NEW YORK – A video of a Muslim student having her hijab removed by a teacher went viral on the internet and resulted in the teacher’s suspension. The video shows the teacher removing the hijab and then inviting others in the classroom to fondle the student’s hair.
The incident took place at The New Vision Academy in Nashville, TN. The school issued a statement that the “actions depicted in the Snapchat video do not reflect the values, culture or climate” of their institution. In addition to suspending the teacher without pay, the academy also engaged in “direct discussions” with the students in the video.
The removal of a student’s headscarf by a teacher is not an isolated incident. In May, the New York City Department of Education fired substitute teacher Oghenetega Edah for threatening to and then tearing off student Safa Alzockary’ hijab.
These incidents invariably lead to discussions about the safety and autonomy of covered Muslim girls and women in society.
For millions of Muslim women and girls across the globe, wearing hijab is an important part of practicing their faith. The headscarf has also become a cultural symbol as well as a political tool, making those who choose to wear it susceptible to attack.
“This incident is an example of how the headscarf has become politicized and objectified rather than something that is meant to be a very personal expression of faith,” Co-founder & Director, HEART Women & Girls, Nadiah Mohajir told AboutIslam.
“I am deeply sorry that this happened, and hope that we can work toward a world where women and girls are seen for their character and personhood, and not for the color of their skin or what they wear.”
Activist Hind Makki expressed a concern that imagery of the girl’s exposed hair is being proliferated, specifically by Muslim men, to demonstrate Islamophobia while disregarding the importance of modesty.
“I’m so angry at how some Muslim men are instrumentalizing this girl to make a point about Islamophobia by using her photo. Her scarf was ripped off without her permission and as her brothers in faith, they should protect her modesty, not share it on social media.”
Assault and Hate Crime
Many American Muslim women voiced that such incidents extend beyond Islamophobia and include direct assault and a breach of the physical autonomy of the wearer. “Removing any article of clothing off of a female is demeaning and derogatory in nature,” sexual abuse advocate Aishah Salmah Gulam explained to About Islam.
Hena Zuberi expounds, “Pulling off my hijab in public is the equivalent of pulling off my shirt in public. It’s undressing me. My hair is the same as other parts of my body that are covered by my clothes: my chest, my legs. It would be just as traumatizing.”
“The school should fire this teacher because she assaulted a child that was entrusted to her in the classroom,” asserted Tannaz Haddadi. “A formal apology needs to be made to the child and her family, and diversity training by a Muslim organization needs to be mandatory for all administration and staff.”
Because of the religious significance of the hijab to many Muslim women, Gulam equates its removal to a hate crime. “With the hijab being tied to Islam and being a religious practice, you are not just targeting the woman for what she wears but also for who she is.”
“One of the most common practices of hate perpetuated onto a Muslim woman is removing what makes her evidently Muslim-ripping off the hijab. It’s absolutely a hate crime because you are targeting the one thing that differentiates her from her peers.”