"And no I am not deprived, or oppressed. No one forces me to wear hijabs. And there are cases you might find that there are Muslim women that are forced to wear hijabs, but that's not Islam what's all over," says Habeeba Yasin in the short film "Hijabi World".
In this candid video by Newest Americans, students of Rutgers University in Newark, those who are Muslim and wear hijabs, speak about their lives, their decision to wear headscarves and their everyday struggles.
In a blog for The New York Times, one of the producers of the film Julie Winokur, writes, “If you have ever worn a hijab or even walked around with someone who does, you can feel the undercurrent of tension it elicits on American streets. 'Hijabi World' allows young Muslim women to express what it’s like coming of age in America in a time of xenophobia."
"The film allows them to set the record straight about when and why they started to wear the head scarf and to answer for themselves how they balance American feminism with cultural and religious tradition. They stare straight ahead and announce, 'We are here and we have a voice.'," she adds.
Many of these women, of different ethnicities and from different backgrounds, started wearing hijabs in their teens after seeing their mothers, sisters or friends wear it. But over time, the headscarf has become a part of their identities.
"I am telling you it's my decision, my dad did not force me, my parents did not force me. My mom did it, my sisters did it. But I also felt a spiritual high like it was my time," says Hamna Saleem, who was born in Pakistan but was raised in the United States.
According to the women, some of the most ridiculous questions that were thrown at them for observing hijabs were "What's the colour of your hair", "Do you shower with that on", "Does your dad know what your hair looks like", "Do you ever get hot" and even "Do you know English".
Another student Nour, whose mother is Irish and father Egyptian and Turkish, believes that wearing the hijab does not really limit her in any way.
For Dina Sayedahmed, the hijab has "become a part of my skin". But she is also aware of rising Islamophobia and it has affected the way she acts or behaves in public.
"I find myself being a lot more aware of what I am doing and when I am doing it. I am very conscious of standing as far away from train platforms as possible. You know you kind of feel the need to smile extra to assure people 'Hey I am not a terrorist'," she says.
The idea for the film cropped up last year after Dina and Hamna watched a viral video, of non-Muslims wearing hijabs for a day, in a journalism class. While the video was meant as an act of solidarity, both the students were offended.
Dina, according to Julie's blog said, "These women don’t go to their job interviews with hijab on; they don’t go to class with it; they don’t have to move into new neighborhoods wearing it and have to convince people that they’re ‘normal'."
Shooting the video in the streets of Newark was also not without any incident.
Julie describes how there was a "near traffic-stopping event" one day as their team walked down the streets with the group of hijab clad women.
"Heads turned, eyebrows raised and questions flowed. One bypasser shouted at one of our subjects to ‘tell the truth’ about being oppressed. More often, fellow Muslims made eye contact with the women and offered a friendly ‘As Salaam Alaikum’," she writes.
Despite the challenges and struggles they face, taking off the hijab is not an option for these women.
“It would be a lot safer, a lot easier, a lot more convenient if I just took off my hijab. But I feel like once you do that, you remove yourself from the picture and you accept the fact or the idea that Muslim women don't belong in America or Muslim women who wear hijab aren't part of the American story, when in fact we are,” Dina says as the video ends.