Muslim women on campus are an enigma to many students at Florida Tech.
Most noticeable are the Muslim women that wear hijab, the cloth that covers their head and neck.
Within Muslim culture, the purpose behind this style of dress is part religious, part custom and is a completely normal part of everyday life. Non-Muslim students at Florida Tech are accepting of the women who wear hijab, but they seldom ask questions about these women who appear to be so guarded.
“I don’t know how they feel about their religion. I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable by approaching them or overstepping some boundary that I don’t know, so I usually just steer clear,” said Timothy Christopher Jr., a chemical engineering student.
Middle Eastern Muslim culture is generally seen by Americans as strictly religious and male-dominant in nature. As a result, a common misconception about hijab and other Islamic dress is that women do not have a choice in the matter.
In reality, this could not be any farther from the truth.
“This thing, it’s just between her and God,” said Meznah Albaqami, a Saudi Arabian native and biomedical engineering student. “It’s only my sin, and my choice.”
Florida Tech student Omar Alshehhi pointed to scripture to help clarify the rule.
In the Quran, the Prophet Mohammed relayed to believers God’s word on how a proper Muslim should dress. The Prophet Mohamed said women “should let their headscarves fall to cover their necklines” and “make their outer garments hang low over them.”
“We believe that there’s another life when we die, so this life is for us like the test,” said Albaqami. “I have to be a good person and do good things. There are rules to be a good person, so this is one of the rules.”
As much as hijab is based in religion, Albaqami said it is a purely personal decision.
“Look at your five fingers, not all of them are the same,” Alshehhi said. “We are 1.7 billion Muslims, and not all of us are the same. Christians, all of them follow the same Bible, but they all follow the same rules exactly? No. That’s also how it is in Islam. So some women wear hijab, some of them not.”
Merfat Hammad does not wear hijab because it makes her too uncomfortable when people stare, and no one can recognize her. Instead of wearing hijab while at school, she chose to ‘Americanize’ herself.
Albaqami said that sometimes she feels like people are nervous to talk to her because of how she is dressed.
“Some people think because we wear hijab, we are not friendly or we don’t want to talk to anyone,” said Meznah. “Men, usually. I feel bad, but it’s okay. I just want to say we are normal girls. We can talk, laugh, do anything, it’s okay for us.”
These kinds of reactions from their classmates are the hardest part for Florida Tech students who wear hijab.
“I can excuse them because the media talks the wrong way about hijab, and also because they don’t try to contact girls who are wearing hijab correctly,” said Hammad. “They don’t ask questions. Maybe because of that, they think hijab is wrong.”
Despite the social barriers, wearing hijab has some definite advantages for Muslim women. Besides hijab being comfortable, it’s also not as hot as it looks.
Thin summer material wicks away sweat and the thicker winter cloths help to keep your ears and neck warm when it gets windy during the Melbourne winter.
Perhaps most importantly, wearing hijab is spiritually fulfilling.
“When I wear hijab, I feel happy and at peace because I am doing what my god said to me,” said Albaqami. “So it’s a good thing. I wake up every morning and I feel at peace.”