Study Abroad: Hijabis advised to chose schools in religiously tolerant communities
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Accra: Muslim women seeking to study abroad have been advised to gauge the religious tolerance of the local communities of their prospective schools before selecting them.

This is to guarantee a safe space and a friendly environment for Muslim women who would want to pursue their academic goals and practice their religion through acts such as observing the hijab.

The advice was given by a panel of speakers during a Muslim Women’s Symposium organised virtually by the Ghana Muslim Professionals Abroad, a Not-for-Profit organisation of Ghanaian Muslims studying abroad.

Dr. Suad Rashid, a Biochemistry researcher, said conducting research about the local communities of the schools was important to prevent hijab-observing women from being victimised by Islamophobes.

“There are areas without Muslims. There are areas where they hardly see Muslims, and they hardly see blacks. Especially for women who want to wear the hijab and dress Islamically, doing a bit of research helps.

“For instance, you can find out whether there are Masjids around, the percentage of Muslims, and how the Islamic community is. That way, you can choose a place where you will be comfortable,” she said.

Sharing her experience as a student who observed the hijab, Rabiatu Mohammed, a PHD student at New Mexico State University, recounted incidents where she had been threatened for covering herself up.

Residing in a city close to Texas, she said, “When I came here, I was the only black person wearing the hijab. It is really challenging. There are places I couldn’t go to because I am afraid for my life, and I have been threatened before.”

“I don’t feel safe all the time, and there are certain times of the day I don’t go out at all because I am scared that somebody might harm me. I have heard stories of Arab women here being attacked because of their Hijab, so wearing the Hijab around here is Jihad, and it is about your survival,” she added.

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Faiza Umar Bawah, a lecturer at the University of Energy and Natural Resources, noted that Ghanaian Muslim women in their home country are still faced with the challenge of exercising their religious rights through the hijab.

She urged Muslim women not to compromise on observing the hijab for any position or benefit, as the main goal of being a Hijabi should be to please Allah alone.

Ms. Bawah also urged Muslim women to strive to be indispensable as a means of forcing the hands of hijab opponents to accept women who observe the hijab.

Dr. Sophie Nanyonga, a scholar in the field of International relations, also encouraged Muslims to work towards changing the status quo by engaging and sensitising communities about the hijab.

She also urged Muslim women to consider leading exemplary lives as the best form of dawah (preaching) for people who have no understanding of what Islam is about.

“We shouldn’t give up. We shouldn’t say here that this is how it is, and it is how it has always been like this, and we can only reside in communities where we will be accepted,” she said.

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