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The Hair or the Hijab words and photographs by Katie Currid

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I

The Hair or the Hijab

n the ladies room, girls crowd around the mirror, adjusting themselves to make sure they are presentable to the world. Although in many primary schools girls may be fixing their hair, at Lykkeskolen most are fixing their hijabs.

Lykkeskolen, which translates into English as “happy school,” is located inside Bazar Vest, a mall of aggregated fruit markets, boutiques, butchers and food shops that serve as the epicenter of ethnic culture in Aarhus, Denmark. The school is an Arab school where children come to learn basics like geography, Danish, math and chemistry but also study Arabic and the Qur’an. The girls in the seventh grade class at the school are approaching an important milestone in their lives as women and as Muslims. Around the ages of 14 and 15, most female Muslims will decide whether or not to take the hijab, as the Qur’an suggests. The hijab is a scarf that covers the hair, but hijab also comes with a certain dress code that requests loose-fitting clothing and little skin revealed. Almost all of the girls in Lykkeskolen’s seventh grade have taken the hijab. The hijab is just as telling about a girl as their hair would be — they are fashioned in different colours, styles and almost all wear them differently. Some have rhinestone embellishments, some are adorned with bow clips, but all

show off their personalities. “I like to take care of myself whether I’m in school or out of school,” says Sara S., 13. Sara has not yet taken the hijab. “Looking good isn’t something you just do for outside eyes — it’s also something you do for yourself.” There are only four girls in the class — 15 percent of the classroom — who do not wear the veil. But as Muslims, they must make this decision, even though some outsiders may not understand why. They are excited to wear the veil and see it as something to be proud of. “When I used to watch my sister wear the veil every day, I would feel envious and think, ‘I wish I could do that,’” says Alaa O., 13. Alaa O. wears the veil and has done so since she was 10 years old. “Many of my classmates were already veiled and since I figured that whether I’m young or old I will wear it, why not go ahead and do it now.” Sara and Hallal A., 13, are two of the four girls who do not wear the hijab but plan to become veiled very soon. Both will take the hijab and say it is because they wish to, not because their parents want them to. Sara and Hallal both plan to wear the hijab during the next Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. Ramadan will occur in August this year and lasts 30 days.

Clockwise from left: Alaa O., Hallal A., Alaa E. and Sara S. look to physics teacher Chawke Zeid for directions on a project in class at Lykkeskolen in Aarhus, Denmark. The hearts on the wall are leftover decorations from an Eidparty, Eid meaning feast in Arabic. Although some of the girls wear the veil and others do not, they do not feel that any one of them is treated any different based on this symbol of Islam. Sara S. walks into a classroom to meet her friends during school. Sara does not wear the veil but plans to take it during the next Ramadan. Muslims wishing to begin wearing the hijab typically start on Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, because it is a time period when Muslims feel their faith the most. Alaa E. mimics her physics teacher, Chawke Zeid, during class at Lykkeskolen. Although Alaa E. and many of her friends wear the veil, they are not lacking in personality or how outgoing they are.

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“There isn’t any difference between me and the others because everyone has the right to make their personal choice,” says Hallal. “Whether or not I’m veiled, they treat me as a friend.” The girls state that although they did not feel different after they began to wear the hijab, they will be representing Islam since the hijab is a symbol of being a Muslim. They say it requires a certain type of modest demeanor. Islam has seen ongoing conflicts in Denmark. Many immigrant areas, made up largely of Arabs, have been labeled ghettos; Søren Pind, Danish Minister for Refugees, Immigrants and Integration, wants Danish immigrants to not just integrate, but assimilate to typical Danish culture; and of course there are the infamous Mohammed cartoons, printed in the Jutland newspaper, Jyllands-Posten.

“I took it in the second grade,” says Alaa E., 13. “It’s beautiful. I am free. People say good things about the hijab so women want to take it.”

Alaa E. drapes a different hijab over her head in the girls’ bathroom at school. Alaa E. changed from her leopard hijab to a more neutral color before having her class where the students study the Qur’an and Arabic.

This freedom may come as a contradiction to non-Muslim women, who may see the hijab as a cover, not an expression of oneself. However, all the Lykkeskolen girls agree that it allows the world to see them as who they are on the inside and not just for their attractiveness. None feel stifled by the veil.

Hallal A. inspects a can of hairspray while Sara S. adjusts her ponytail during a “girls’ day” in the sixth grade classroom. The girls’ day allowed the girls to act like they were in a salon and pamper each other. It featured yoghurt masks, hair curling and vast amounts of make-up.

“I was very excited to take it on,” says a substitute teacher at Lykkeskolen, who asked to remain unnamed. “The big girls wear the hijab, just like the big girls wear make-up.”

Some Western countries have taken stances on Muslim veils. Riots and protests broke out in France recently due to bans on the niqab and burka. But regardless of what happens outside their world, the girls cannot wait to wear the hijab.

The girls wish all women could have the power the hijab gives to them — the powers of pride of their community and the ability to be seen for their thoughts and personalities, not just the way they look. They hope to spread understanding of the hijab and how much they love to wear it.

Many of the girls are very eager to take on the hijab and have done so of their own accord. Some of the girls decided to wear it at younger ages, such as 8 years old, and

“We know who we are and we know where we’re from,” Sara says. “So no matter what they say, it won’t affect the way we see ourselves and our community.”

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Clockwise from left: Sara S.’s hair drapes over the Qur’an as the students read surahs during class. Surahs are prayer readings of Qur’an passages that sound very musical when read aloud.

their mothers suggested they wait a while. None of them wish they had waited longer to wear the hijab, however.

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“The big girls wear the hijab, just like the big girls wear make-up”

From left to right: Hallal A.’s hair hangs over Doaa A.’s face as she stands on top of the stairs outside her classroom. Lykkeskolen is connected to Bazar Vest, an ethnic-oriented food market that brings together different vendors that sell Hallal meats and specialize in Middle Eastern foods. Sara S. and Alaa E. play football in the schoolyard in Aarhus, Denmark. The girls play football almost every day during their breaks between classes and were especially excited to be outside this day because it was unseasonably warm.

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Profile for Katie Currid

The Hair or the Hijab  

Upon reaching the age of 14 or 15, young Muslim women face the choice of whether to continue wearing their hair as they do or to don the hij...

The Hair or the Hijab  

Upon reaching the age of 14 or 15, young Muslim women face the choice of whether to continue wearing their hair as they do or to don the hij...

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