Freshman Rowanne Ali began wearing the hijab, a veil worn by Muslim women, her sophomore year of high school. Raised Muslim by Egyptian parents, she made the decision to wear the hijab when she was 13, after growing up seeing her mother wear it.
“My parents always told me what it was about, and that when I was ready, that I could start wearing it,” she said. “They always told me, ‘Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s about the clothes you wear, but once you start wearing it, you also have to portray your religion in the right light.’”
In the Miami weather, wearing a head covering around the University of Miami campus can get warm, but Ali said it doesn’t cause too much discomfort.
“It definitely gets hot, but I don’t think it’s substantially hotter for me than it would be if I didn’t have it on,” Ali said about her hijab. “It’s something I get used to. … If anything, it protects me from the sun. … It’s not something that bothers me, it never gets too hot.”
Warm weather aside, three UM students from separate religious backgrounds say their religious head coverings not only serve a spiritual purpose for them, but also give them the opportunity to help others around them become more religiously aware.
A study found that most college students identify themselves as religious or spiritual. According to the 2013 National College Student Survey, 31.8 percent of students identified their worldview as religious, 32.4 percent identified themselves as spiritual and 28.2 percent as secular.
The survey included a sample of more than 1,800 students from 38 four-year colleges and universities in the United States.
Moreover, religious knowledge is most closely linked with years of schooling, according to a U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey by the Pew Research Center.
Amanullah De Sondy, assistant professor of Islamic Studies at UM, considers cultural and religious awareness a key factor in the college experience. He says it provides an opportunity for students to learn about those around them who have different beliefs and practices.
“It is important in order to interrogate critical questions in the academic study, which then leads to a better understanding in building bridges between faith communities and understanding those who are different from you,” he said.
Rite of passage
The right time to don a religious garb varies from person to person and across religions. It marks an important part of an individual’s religious dedication and responsibility.
Senior Razi Katz has worn a kippah – also known as a yarmulke – his whole life and only removes it when sleeping or showering. The kippah has connected him to Judaism, he says, serving as a reminder that God is above.
“It’s not a biblical commandment, but has been part of halacha, Jewish law, since Talmudic era,” he explained.
The kippah is only worn by men because Jewish mysticism teaches that females don’t need physical reminders of respect for God because the female soul is more sensitive to holiness and spirituality.
Ali was nervous about the reactions she would get with her hair covered and how her classmates would act around her after the change, but it wasn’t judgment she received – it was curiosity.
“It was received very well,” she said. “Any questions I got out of curiosity, I tried to answer them to the best of my ability, and I never got any negative energy or attention from it.”
In Islam, the hijab is worn by Muslim women to protect beauty and so that people judge women not on their looks, but on their character, Ali explained. The hijab’s significance is also about modesty.
“To me, it’s more than just a scarf on my head,” she said. “It’s not just about the way I dress or modesty, but it also encompasses character.”
Ali says she has to wear the hijab in public and in front of all men and those who she may potentially marry. Still, she takes it off in her dorm, at home, or when in front of other girls or family.
She also says she wears it to cover her face while at the mosque or for prayer to be more modest, and on more casual occasions, she covers her hair but not her face.
Junior Ishtpreet Singh, vice president-elect at UM, began wearing a turban in the fall of 2014. He wears a turban as part of Sikhism, a South Asian monotheistic religion.
Followers of the Sikh religion believe that hair is a gift from God, and therefore those who follow the religion never cut their hair.
In India, the turban is usually worn after a coming-of-age ceremony is held, typically by high school graduation, Singh said.
Until this fall, he had worn a smaller version, called a patka. He began wearing the patka in sixth grade, and before that, he donned a small piece of cloth wrapping his bun.
After deciding it was the right time this year, he moved on to the turban.
“It sort of signifies that you’re getting to that age where you’re ready to pick up more responsibility as an adult, you’re ready to take on more responsibility in religion, you’re ready to pick up more commitment,” he said. “I thought it was about time for me to start.”
Singh says he runs regularly and still also wears a lighter or smaller version of a turban – similar to the patka he wore when he was younger – in order to stave off the heat.
Singh says that though most of his experiences have been positive, when he was in elementary and middle school, he was bullied and called Osama Bin Laden.
“I took it well; I kind of dismissed it respectfully,” Singh said. “Ever since then, though, I really haven’t had problems. More so, people are curious.”
Katz considers his kippah a daily reminder of his faith. He says it is a constant connection to his religion while he’s away at college.
“I’ve always worn a kippah, but definitely here at UM, the first time I’ve really been outside my home Jewish community, it has had a greater significance and definitely impacted many of the decisions I’ve made here and my overall commitment to my Judaism,” he said.
Similarly, Ali says the hijab serves as a representation of not only her beliefs, but also her morals and values.
“I portray myself in the best way that I can when I wear the hijab so that when people know, ‘Oh, she’s Muslim,’ you don’t want negative images and negative thoughts because it’s already perpetuated by media,” she said.
Likewise, Singh’s turban is part of the Sikh identity, and it signifies growth in that faith. Sikhism teaches devotion and remembrance of God at all times, which the turban provides a daily reminder for.
“We wear the turban as a sign of respect. … It shows our commitment to the religion and our commitment to God,” Singh said.
Wearing religious garments can come with assumptions, stereotypes and misrepresentations. Ali says that sometimes, religious garb can be mistaken for a representation of the wrong religion or associated with negative ideas.
The students explained that to block negative connotations and stereotypes, open communication is necessary, and those who are curious about their faiths should ask questions.
Katz, Ali and Singh say they have all gladly answered questions raised by peers who were curious about their outer presentation. They agreed that asking is always better than assuming.
“I love students coming up to me and asking questions,” Singh said. “The main thing I want to avoid is any sort of stereotypes or misconceptions coming up and interfering with my interaction with students.”
Singh is a President’s 100 tour guide and says he is often the first face that students see when visiting campus. Some are curious about his turban – which he always tries to match with his outfit – and he happily answers them.
“I’m very receptive to people coming up to me on campus, especially, and asking questions,” Singh said. “I love when people are curious about it. It shows their interest and their desire to learn.”
Similarly, Ali has also been approached about her hijab and its religious meaning. Like Singh, she says that she doesn’t mind answering questions.
“Some people think that it’s annoying to us or that we get offended by it, but I enjoy getting the questions,” Ali said. “I’m not afraid to bring it up, and especially here in Miami, people aren’t either because it’s such a diverse campus.”