CAIRO – Rejecting WWII-style stigmatization of Muslims, Nancy Allen, a Christian American from Conway, Arkansas, decided to put on a hijab, offering support to the American-Muslim community.
“I’m supporting the Muslim-American community and freedom of religion,” Allen, a member of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway, told Arkansas Online.
“I sort of think I was doing it as an Advent meditation, and it turned into something else,” she said.
Her decision to put on a hijab whenever she is getting out was taken last December when the Syrian refugee situation was raging along with anti-Muslim comments flared by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump who called for banning Muslims from entering US.
“We were seeing the kind of fascist-toned remarks here in our country that were going on during World War II — and we also incarcerated our own Japanese citizens,” Allen said.
Taking the decision to put on hijab in solidarity with Muslims, Allen checked with a Muslim friend on how the decision would be regarded.
“That was the first question: Is this going to be insulting? I asked a Muslim Facebook friend who lives in Malaysia, … and everything I received back was positive,” Allen said.
Allen, who is the adult services and reference librarian at the Faulkner County Library in Conway, ordered her first hijab by mail.
“It came in the mail, and I put it on, and the very day I wore it to work, a lady in the lobby came up to me and started speaking in Arabic,” she said.
Allen told the woman she didn’t speak Arabic and was a Christian wearing the hijab in support of Muslim-American women.
“She said, ‘I am so grateful to you for doing this. I am Muslim; I am married to an American, and I am afraid to wear the hijab. I’m afraid people will think I’m a bad person,’” Allen said.
Standing in the Muslims’ shoes, Allen said she used to get furtive glances or to be avoided by people.
A co-worker at the library told her that a patron said he hoped they were keeping “that raghead in the back.”
“I’m not representing the library,” Allen said. “I’m representing myself.
Allen wonders what people think when they see her.
“Maybe they think it’s cold, or maybe they think I’m a chemo patient. I don’t know what they think. I wish they’d come up and ask me,” she said.
However, what Allen was doing impressed many Americans, either Muslims or non-Muslims.
“I can understand the cultural-appropriation critique, but I also appreciate Nancy’s motives,” said Jay McDaniel, professor of religious studies at Hendrix College in Conway.
“It’s my impression that you’re not going to get a single response to that on the part of Muslims. I think most Muslims, all things considered, appreciate what Nancy’s doing.”
Sophia Said of Little Rock, who is Muslim, thanked Allen for what she was doing.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” Said said. “I don’t think accepting and cherishing and celebrating other people’s faith takes us away from our own faith.”
Said is director of programs at the Interfaith Center of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock.
“Hijab is a very empowering experience for Muslim women,” she said.
“It helps us look modest but also makes others look and focus on who we truly are from the inside, our real and intellectual selves, since it takes attention away from the outward and physical beauty.”
As far as the criticism of cultural appropriation, “I really do not know where the cultural boundaries are nowadays,” Said said with a laugh.
“Culture is an ever-evolving organism.”
Putting on the hijab for a while, Allen feels strange when she removes it.
“I wear it in my daily life. I wear it to the store; I wear it to church. I wear it to the liquor store, which is really odd. I wear it anytime I’m not in my house,” she said.
“It felt strange to put it on; now it feels strange to take it off.”