At a noon rally Wednesday in uptown Charlotte, non-Muslim women wearing hijabs, or head scarves, gathered with an equal number of Muslim women to show their solidarity at a time when many Americans Muslims feel under siege by President Donald Trump’s administration.
The crowd of more than 75 women held up signs championing diversity, immigration and the Golden Rule and chanted, “No hate, no fear. Everyone is welcome here.”
Laura Hankins, a mother of four who attends Charlotte’s Holy Covenant United Church of Christ, said she donned a head scarf to stand with Muslim women such as Jenna Nichols, a retired government worker. Waiting for the rally to start, the two introduced themselves and struck up a conversation.
“I was raised in a strong social justice tradition, and it’s important to show up,” Hankins said to explain why she came to the rally. “I wanted to show my support and hopefully build some relationships so I can do more.”
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Nichols, who became a Muslim in 2001, called it wonderful to be surrounded by so many supportive non-Muslim women.
“There needs to be more coming together of all faiths so we can work as one human race,” she said. “Sisters, brothers – we’re all humans.”
Like other Muslim women at the rally, Nichols said she wears a hijab because she believes God wants her to, as a form of modesty.
Wednesday was World Hijab Day. And the shows of support from non-Muslims at Romare Bearden Park came in the wake of protests against Trump's executive order banning U.S. entry for Syrian refugees and restrictions on refugees from six other Muslim-majority countries. The new president said the order is designed to protect Americans from terrorists. Protesters, including many American Muslims, say the order is an un-American attack on a single religion, Islam.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham did not attend the rally, but did post a photo of herself wearing a head scarf on her Facebook page.
“I stand with Muslim women on World Hijab Day,” she wrote. “I welcome refugees. Peace.”
The rally’s organizer, Victoria Abdelfattah, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg teacher who’s now a nanny, said she wants to help bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.
“I don’t have children myself yet, but part of the reason I’m so vocal ... is for the kids that I nanny and my friends’ kids and for my future children,” said Abdelfattah, 25, who became a Muslim nearly three years ago. “I want them to grow up in a much different and more accepting environment than a lot of my friends did.”
Mayada Idlibi, a lifelong Muslim who’s originally from the city of Aleppo in Syria, led many of the chants Wednesday.
The big turnout of non-Muslim women wearing hijabs “means the world to me,” said Idlibi, who has lived in the United States for 34 years and now works with refugees through the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. “It’s a sign of support and love and freedom.”
Idlibi said Muslim women who wear a hijab every day do so to save their beauty for their husbands and to show their obedience to God and his commandments.
“Behind the hijab, there is Allah (the Arab word for God),” she said. “And behind this hijab, you should find a person that does not lie, that does not swear, that does not cheat.”
Abdelfattah told the women gathered at the rally that, although Muslim women in three countries are required to wear a hijab, Muslim women in the United States do so by choice.
“This is a decision we made because we believe God asked us to,” she said. “This is a religious act every morning.”
Rabbi Judy Schindler, who now directs the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte, donned a hijab on her Facebook page this week and encouraged other non-Muslim women to “stand with your Muslim sisters” by doing the same during what she called “this climate of fear.”
On Wednesday, she came to the rally wearing a head scarf.
What have been others’ reactions been to her show of solidarity?
Some feminists, Schindler said, have asked her “How can you wear a hijab when it is a symbol of oppression for women?”
Her response: She said she wanted to support the Muslim women who make the choice to wear a hijab. But Schindler acknowledged that the feedback did cause her “to ask a lot of questions and go deeper. It forced me to have conversations with my Muslim friends.”
It also caused her to think about Jewish women who have traditionally covered their hair for the sake of modesty.
Including the great aunt she was named for. This Judy was murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz.
“She was a religious woman who lived with her head covered,” Schindler said. “I don’t think when she died she would have had that privilege.”
Four students in Schindler’s class on the Holocaust joined her at the rally.
One of them, Brooke Edwards, a freshman at Queens who attends New Home Baptist Church back home in Anson County, held up a sign that read “I Am My Sister’s Keeper.”
“I’m a Christian and when I see the oppression of another religion, I want to show my support,” said Edwards. who also wore a head scarf. “I have an obligation to love my neighbor.”