MINNESOTA – Students and teachers at Duluth East high school in Minnesota gathered early on Wednesday, November 16, putting on colorful hijabs to show support to their Muslim colleagues.
“It’s a movement for love and peace and solidarity,” East senior Rana Imtiaz told Duluth News Tribune on Wednesday, explaining her frustration with reports that many women are now afraid to wear a hijab.
“I also felt like there wasn’t a lot of support and love for the Muslim community, and that was something important to me,” she said.
“I am so grateful to all these people who are willing to do something that might make them uncomfortable, but is for the greater good.”
The Muslim student was surprised after more than 30 female students and a couple of teachers gathered before class at East and put on colorful headscarves in a display of unity.
Shanze Hayee, the only student at East who wears a hijab, climbed onto a chair and explained the hijab and what it signified and then helped students learn how to wear the scarf.
Donning hijab to school since she was in sixth grade, she has endured stares and the occasional “off” comment.
The election of Donald Trump as the new US president, who first called for a ban on Muslims entering the US and scaled back later to “extreme vetting” of those coming from certain parts of the world, added to her fears.
To show support, English teacher Danielle Westholm also wore a hijab Wednesday.
By a large showing of support for the Hayee’s hijab, “it normalizes it,” Westholm said.
Only about 150 Muslims live in Duluth, or less than two-tenths of a percent of Duluth’s population, according to Ibrahim Al-Qudah, president of the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports.
“In the wake of Trump and all of this rhetoric against Muslims, and painting everyone with the same brush, it heightened the sensitivity of the Muslim woman to the dress code,” said Sabah Alwan, a professor in the School of Business and Technology at the College of St. Scholastica and a Muslim, who writes about his Islamic studies.
“They want people to know they are normal human beings. If you choose to dress a certain way, it is your choice.”
The event followed reports of racist and other intolerant language and graffiti aimed at students have come from Duluth schools, including East and Denfeld.
On Tuesday, a picture of Trump with an inflammatory message was found inside a trophy case at Ordean East Middle School. The school and its police resource officer are investigating.
Much attention has gone to the small group of “negative” students, East Principal Danette Seboe said, but schools are full of kids supporting each other “every day, not just today and not just because of the election.”
“They are very worried about things bigger than and outside of East,” she said of her students.
“But on a day-to-day basis, they are very good at supporting the students they come here with every day. Often before and far better than any of the staff here, they see a need and they find a way to fill that.”
Another “safety pin” campaign is also planned next Wednesday, with the intention of handing them out to willing students who will wear them to indicate they are a “safe” and accepting person.
At Denfeld, inspiring and positive Post-it notes have been placed around the school.
East achievement center coordinator Cal Harris praised the hijab event, urging similar events in Duluth schools.
“The more students come together to combat some of this stuff, that’s how things change,” he said.
Hayee said she was grateful as more students joined the group, donning headscarves.
“It is an amazing idea I never would have thought of,” she said. “Really, I am going to enjoy today.”