Monday, November 06, 2006

Wearing Hijab on Nov. 13 Honors Slain Afghan Mother

Sue Hutchison, Mercury News, 11/6/06

Melanie Gadener was at home in Fremont three weeks ago when she began receiving calls about the killing of Alia Ansari, the 38-year-old mother of six who was shot in the head as she walked with her little girl through a quiet Fremont neighborhood to pick up her children at Glenmoor Elementary School.

Very quickly, Gadener was struck with the same suspicion as many others in town. They wondered if Ansari was killed simply because of the way she was dressed, in a loose scarf that some Muslim women wear to cover their heads out of modesty.

"I was shocked and saddened, but I was not surprised," Gadener told me when we met recently. "There is growing racism in Fremont, and a lot of this has come out since 9/11." Whether or not Ansari's head scarf had anything to do with why she was killed, it's significant that so many people have no trouble believing it was the reason.

Support for Afghans

Gadener has been especially sensitive to these tensions since she set up the Foundation for Self-Reliance, a non-profit organization that develops programs to promote economic independence in the Afghan community. Over the past three years, she has had a crash course in Muslim beliefs and traditions.

"I've learned not to be afraid to ask questions and be honest about my own ignorance," Gadener said. "We've got to bring the conversation to the table."

In that spirit, she had an idea about how to memorialize Alia Ansari. What if women of all religions pledged to wear a Muslim head covering, a hijab, for one day? It would not only show support for the Ansari family, but it also would be an intriguing social experiment. How might people treat you differently if, for one day, the only thing different about you was what you were wearing on your head?

Nov. 13 was the date chosen for "Wear a Hijab Day," and the plan has taken on a life of its own. Gadener has been deluged with messages of support from all over the world. Soon it became clear that men wanted to participate as well, so the event's title was changed to ``Wear a Hijab or Turban Day."

Sikhs included, too

Reshma Yunus, who is active in the Muslim community and the founder of Semah, a domestic violence-prevention organization based in Newark, said she suggested adding turbans to the event because many Sikh men also have been victims of the backlash since Sept. 11, even though they are not Muslim . . .

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