GWU Diversity Summit 2017

On Wednesday, March 29th, 2017, The George Washington University hosted its second annual Diversity Summit.  The purpose of this was to shed light on the forgotten and silenced communities on the collegiate level and to question whether GWU is just diverse…or is it actually inclusive?  The set-up was a conference starting at 8:00am and going on until 9:00pm, with different workshops all throughout the day.

I consider myself to be an activist, revolutionary, etc., but most of my knowledge extends to racial and gender accounts and theories.  In order to be more inclusive and intersectional, I need to educate myself on other communities such as the LGBTQ+ community.  In order to strengthen my allyship to said community, I planned on attending the “Allyship 2.0: More than ‘Understanding’ the ‘Coming Out’ Process” workshop.  Unfortunately, due to previously arranged commitments, I was unable to attend that specific workshop.  Instead, I went to the “Voices of Muslim Women” panel from 8:00pm – 8:50pm because I wanted to learn more about Western Feminism vs. Eastern Feminism.  {The White community has just now started recognizing that Intersectional Feminism is a ~necessary~ concept, but many have yet to recognize the differences between Western Feminism and Eastern Feminism…according to my observations.}   This is of interest to me because many times I have found myself in situations where I have to combat notions of Muslim women being oppressed by wearing a hijab.  I elaborate on how wearing hijab is not required, it is a choice, misogyny is everywhere, culture is separate from religion, and how the hijab is empowering to those who wear it.   I think to make my argument more effective, I need to understand how it is empowering to the women who unwaveringly show their identity through the hijab.  Who better to ask than a Muslim woman herself?

The two women on the panel were Wardah Khalid and Mona Eldadah.  After the group panel ended, I went up to them to ask my question.  I wanted to get a more personal answer, so I did not want to ask in front of the whole audience.  Upon approaching them and introducing myself, I said, “When I try to defend the dignity of Muslims, I often want to explain to the opposition that the hijab can be empowering.  However, I want more concrete experiences to draw on, so how does the hijab make you two specifically feel empowered?” {In future encounters where I have to rely on this argument, I will let the opposition know that they are not the spokeswomen for all hijabis, instead two personal accounts I have come across.}

Wardah Khalid said what empowers her is that when she enters the room, people know what she is about.  No one has to question her identity or is surprised when they find out that she has certain beliefs concerning religion.  She is so proud to be a Muslim woman, and she wants people to recognize that the hijab is part of her identity, and it is not going to leave her identity.  Mona Eldadah said she grew up just like many girls today: the standard idea of female empowerment is to expose yourself to males for self-gratification.  She wants to be an example of how yes, that can be empowering to some women, but it does not have to be the only way of female empowerment.  She mentioned how many girls feel like they have to wear a two-piece at the beach, and if they don’t they will not feel as attractive as the other females.  From wearing the hijab, she has learned to develop confidence from her modesty, not necessarily from what body parts she shows to the public.  Neither of them condemns women who do not wear hijab – Muslim or non-Muslim.  In fact, they explained to me the intersection between females and “Islamic character”.  They said they have seen females who are Muslim act in ways that make them think, “Girl what are you doing? Why are you representing Islam in this disrespectful way?”; they have also seen non-Muslim females who act in a position of “good character” according to Islam.

Wardah Khalid and Mona Eldadah were so well-spoken, and I hope they stay confident in their Muslim identities.  I also hope that they will be able to speak at more events like this so that more people can be exposed to Muslims, normalizing their identity and character without judgments and generalizations impeding that.