Uzma Daraman

“Oh, you know Uzma.  The girl with the hijab.”

Thailand-native Uzma “Zeem” Daraman (2015) just happened to be in front of the Dining Hall on the day last week's One Grinnell event.  While interested in stories shared on race and class, she felt as though an important topic was missing: religion.

“In America itself, people take religion as a private thing, which is not what it was like where I grew up [in Bangkok].  Sometimes, religion is taken too much as a fiction, as something far away, but for me, religion is real, it is a way of life,” said Daraman.

At the One Grinnell event, Daraman spoke about the journey a Muslim woman must take in making the choice whether or not to wear a hijab.  For her, it started as a young girl at an Islamic private school, where the hijab was a part of the uniform.  The girls would play “brides,” flipping up the hijab, turning it into a wedding veil.

Once Daraman grew used to the hijab, it became part of her identity.  “It’s not just like putting a jacket on.  If you’re not ready, you need to wait,” said Daraman.

“When I was younger, I would just wear black because it was easier.  Changing your hijab color or style is like changing your hair color.  You can still have fun, still express your fashion style.”

Daraman says she finds most of her fashion inspiration from online, specifically YouTube and Instagram.  Muslim women use #ootd, hashtag outfit of the day, when displaying creative hijab styles.

A hijab can come from anywhere.  “You can go to Forever 21 and find a cute scarf and say, ‘Okay, is this big enough for me to cover the parts that I want to?’  It can be any color or material,” said Daraman.

The purpose of the hijab is for women to maintain modesty.  “Modesty for me is like being comfortable with yourself without being too boasting, like ‘Glam, bam, I’m here!’  Modesty doesn’t mean you’re the wallflower, and it’s doesn’t mean that you’re Kim Kardashian.  It’s finding the middle ground, which is different for everyone.”

Post-graduation, Daraman will be a Teach for Thailand fellow—the same thing as Teach for America, but in Thailand.  She has also applied for the Watson Scholarship, and will find out if she is a recipient on March 15.  If awarded the Watson, Daraman will travel the world for one year, focusing on Muslim women’s choices on wearing the hijab, specifically studying this choice in societal, political, and cultural contexts.

“In my opinion, wearing a scarf, or being covered, is an obligation for Muslim women.  We don’t have monks, we don’t have nuns; every single one of us is a saint, someone who is pursuing to become a better Muslim.  It is just you and God,” Daraman said.

One virtue Muslims believe in to become better people is the virtue of jihad.  “There’s this idea of jihad that people misunderstand.  Most Americans, maybe, think it’s the fight against non-believers, using violence.  Actually, jihad is an inner-struggle, to become a better person.  For me, that’s a perfect explanation for life.”

Daraman encourages people who do not wear hijabs to respectfully ask Muslims anything they are curious about.  “The reason why I want to go into education is because I believe that education erases ignorance and leads to peace.”