As a Hijabi Muslim, Bushra Amiwala, the youngest Muslim to hold a public office in Skokie, Illinois, and the US, marked the annual World Hijab Day, which aims to raise awareness about Islamophobia by calling on non-Muslims to wear a hijab on February 1.
“I’m involved because I wear a hijab, which is an Islamic head covering that represents modesty,” the 23-year-old, who serves on her Illinois school district’s board of education, told Bustle.
“Nazma Khan founded World Hijab Day to educate people on its importance and as a way to say, “Hey, we can wear what we want. We can practice whatever religion we want. We, as women, can be whatever we want to be.”
“So, I celebrate it proudly because I love my religion, I love who I am, and what I represent. I spread awareness to dispel any notion that we’re somehow different because of it.”
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Coming each year on February 1, the World Hijab Day is marked across over 140 countries.
In its ninth year, the brainchild of New York-based Nazma Khan aims at fostering religious tolerance and understanding by inviting non-Hijabi Muslims and non-Muslims to experience hijab for one day.
As a hijabi young Muslim, only 23, Amiwala faces many challenges as the youngest US elected official.
“There are inherent challenges that come with being the youngest of anything. As a Muslim woman elected to public office, I represent more than the constituents in my district,” she said.
“I also represent Muslim women as a whole, [because] I may be the first Muslim some people meet in their life. I’ve handled those hurdles by staying true to my faith, which is a part of me and has kept me grounded. Another critical thing is surrounding myself with people who believe in me and my message.”
The member of Skokie School District 73.5 Board of Education believes President Joe Biden’s decision to repeal the 2017 Muslim ban is a first step toward eradicating stateside Islamophobia.
“I was thrilled to see that [Biden] kept his campaign promise,” she said.
For four years, thousands of Muslims have been locked out of the United States as a result of Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from six Muslim majority countries.
The move to repeal the ban has been hailed by several civil rights organization, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which called the policy a “cruel Muslim ban that targeted Africans.”
“It was embarrassing for our nation. … [And] there were around 41,000 visas that had been declined,” she said, noting that Muslims still face overwhelming systemic discrimination.
Getting elected, Amiwala believes she can help people be more empathetic to the Muslim community.
“When I worked on [Illinois Republican] Sen. Mark Kirk’s campaign, I found many people had never met a Muslim person before, and had preconceived notions and beliefs [about us],” she said.
“It’s a practical step that could break down stereotypes and negative associations that people may have toward our community.”