Festival of Veils Sheds Light on Misconceptions About Religious Veils

Story by Stephanie Hall | Contributing Writer

Photos by Darwin Alberto | Photographer

On a cold, windy Saturday, Middle Tennessee State University held its first-ever Festival of Veils. The festival featured a variety of booths and speakers in honor of women’s rights to wear veils on March 19, amid Women’s History Month.  

The festival showcased different veils worn in different religions such as Islam, Judaism and Christianity.   The was also free food from popcorn and cotton candy to vegetarian pizza and vegetable rolls provided by the Patel Brothers.

The event was sponsored by many organizations, such as the June Anderson Center for Women and Nontraditional Students; Intercultural and Diversity Affair; the Religious Studies Program; Al-Wahda student organization; the Muslim Students Association and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. 

MTSU student Zaynab Alnassari wanted to create the festival to share that Muslim students are no different than other people. She was inspired after an incident in her freshman year.    

“I was on two research projects, one with Dr. Phillips and one with Dr. Gal. And I was cutting branches for him, with my brother and with my sister. And some guy came to me, and he was like, ‘I didn’t know, you people like trees,” Alnassari said.   

She hopes that non-Muslim students will learn from the festival.  

Islamic Institute of America founder, Imam Hassan Qazwini

“I’m not a ‘people’. I’m not different than you. This is supposed to show that a woman has a right to wear a hijab. We have a choice. And this is what this event is for,” she said. 

The festival brought many speakers to talk about different aspects of Islam that guests and students may not be aware of.

Imam Hassan Qazwini is from the Islamic Institute of America in Dearborn Heights, MI. He, like Alnassari, hopes to educate non-Muslim students.   

“Although there are some 6 million Muslims living in this country, Islam is considered the least understood religion … and many Americans do not know much about Islam and if they know anything, it is mostly the misconceptions,” Qazwini said.  

He hoped that his speech can dispel common misconceptions about Islam that are perpetrated by the media. Qazwini hopes that he can portray Islamic culture in an accurate light. 

“We wanted to correct the impression people have on Muslims. Muslims are peaceful people, law abiding people, just like any other community … the media in this country is not so helpful,” Qazwini said.  

If you want to know the truth about our religion, turn off your TV

Imam Hassan Qazwini from the Islamic Institute of America

Another speaker was Kasar Abdulla. She is a Tennessee educator, advocate, organizer and leader. She hoped to share, especially during Women’s History Month, the reason why she and many other Muslim wear veils.  

“I think my biggest takeaway is I want people to humanize what it means to be (a) woman. This is also the month of March. This is objecting women in a way that is not humane is wrong and it’s been happening for so many centuries,” Abdulla said.  

She believes it is time to just start letting women make their own decisions. 

“I want people to realize this is 2022. It’s very important that women feel liberated by making decisions for themselves,” said Abdulla.

Many volunteers shared the speakers hopes of educating non-Muslims about Islamic culture and strengthen their own Muslim community. Rayan is with the American Muslim Advisory Council in Nashville and wants to create a community.  

“I hope that we’re able to build a community with non-Muslims and everybody in Tennessee, because at the end of the day, we live here. This is our home, and we’re just trying to help foster a better sense of community and trying to connect the Muslims in Nashville with the greater community in Tennessee,” Rayan said.  

The AMAC was formed in 2012 after the anti-Sharia bill was introduced in the U.S. They hope to foster civic engagement and policy in both the Muslim community and Tennessee.  

“A lot of the work we do involves advocacy and training, and we try to also do what we need to do to support the Muslim community in Nashville,” Rayan said.  

They hold many events in Nashville for Muslim and non-Muslims alike. They also help community members and, this past year, Afghan refugees.  

Since it is also Women’s History Month, groups such as the Murfreesboro Muslim Youth want to inform people about the head scarf’s and the significance of it.  

“Veils, it’s not just a head scarf. It’s more than that. And there’s testified scarves through different religions,” Asmaa Mohamed of Murfreesboro Muslim Youth said.  

Murfreesboro Muslim Youth is a nonprofit organization. They do youth activities and events for Muslim youth.  

Asmaa, a member of the Murfreesboro Muslim Youth

For volunteers Tamana and Zalykha Rasuli, they hope to share why they and other Muslim women wear head scarfs.  

“Both of us (have worn) a hijab at a very young age. We were in middle school when we started wearing it. So, it was not only new to ourselves, but it was really new to our peers who probably didn’t see people with a hijab on or didn’t really know what it meant to wear a hijab,” Tamana Rasuli said.  

“For me personally, I wear a hijab, it’s part of my identity and it’s also for me, a symbol of modesty and my relationship with God. And I feel like for me, I get to control my own narrative and identity when I wear hijab people don’t have to really focus on that outer beauty or anything like that. I can show people whatever I want and what I want people to view me as,” Zalykha Rasuli said.  

Students crafting prayer beads

The event was open to the public to come visit. There were many activities such as a Henna artist, face painting and a booth where people could make their own prayer beads.  

“I’m making a prayer bead. And I really believe in those because I was once told that Lady Fatimah was always making the prayer beads every time she needed help,” Fatimah, a local 5th grader, said.  

One of the sponsors was MTSU Presidents Commision on the Status of Women. The current chair, L’Oreal Stephens, was excited to sponsor the Festival of Veils.  

“It’s a co-sponsor with people on campus and off campus to do anything that promotes the advancement of women. That’s basically what we do. So, when I heard about this and especially because it was put on by students, we definitely wanted to be part of it,” Stephens said.  

Stephens, along many others, enjoyed getting to learn about different coverings from different religions. The festival allowed students and community members to come together and learn.  

To contact Lifestyles Editor Ethan Pickering, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, visit www.mtsusidelines.com, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News 

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