Illustration by Jordana Attias
The print version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for more information.
If you were to take a walk around the UCLA campus, you would see a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds. People choose to express themselves and their perspectives in different ways based on the way they dress. Many choose to wear specific religious garments like the kippah and the hijab to express themselves and their devotion to their religion. A similar struggle that Jews and Muslims face is discrimination towards their religious garments. Walking down the street you feel as though you have a million eyes watching, as if you were you a piece of art on display. My curiosity drove me to interview students who wear kippot or hijabs on campus in order to bring awareness to the underlying anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that exists throughout our campus.
People who do not know what a kippah is may question what its purpose is. Is it there to cover up a bald spot? Is he hiding a snack under there? The Judaic tradition of wearing a kippah is not derived from any biblical passage. Rather, it is a custom which evolved as a sign of our recognition that there is Someone “above” us who is watching our every act. When I interviewed third-year psychobiology major Jon Sadik regarding his experiences with wearing a kippah, he said the following.
Jon Sadik: Rather than outsiders using the kippah to single me out, it was somewhat of a conversation starter regarding Judaism. The ideal college experience is learning about different cultures and types of people you weren’t necessarily exposed to previously. I find I have very enriching conversions with people when I wear the kippah.
RM: How long have you been wearing the kippah for?
JS: I’ve been wearing a kippah for as long as I can remember. When we were children, my parents gave me and my brother matching kippahs that had each of our names on them.
RM: How does it feel to wear the kippah?
JS: While on the one hand it makes me seem distinct from other students on campus, it also emotionally connects me to the multitude of Jews in our community.
RM: What does it mean to you to wear a kippah?
JS: As the kippah is a Jewish garment, I feel like I’m representing our community, so I make sure to act respectfully and thoughtfully at all times. It also reminds me that there is a G-d that’s with us at all times. Which simultaneously humbles me, but also puts my situations into perspective. If I’m frustrated or angry, the kippah reminds me that those problems aren’t so great.
RM: Have you ever felt that you were in a situation that made you want to remove your kippah while on campus?
JS: There have been certain situations where I’ve at first felt nervous about wearing a kippah — such as when I walk past the Apartheid wall on Bruinwalk. But then I realize that those are the times where I most need to stand strong with my Jewish community, and I therefore wear my kippah with pride.
RM: Does wearing the kippah help you relate to those who wear a hijab?
JS: I have the utmost respect for those who wear a hijab, who wear the garment despite its (unfairly) negative connotations. We both are proud to represent our respective religions, which I think is admirable.
RM: What message would you like to relay to others about wearing the kippah?
JS: The message I would share to those about the kippah is that it should be used as a symbol of unity, and unity among other Jewish people. I think it’s definitely worth it to wear around campus, and you should never feel uncomfortable with being yourself. Never be dissuaded from wearing it. If you see someone wearing the kippah or hijab, don’t be afraid to ask them why they wear it.
People who wear the hijab express similar feelings as those who wear kippot. Women of the Islamic faith wear a hijab to show their commitment to modesty. Hijab is the Arabic word meaning “to cover.” I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sarah Rahimi, a fifth-year international developmental studies major, and talking about her experience of wearing a hijab on campus.
Rachel Moreh: How old were you when you began to wear the hijab and why?
Sarah Rahimi: I started wearing hijab when I was 19. I was in community college and starting to get a lot of answers to the questions I had about my religion, and things just started falling into place. I started wearing it because I believe it’s a divine commandment and I finally had the courage to follow it.
RM: What does it feel like wearing the hijab on campus?
SR: It has become increasingly difficult. There are stares. Wearing the hijab, you are seen as a Muslim woman before you are seen as a human being. Wearing the hijab makes me feel targeted. I see a change in the way people behave towards me because I haven’t worn the hijab my entire life. People think that I am oppressed and that I am forced to wear this outside of my own free will.
RM: What does it mean to you to wear the hijab?
SR: I wear it because G-d asked us to; to me it is an act of worship just like any other act of worship. In wearing the hijab, I am reminded of my purpose. It’s difficult to wear it especially with anti-Muslim sentiments on this campus, but at the same time it reminds me of purpose and priorities, as opposed to giving in to fear.
RM: Is it a sign of piety and modesty to you?
SR: A woman can be modest without wearing the hijab as well. Modesty and piety to me emphasize action and mindset, rather than solely on the way one is dressed.
RM: Do you feel you can relate to those who wear the kippah?
SR: I respect people who wear the kippah, as I can relate to their devotion to their religion; anti-Semetism is real here. However, I also recognize that the struggles and histories of Jews and Muslims are different.There is also a gendered aspect to it: people look at the women that wear the hijab and think that there is no way a Muslim woman would want to wear it on her own, that the men must be forcing them to do it — signifying society’s entitlement to the female body. One similarity between the experience of wearing the hijab and kippah is that it’s completely different from the conventional norms of how western society dresses.
RM: What message would you like to relay to others about wearing the hijab?
SR: The hijab is empowering, it goes against the patriarchal notions of pleasing society, catering towards the male gaze; I feel empowered wearing the hijab because I am not giving into the norms of society, I don’t allow society to dictate how I should carry myself.
Through interviewing one student who wears the hijab and one who wears the kippah on campus, I was able to see the similarities between these religions, the reasons for why they choose to wear these religious garments, and the common prejudice they must face by wearing their religious garments of choice. Both of these religious garments stand out to the naked eye because they color outside the lines of conventional western norms. At times both of these entities feel targeted for wearing their religious garments of choice but feel that their dedication and devotion to their religion makes it worth it.
Correction: Sarah Rahimi began wearing a hijab in community college at the age of 19 because she believes it is a divine commandment.