A woman in a hijab and glasses looks outside a window.

Gendered Islamophobia, Not the Hijab, is Hurting Muslim Women

The family of second-grade student Sumayyah Wyatt spoke out after her teacher allegedly ripped off her hijab during class last month in Maplewood, New Jersey. Sumayyah’s mother says her daughter has been traumatized by the incident and now fears having to wear her hijab to school (NBC). Supported by the Black Parents Workshop, the family demands justice and is pleading for the teacher to be fired for their actions (Blavity). 

This discriminatory, violent incident is part of a long history of policing and criminalizing the everyday actions of Black and Muslim people. For decades, Muslim communities have been a target of undue harassment, surveillance, and violence. While prejudice toward Muslim Americans increased drastically post 9/11, hostility toward the community has been a longstanding issue (NBC).


Support the Black Parents Workshop, the organization supporting Sumayyah Wyatt.

Support World Hijab Day to defend women’s right to wear the hijab. 

Sign the EmojiMe petition for greater hijabi representation in emojis.

Islamophobia is connected to white supremacist anxieties regarding national identity and the xenophobic sentiments that emerge with increasingly diverse communities. As a result, countless Muslim people have faced discrimination ranging from verbal harassment to hate speech, violent attacks, and religious profiling. Many Muslim people continue to face a lack of equal opportunities in employment, housing, health care, and education, and confront restrictions against the public expression of their religion (OSCE).

Similar to the violence experienced by young Sumayyah Wyatt, thousands of Muslim Americans experience harsh backlash when wearing their hijabs. This leads to a direct insecurity around practicing this part of their faith. Muslim women have been harassed, fired from jobs, suspended from schools, and denied access to public areas like malls and swimming pools because they wear the hijab. Experts have found that 69% of Muslim women who wore hijab reported at least one incident of discrimination compared to 29% in Muslim women who did not wear the hijab (ACLU).

The increase in discrimination against women who wear hijab directly correlates with the stereotypes of Muslim people as terrorists in the post 9/11 media. The 9/11 attacks and subsequent ‘War on Terror’ spurred a sentiment of Islamophobia that quickly made life difficult for visibly Muslim Americans. Hostile representations of Muslim people conveyed Islam as a wicked and evil religion (Fordham University) and identified the hijab with Islamic militancy. While many of the people who wear the hijab are American citizens, the hijab itself became a visible identifier of the “otherness” of Muslim people (Fordham University).

The hijab has also been misrepresented in the media, often only shown as a tool of oppression and degradation of women. Western feminists rejected the hijab and the women who choose to wear it, as they view the action of veiling as a stratification of the gender binary and an inherent object of patriarchal erasure (Fordham University). This surface understanding of what the hijab means to Muslim women further leads to isolation and disparagement.

Some Muslim women view their right to cover as a form of empowerment (The Conversation). Just as people should be allowed to show their skin if they want to, that same freedom should be given to those who wish to cover up. The heart of the issue boils down to bodily autonomy and the right to choose for oneself. Many Muslim women describe wearing their hijabs as a way of being; not only is it a commitment to their faith, but also a commitment to their heritage, pride, and belonging (The Beacon).  

Today, Muslim women across the globe are speaking out against discrimination and claiming their right to religious autonomy. Various campaigns have been launched to promote hijab visibility and tolerance, including EmojiMe, led by Yara Boraie, Dini Lestari, and Elena Kim. This project created a range of emojis wearing the hijab o create people who wear them (Refinery29).

Like all religions, Islam is a multifaceted faith where participants can choose how to express their relationship with God and community (The Conversation). As a society, it is our duty to respect people from all religious backgrounds and give them the room to practice their faith without fear of persecution. Put a stop to bigotry and support women in hijabs.


  • Muslim women are being harassed, fired from jobs, suspended from schools, and denied access to public areas because they wear the hijab.
  • Discrimination against people who wear the hijab directly correlates with the stereotypes of Muslim people as terrorists in the post 9/11 media.
  • The consequence of this trauma often results in insecurity and inability to practise this part of their faith.
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Kholiswa Mendes Pepani

Kholiswa Mendes Pepani is a Freelance Writer and Bookseller from Johannesburg, South Africa. She is currently based in Portland, Maine where she lives with her husband and their pup. Check out her published work on Hobart. 

All stories by : Kholiswa Mendes Pepani
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