“Hijabi Experiments”: Are They Enough to Change America’s Perception on Hijab?

Every time we think this discussion about hijab and burqas has ended, the internet surprises us with new horizons on the issue. I was checking my Facebook the other day, and a video caught my attention because of its title. It was called “Hijabi Experiments.” I am not a big fan of watching such videos, but this particular one, originally posted in December 2013, had about three million views, so I thought there must be something different with it.

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I have to say: I was disappointed. The video itself was poorly made, and its message was not very clear. According to the video’s creator, “the intent (of this experiment) was to educate (people) about why women wear hijab. The goal was to not only erase the ignorance towards ‘hijabophobia’ but also to raise awareness as to why it’s so important to intervene in these types of scenarios.”

The producer also stresses on the fact that “women in hijab can defend themselves, but it doesn’t hurt to know that her brothers and sisters in this country and other countries are by her side.”

Image via YouTube.

Let’s start by discussing why this video was a disappointment. At the beginning of the video, the guy describes on camera what the experiment is exactly, while the girl wearing the hijab is standing next to him. He is doing all the talking, while she is standing there listening, her face is looking down, and does no talking at all. To me, she comes across as an obedient girl who has no opinion. When the man finishes, he just leaves the location and she follows him, in a way that makes me uneasy, because this is an experiment that is supposedly made by both of them and not by him only.

We move then to the next scene where both the guy and the girl in hijab are standing in the middle of a street somewhere in the country (we even don’t have any idea from the video which country this is; through the comments people make, we know this is in the USA). The guy starts yelling at the girl and saying things like: “Go home, you terrorist…. Why are you wearing hijab… you are in our country.” We hear nothing from the girl; all what we can hear is her saying “NO!” in a very weak and sad voice.

The intention here is to grab the attention of people passing by and have them intervene to stop the guy from insulting the hijabi girl. But even the way this is done is questionable. For example, the guy would be saying to the girl: “You are a terrorist, and you are in our country. Ask this guy [he points to a man passing by]; he will tell you the same thing.” It felt like he was begging people for a response, rather than letting people themselves act more naturally towards what is happening.

The whole experiment is done in the same location, and the filming took two hours, according to the publishers. In my opinion, this does not make it a very reliable experiment, and does not in any way reflect more widespread perceptions towards hijab. If you want to do an actual experiment, there should be at least more than one location, and more time spent conducting the experiment.

Through the video, we witness just two people intervening to stop the guy from insulting the girl. I do not believe that those two people intervened because they like Islam or hijabi girls or anything; I think they did it because they hated seeing a girl – or anyone – being insulted in the street this way. So I don’t believe this experiment achieved any of its stated goals of addressing ignorance or “hijabophobia,” nor do I believe that these two people who intervened were any more educated about hijab by the end of the video!

Muslim women in the United States, especially those wearing a head cover face many different kind of discrimination, including job discrimination. A study by a professor Sonia Ghumman from the UH Mānoa Shidler College of Business found that Hijabis encounter discrimination when seeking employment. So the issue of harassment against Muslim women needs to be addressed through different platforms, but has to be done carefully.

This video reminds me of a similar experiment conducted by ABC’s Prime Time in 2008. An employee at a bakery in Texas refused to serve a Muslim woman, while other costumers witnessed the conversation taking place between them. Of course the employee and the woman were actors, and a team from ABC, headed by John Quinones, were shooting everything. For me, this experiment was very touching, and addressed the issue of discrimination against Muslim women from different points of view. Unlike the Hijabi Experiment described above, the ABC experiment showed three types of reactions: those who just ignore, those who discriminate, and those who stand with the victim. And the best thing about the ABC experiment is the interviews conducted with the people who act in one way or another. Through these interviews, we understand the reasons behind their actions, and they have the chance to either defend their point of view, or just admit their ignorance.

I believe that addressing this kind of issue is important, especially when some women live such horrible experiences on daily basis. These incidents do not take place in streets only, but they rather spread to workplaces, shops, restaurants, and so on. And here is where it becomes important to teach the public about the freedom to wear hijab or any other form of clothing, and to accept other people’s beliefs.

I live in America, and I wear the hijab. I face people’s looks sometimes, but I am sure such an experiment is not the best way to change peoples’ views towards the way I dress. Such experiments are just the beginning. People need to be educated and given the chance to understand other people’s cultures and beliefs.

  • irena mangone

    Muslim women should be free to wear a hijab without others making nasty comments I wonder did nuns who when they wore habits did they have this kind of harrassment bet answer is no . And if they did it was by uneducated biased people not much has changed

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Last year after seeing Muslim women wearing hijabs in my small Southern town and witnessing how some treated them I decided to veil with a hijab during my travels and every day life around America. Took some heat for doing this but I wanted to see firsthand how the general public treated women wearing head coverings for religious reasons. Did the experiment from the first of 2013 through the Boston Bombing. I chickened out after the bombing but by that point I’d gone out around 50 times in different places. What I found was that the closer to a big city/university or professional environment, the less the overt hostility or open discrimination. Worst small town reactions were being shoved into a wall and knocked to the ground in rural northern Alabama and having my life threatened at Wal Mart in my town. I found much of the reactions frightening and sad. In the Islamophia caused by the bombing I knew I was too much the coward to continue. I closed my blog, didn’t write up any more of my outings and left it alone, even as I’m still thinking on ways to change the impressions of others.

    My question is: How do we as a nation counter this discrimination and foster understanding if so many are so ignorant?

    • badtooth

      did you wear a veil? or just a headscarf? your comment is confusing. seriously, your experiment found stereotypes to be right in line with the truth? alabama and wal-mart. unbelievable.
      ironicly enough, do you know that alabama was the first state to take away a husband’s right to beat his wife in 1871.


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