A hijab is a traditional head covering worn by many Muslim women all over the world.
In the Muslim faith, a hijab is worn to protect modesty, privacy, and morality. Many people think they're oppressive to women and a symbol of extremism, which is why the last time you saw one in the news was probably when France passed several laws restricting when and where women are allowed to wear them.
In reality, many Muslim women embrace the choice to wear hijabs (not to be confused with niqabs, which cover the face, or burkas, which cover the entire body) of their own free will.
Do a little searching online, and you can find amazing tutorials showing all the different ways to style a hijab, fan-art illustrations of superheroes wearing hijabs, and other outspoken and successful Muslim women who embrace the hijab. One of them is Dalia Mogahed, who recently explained on "The Daily Show" why wearing a hijab doesn't mean she's oppressed, saying that women who wear hijabs "do it as an act of devotion, as a part of their faith. Not because anyone forces them but because it's how they believe they should be following their faith."
Two young women have been making news lately with their decisions to show the world that wearing a hijab is not only their right but an important part of their culture that they hold dear.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencing champion from New Jersey, will soon make history when she becomes the first U.S. Olympic athlete to compete in hijab.
After earning a bronze medal at the Athens Fencing World Cup, Muhammad — who was already the first Muslim woman to compete in U.S. fencing — earned enough qualifying points to compete in this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is currently second place in the U.S. national fencing team's point standings.
"I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender," she says in her USA fencing team bio. "I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance."
Muhammad is well aware of the lack of diversity in U.S. fencing. In fact, that's partly why she pursued the sport. Shortly after her fencing career at Duke University, she realized she could help push the sport forward.
"After I graduated from college, I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport," Muhammad told Team USA. “I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber.”
And Stephanie Kurlow, a 14-year-old dancer from Sydney, Australia, is aspiring to be the worlds first hijabi ballerina.
A dancer since age 2, Kurlow stopped practicing shortly after converting to Islam with her family when she was 8, according to the NY Daily News.
She felt self-conscious about wearing her hijab in ballet class and was frustrated to find there were no ballet studios that readily accepted Muslim women. She feared this would prevent her from achieving her dream of becoming a professional dancer.
Had such a fun photo shoot the other day!💙 #wedanceasone #dailytelegraph
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So her mom decided to open up a performing arts studio that teaches ballet, martial arts, and aboriginal art classes for girls like Stephanie. There, Kurlow continued dancing and went on to win first place in a Muslim talent show as well as the Most Inspirational Young Star in Sydney’s Youth Talent Smash competition last year. All while wearing her hijab.
“[The hijab] is a part of who I am, and represents the beautiful religion that I love,” she told the NY Daily News. “If people have the right to dress down, then I have the right to dress up.”
Kurlow dreams of inspiring other women the way she was inspired and has started a fundraising page so that she may one day train full-time at ballet school and eventually open up her own school.
Both of these women are promoting diversity and acceptance by being who they are.
Society often moves forward at a snail's pace. You need people who are willing to jump out in front and lead the way. Ibtihaj Muhammad and Stephanie Kurlow are leaders because they believe that the world gets better when everyone is included equally.
Whether it's politics, art, music, dancing, or an Olympic sport, there are talented and incredible people everywhere.
And they can wear whatever the hell they want.