I first heard about The Hijab Project (THP) via the power of social networking. When I read about how Amara Majeed began THP at 17-years-old, that she provides commentary to CNN and The Huffington Post, that she was recently dubbed by Business Insider as one of the 20 most impressive kids graduating from high school this year, I had to know more! Amara Majeed is not only young, but hungry and passionate about her global initiative. During my interview with her, I discovered that she genuinely wants to create a positive change in the world, whereby girls and women are able to study and work beyond the barriers of gender, which are imposed on them by their nation governments and/or cultures. Amara is going to study international relations and philosophy at Brown University this fall and aims to research on a possible resolution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
R. What is the purpose behind The Hijab Project?
A. I founded The Hijab Project to promote the understanding and empowerment of Muslim women through social experimentation. Women (Muslim and non-Muslim) try on the hijab to a public place and share their experiences on the site.
R. What inspired you to start it?
A. Every other summer, I would leave the comfort of my worry-less western world and venture to my parents’ home country, Sri Lanka. As I grew older, some of my relatives began convincing me that a woman’s beauty and ability to cook was far more important than being educated. Irritated by these standards, I sought to challenge them. I started teaching the English language to Muslim school girls in Sri Lanka and realized that I wasn’t just teaching them a language, but I was also teaching them how valuable they are as individuals. This experience made me want to empower Muslim women so upon my return to America, I founded The Hijab Project.
R. Who is the girl behind your hijab?
A. I turned 18 in April and I continue to struggle with that question, but I’ll give it my best shot. I’m a Muslim-American activist and feminist; every fiber of my being believes in equal rights for all humans and my overarching goal is to eradicate this incredibly flawed ideology that some human lives are more important than other human lives. It’s also worth mentioning that I’m a liberal Muslim and this is definitely something I receive a lot of criticism for. Many people that aren’t Muslim criticize me for being Muslim and many Muslims criticize me for being liberal. It’s kind of tough sometimes when people tell me I have to be one or the other, that being both is mutually exclusive. But I mean, I’ve learned to embrace the fact that while I’m religiously affiliated, I don’t think that we, as a global society, should use religion to hinder the advancement of modern society.
R. Tell us about your book, The Foreigners.
A. The Foreigners released the summer of 2014. After having established The Hijab Project, I received even more hatred towards my headscarf and my religion. I was exposed to ignorance and animosity. In an attempt to further dispel stereotypes about Muslims, I wrote a book telling the life stories of Muslims from across the globe. I wanted to show the world that the majority of Muslims aren’t corrupt leaders of organizations who steal, rape and sell girls on the market or people who ruthlessly kill civilians while chanting ‘Allahu’Akbar.’ After months of interviewing and weaving together these brilliant real life stories into coherent biographies, I finally published my book. The experience really helped to empathize with all religious minorities that fall victim to discrimination. The Foreigners is available for purchase on Amazon.
R. Was The Hijab Project targeted to a specific audience?
A. THP is targeted toward women from around the world. It’s interesting because when I first started the project, I thought my target was overambitious. I would have thought THP would have only reached women in my community. It’s amazing to see how global its reach has become.
A. I’d like THP to evolve into a project that promotes feminism and education for women. In other words, I’d like my project to become less centered on Muslim women and more emcompassing of all women. In fact, I plan on integrating a hijab store onto the site; the store would sell ‘hijab flags’ or hijabs with colors representing different nations as in the ‘Syria hijab’ or ‘Somalia hijab.’ All proceeds for each country’s hijab would go to a girl’s school in that country. It’s really important to me to promote educational and employment opportunities for girls where gender equality is practically nonexistent.