CONWAY, Arkansas – Nancy Allen, a librarian, published author, and a member of a church choir from Conway, Arkansas, has been wearing hijab for almost two years to support Muslim women and counter hateful rhetoric targeting the religious minority.
“Everything hit me all at once,” Allen told Northwest Arkansas on Tuesday, recalling the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s promise to ban Muslims from entering the US in December 2015.
“I started channeling the [Lutheran minister and Hitler foe] Martin Niemoller quote about how the Nazis first arrested socialists, then trade union members, then Jews. Each time, Niemoller said, “I did not speak out” because he was not a socialist, a trade unionist, or a Jew.
“Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me,” said Niemoller, who spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps.
“I had that thought, and I was thinking of the poem on the Statue of Liberty,” Allen said. “It was about that time we were seeing these horrible images of [Syrian refugee children] being washed up” ashore in Europe.
Using hijab as a spiritual way to support Muslim women, Allen was afraid that the US might repeat its history of forcing minorities like Muslims to live in internment camps, like they did with Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“All of that came together like a flash in my head,” Allen recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got to do something.'”
Though Allen was supported by some Christians, including her husband and two children, the biggest support came from the Muslim community.
“I will never forget that the Islamic Center in Little Rock donated turkeys to our food pantry at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church because one member remembered me and what I was doing. Or the amazingly elegant woman at Whole Foods who, out of the blue, gave me a Chanel scarf,” she wrote in her Facebook blog titled “Between the Veils.”
One year into Trump’s presidency, Allen is still determined to support Muslims.
“I can visualize my wearing this [hijab] for the rest of my life if I feel like it. I also can visualize there will be a time when I can take it off,” but still stand up for inclusiveness without having to “make such an in-the-face demonstration,” she said.