What Wearing a Hijab Taught Me (#israeluncovered Bus 1)


Kayley Romick is a sophomore studying Elementary Education and Cognitive Studies at Vanderbilt. On campus, she serves on three committees at Hillel, is a sister of Alpha Omicron Pi, and volunteers as a tutor. Kayley participated on Israel Uncovered: Campus Leaders Mission 2014-15 on bus 1. She is pictured at left at the Temple Mount (image courtesy Blake Tamez.)

As a graduate of a Modern Orthodox Jewish high school, I already know modest is hottest.  So when the Muslim Students Association and the Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Inc (Vanderbilt Chapter) announced their World Hijab Day at Vanderbilt, I was ready to cover up just like I did everyday in high school. But it was a little different this time. First of all, a right-wing Vanderbilt professor recently published an article in the Tennessean that conflated moderate Muslims and Islamic extremists to incite hatred against all Muslims. Secondly, I visited Israel over winter break with The David Project and wore a hijab at the Dome of the Rock, while thinking of a Muslim friend of mine from Vanderbilt. She had shown me so much kindness over the last semester—even getting me Halal marshmallows—and I so badly wanted to share the experience of visiting this site holy to both our religions with her. I knew I could share her experience to some degree through World Hijab Day.

What I learned while wearing a hijab:

How not to get food on my hijab

Hijabs interfere with peripheral vision

Everyone loves colorful scarves

It’s hard to keep your hair from falling out of the scarf

People don’t expect white girls to wear hijabs

People either recognize you by your hairstyle or avert their eyes if you’re wearing a hijab

Some of my sorority sisters don’t recognize me while I’m wearing a hijab

Because humans naturally fear the unknown, we tend to feel uncomfortable in new situations or stare longer when we encounter something unexpected (like a white girl wearing a hijab.) Despite and maybe even because of the stares I got, it was so important to me to walk with pride for another peoples’ custom. I felt like what I was doing would reflect on the Muslim community—a similar sentiment to the one I usually feel while wearing my Magen David (Jewish star) necklace. I will admit, that morning I was a little nervous to go get my hijab wrapped. Unfortunately, terrorism has somewhat succeeded in the fact that I have to consciously separate my moderate Muslim neighbors from the wrapped photographs of Hamas terrorists. It is a tragic and terrible thing. These terrorists don’t want us to talk to each other. They want to alienate the moderate Muslim population. But we cannot let them do that. So I went, and when I walked into the room, I was greeted with a smile and a hug from the Muslim friend I had thought about at the Dome of the Rock. By offering to wrap my hijab for me—with the same scarf I wore in Jerusalem—she put me at ease.  Then I was ready to meet a bunch of girls who turned out to be, unsurprisingly, very similar to me, and wear my hijab throughout the day.

When I visited Israel, I witnessed firsthand the strife that absences of dialogue can cause. A common theme both that the Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Israeli speakers expressed was the lack of communication between those on either side of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. In hearing from these speakers, I realized that the two parties are so afraid of each other; their narratives, each valid in their own right, almost consistently remove the human face of the "enemy." When communities don’t talk, they retain fear of each other and stay enemies. That’s what fear does. It is a primal tendency to avoid what might hurt you based on patterns that you’ve seen or experienced. If you look at both peoples’ histories, it’s understandable why each might feel the way they do. I personally bear the legacy of thousands of years of the persecution of the Jewish people, and I’m sure Palestinians constantly carry the weight of their own history. But if we want to see progress or trust or a resolution, I argue, something in our attitudes about those histories need to change. There is a very sacred Middle Eastern value: being right. Instead of so steadfastly guarding the validity of their respective beliefs, I believe there should be a dialogue that allows Israelis and Palestinians to dabble in each other’s narratives.  I hope they’ll notice the similarities in their stories that I noticed and continue combating ignorance and fear by recognizing themselves in their "other."

Even though I hold these beliefs about the Middle East, there isn’t much I can do at this stage in my life to promote the kind of change I just described. Change has to come from an “insider,” anyway. For now, I charge myself with fostering this dialogue on my own campus to prevent the ignorance and fear that makes people alienate and incite fear against others, especially in light of the horrible murders of three Muslim students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. It’s long past time to separate the hijabs our peers and colleagues wear from the masks we see terrorists don on the news—our eyes and instincts are deceiving us. Instead, we always have to remember the human factor that lets us begin dialogue. I participated in World Hijab Day because I know giving into instincts doesn’t afford us the peace and harmony that will lead to long lasting safety.  As we continue learning about each other, we might realize we’re more similar than we think.


Kayley 2Above, Kayley on World Hijab Day (image courtesy Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Vanderbilt chapter)