“People would have come across women wearing hijab, but on a day-to-day basis you don’t sit down and ask these questions because it’s just a little bit uncomfortable.”
On 5 March a small Scottish Muslim project went to the heart of their city and invited passing people to express their opinions on the hijab, ask a question, or try one on for themselves. Inspired by the positive responses the group experienced that day, Changemakers posted a video of the event on their Facebook wall. The online reaction astonished everyone.
Changemakers is an arm of the Yusuf Youth Initiative, a charity created by the desire to improve community ties in the United Kingdom. While other arms focus on youth empowerment, poverty, outreach and education – Changemakers role is to tackle youth unemployment.
Sana Zaveri, Operations Manager, told the IPF: “Changemakers is an employability project working with young people in Dundee – particularly from ethnic minorities – and finding opportunities for them, whether it’s jobs, volunteering, events or support.”
Their main focus is an app they designed to gather and display local opportunities, but the project also provides one-on-one or group workshops, partners with larger organisations to provide a voice for minorities, and conducts research to share with the government of Scotland.
A recent survey conducted by Changemakers found that 68% of local youth felt their faith was a factor in the employment process.
The respondents – largely Muslim women – didn’t just answer the survey; they had a suggestion to counter this perceived issue too.
Dundee’s repsonse to the hijab
“This was an idea from the young people themselves. It was something they came up with and something they wanted to do,” Sana said.
Making the most of Dundee University Islamic Society’s (DUIS) Islamic Awareness Week, Changemakers partnered with DUIS to approach the issue in a fun way with a hijab stall so they could open up to the wider population. Sana said that it was a constructive way to address the findings of the report, both for the young people and also for the public.
“I don’t think the problem is negativity towards it [ethnic and cultural clothes], it’s just a lack of awareness.”
This hypothesis was confirmed by the questions of passing people, which mainly included, “Why do you have to wear a hijab?”, “Do you have to wear it?” and “What are the different types?”
“What was interesting about the event was that people would have come across women wearing hijab, but on a day-to-day basis you don’t sit down and ask these questions because it’s just a little bit uncomfortable,” Sana said.
“You wouldn’t just walk up to someone and go, so tell me about…”
When the opportunity presented itself it was encouraging for the people who genuinely had those questions. Aaisha Naseem, the Vice President of DUIS was impressed with the public’s response.
“I didn’t expect the public to be so engaging and it was amazing to see some people embracing the hijab by wearing it, not just at the stall, but some even walked around town with it on! There was so much love and support from the Dundee community.”
The response online
Once the video was posted online, its ever-increasing views continued to show a desire to learn and share. Sana explained:
“[The video] gave people who weren’t even at that event the opportunity to learn from it.”
While there was a mix of responses to the video online, it remained largely positive. People also began asking questions on Facebook and, to the delight of Changemakers, some local Muslim youth took it upon themselves to answer.
“I have difficulty keeping a hat on in the wind, lol sorry to have missed it would have loved to ask more questions purely out of curiosity and for passing on knowledge,” wrote one respondent.
“Feel free to drop Changemakers questions just a message away!” wrote back Maryam Deeni, a youth who volunteered at the event.
When asked what she thought of the comments, Maryam responded: “The ones which left a big impression on me were the people saying well-done, you’re so brave, good job etc. I don’t know why but it felt nice knowing that people have got your back even if they don’t know you.”
Sana applauded those asking questions and Maryam and the other youths’ initiative online. She hopes employers have been among the crowd viewing the video, but she also hopes it will change some perspectives.
“There are a lot of people who think Muslims don’t want to integrate, don’t want to have any part in society and involving themselves in general things or discussions.”
“I think for people who have ideas and views like that to see that we do go out and we do actually speak to people, that we’re wanting to open the conversation… that would be interesting.”
The careful planning before the event helped make it a success. Sana offered one suggestion for those aspiring to a similar response.
“I think young people can get quite passionate and one of the things we did before the event was have a sort of practice session just so we were not completely thrown off by the questions – and if we did experience any negativity discuss how we would approach it.”
“It was about getting young people to not argue back, to not get upset by the passionate views of other people. Just to expect that there might be negativity, but make a positive turn on it and brush it off.”