OLEAN, NY--Approximately 30 students and several teachers participated in Olean High School's first World Hijab Day event Feb. 1.
Founded by New York resident Nazma Khan in 2013, World Hijab Day began as an effort to "foster religious tolerance and understanding by inviting women (non-Hijabi Muslims/non-Muslims) to experience the hijab for one day," Khan told the World Hijab Day website.
Since its advent, World Hijab Day has become a global success. Estimates suggest 190 countries participated in this year's event.
Olean High School students count themselves among American participants for the first time.
Organizer of the event, Olean High School junior, Zayba Chauhdry, felt this year, more than ever, the event would make a positive impact.
"I wanted to do this event to stand up against bigotry and show solidarity in our school and community," Chauhdry said. "With what has happened in the past week, I thought it was vital that we should do this amazing event."
Chauhdry felt that in a small community like Olean many people were unaware of what hijabs actually represent.
"The definition of hijab is a head scarf," Chauhdry said. "Christians wear it, Jews wear it, nuns wear it. Mary, Jesus's mother, wore one. Why is it that when Muslim women wear hijabs people are scared and automatically stereotype them?"
Chauhdry hoped participating in the event would help to minimize negative stigmas surrounding the traditional scarves.
"A piece of cloth should most definitely not change someone's impression of you," Chauhdry said. "If this event changed anyone's perspective of women who wear hijabs in a good way, then I would feel that we accomplished something."
Though many girls felt uncomfortable wearing hijabs, they offered words of encouragement and positivity to those participating, Chauhdry said.
"It put a huge smile on my face," Chauhdry said. "This is what OHS is about—standing up for each other and showing our unity as a school. Hopefully, one day as a community and a nation."
Chauhdry said she was thankful for the support she and her peers received and that she hopes this year marks the first of many World Hijab Days at OHS.
"Even though I am only one person, I believe that I can make a change," Chauhdry said.