workforce Services—all of whom shared their thoughts on the hijab.
“For me, it’s a lifestyle,” said Guet, who was born in Egypt. “It is a modest beautification. It didn’t limit me; I played sports. I did everything that anyone who wasn’t wearing a hijab was doing. No one forces us to wear it.”
Bano, born in Pakistan, said the hijab for her acts as a sign of strength.
“It’s a symbol for me of saying that I’m a proud Muslim woman,” Bano said. “The hijab can be influenced by many factors in your life, like your family, where you live, and your culture. For me, it had to do with my family and where I grew up. It became a part of me.”
Often, Guet said, people have uncertainty about Muslim culture, and in these cases, asking questions is more than welcome. “Just ask,” she said. “I would rather have people come and ask me why I’m praying or how I am dressed rather than just assuming. There is no harm in asking questions.”
At the back of the conference room stood a display of scarves with a mirror for attendees to check out and sample wearing a hajib. Women experienced with hijabs were available to help others learn how to put them on. Attendees also partook in a catered lunch by Beirut Café, with dishes including rice, beef shawarma, tabbouleh, pita and baklava.
For business major Hong Van, the forum proved to be an exciting occasion.
“It was good because it was something new to me,” Van said. “I don’t know anything about Muslim heritage. It’s really good to get to know the culture of the Muslim people … to learn new cultures and appreciate them.”
Guet said events like the forum, which highlight culture, are a positive step forward but noted that “there is room for improvement.”
“What helps is when we take an active role [in] training and educating employers and employees,” Guet said. “This [forum] is a great thing … it’s [like] some of the things we do with employers in annual training. It really helps.”
Student Shari-Fa Harrigan, a member of the college’s Black Student Union, separately addressed Guet’s point. Harrigan said culture-centered events like the hijab forum expand the college’s awareness among students, staff and faculty, and that students are the primary force of change.
“We’re often not hearing about these things in classrooms,” Harrigan said. “It’s events like this, the different student clubs, and the different student initiatives … driven by students that make SLCC diverse.”
Closing the forum, Bano expressed feelings of support from community members and thanked the audience for attending and “allowing students like us to achieve what we want to.”
A recording of last week’s hijab forum, along with other Muslim Heritage Month celebrations at SLCC, can be found on the Salt Lake Community College Media Operations YouTube channel.