[L-R] Annabel Daley, Emma Lawler and JoAnne Sparks.
[L-R] Annabel Daley, Emma Lawler and JoAnne Sparks.

Uncovering assumptions

Islamic Awareness Week was recently celebrated on campus, providing staff and students the opportunity to learn more about Islamic culture via lectures, exhibitions and stalls.

Four Library staff members took the opportunity to wear a hijab for a day, to demonstrate their support for Muslim women and help raise awareness about the assumptions people make about the headpiece.

University Librarian JoAnne Sparks said the idea to participate came from the story of a young girl who, while on a visit to Dubai, thought the women she saw all looked like angels.

“What a different and completely positive view as opposed to what we are often presented with in the mainstream media,” said JoAnne. ”So some of us decided we would wear the hijab, as a powerful symbol of solidarity and acceptance. After all, we are all the same under our clothes.”

We asked the four women to tell us more about their experience:

Emma Lawler | Library Services Coordinator
I chose to wear the hijab for a day to stand with Muslim women young and old, to show respect for their faith and their freedom as women to choose to wear the hijab. For me it was a simple and powerful gesture. Something I could do as a woman to contribute to the conversation and raise awareness about the assumptions we make about the image the hijab symbolises. I truly believe that for most people, it is less about intolerance and more about ignorance. We make so many assumptions about peoples’ choices without asking why.

I learnt that to wear the hijab is a personal choice, made at any stage in a woman’s life, to continue their journey though Islam. While it is compulsory in some Muslim countries, and therefore for western feminists has oppressive overtones, in a country like Australia this is a choice women make.

In some cases, they are discouraged by their families from making this choice to protect them from racist attitudes in public. There is no doubt this would be even more of a concern in the current political climate.

It was an overwhelmingly positive experience for me personally. It also allowed me to reflect on my experience as a young woman in Australia and the unrealistic expectations placed on a woman’s appearance. Why do I wear short skirts and high heels? Is this how I want to be seen as a woman? What about my thoughts, feelings, beliefs? I was surprised that wearing the hijab actually made me feel very feminine. Women can express not only their commitment to their faith, but also their love of fashion. Beautiful fabrics, bling, styling… there is a whole gorgeous world of hijabi couture out there!

JoAnne Sparks | University Librarian
My human rights motivation was very high for participating in this day. More profoundly, I think I have learned about the hijab as a symbol of choice and liberation. I felt surrounded by feminists, truly strong and powerful women who are confident, assertive and leaders in their community and families. My respect has deepened in a way I did not expect. I recognise these students as fellow sisters in the effort to promote human rights, women’s rights and family rights. I am humbled to learn from my much younger colleagues about some basic ideas in the Muslim faith that resonate to core ideas for faiths, traditions and ethnicities around the world. So on an intellectual level, I feel I have learned something profound.

Secondly, I found the experience had a very unexpected impact on my own self-awareness. I felt more reflective even after I took off the hijab, calmer and clearer about who I am. You see, I choose to dress modestly and have done so my entire life. It is not for a religious reason but a personal choice. I can see now there is a profound message about self-respect in that lifelong choice. I have never wanted acceptance for how I look but rather for what is inside my heart and my mind. This to me is one of the most meaningful messages I learned from my Muslim sisters. I feel a real bond with these women about self-identity and respect.

We need to change the world. There are troubling things going on ‘out there’ that need all the self-awareness, self-respect and courage we can all bring forth. I think it starts with each of us looking deep inside, engaging with other people and working together to find ways to constructively confront and challenge the things that tear down and destroy. We need education, families, the safety net of the community and real regard and respect for differences. I look forward to continuing my journey with these girls, these women, to make our community a better place.

Susan Vickery | Associate University Librarian
Like most of us, I heard through the media of incidents where Muslim women were targeted by complete strangers based purely on their appearance. In my immediate circle of friends and colleagues this concept is so alien that I don’t think I could get my head around what was really happening. However in the last few weeks I personally witnessed two instances of this sort of verbal and social media attack. This opened my eyes to the fact that this problem wasn’t something I saw on TV – but very much part of the community I was living in and I began to ask myself what can I do to combat this growing tide of discrimination based on appearance and faith? When I heard of the opportunity to participate in this event I happily joined in.

My key motivation is to speak up and say that these strangers who profess to speak on my behalf that ‘this is not the Australian way’ do not represent me or my community. Tolerance is an important value to me and if by wearing the hijab I can increase awareness and familiarity and break down barriers based on fear of the unknown or different, then I am grateful to be able to participate. Even though it was only for half a day, I found the opportunity rewarding. I had a chance to talk to the women who lent me the scarf and hear how they felt about wearing the hijab. It also gave me the opportunity to open the discussion of this in the broader community.

Annabel Daley | Administrative Services Coordinator
I support the fact all Muslim women have the right to choose to wear a hijab, niqab or burqa. I believe this right should be recognised by all members of our community. I strongly support the right of women to wear the hijab, niqab or burqa without the fear of scorn, disrespect or violence of any sort. By wearing the hijab for the morning I hoped this small action might give the women present a sense of this support. Further, I hoped by visually displaying this support, others may equally be encouraged to join in and support Muslim women in their choices.

The opportunity gave me a chance to hear from some of the Muslim women attending Macquarie University – allowing me to begin to understand their reasons behind their choices.


Student video goes viral
The Macquarie University Muslim Students Association (MUMSA) produced a video for Islamic Awareness Week about acceptance that has now been seen by more than 1.4 million people. Watch now.