Jessey Eagan, a married Christian mother of two, has decided to wear a hijab for Lent in an attempt to remind herself “what it feels like to be an outsider".
"See, we lived in Amman, Jordan about 7 years ago where we ended up teaching at an Islamic school," she told BuzzFeed News. "While we were there we met many Muslims and built great personal friendships with them. And living in a culture where I stuck out like a sore thumb, I personally know what it can feel like to be an outsider, and I wanted to remind myself of that, so that I can better love all people, no matter what they look like."
In her blog, the children’s director at her church in Peoria, Illinois, wrote about a Muslim friend's response to her idea to wear a hijab, and how it spurred her on:
Before I fully explain my reasoning, let me tell you how I came to the decision. I told my husband my idea and he encouraged me to do it, but I decided that I needed to ask a local Muslim friend her thoughts on it. She wears hijab for many reasons, I'm sure, but one is identification with her Muslim community. I wanted to make sure that I would not be disrespecting or offending the Muslim community, so I asked her opinion. Her response was this,
"You are a very thoughtful person full of great ideas…I don't see a reason why people get offended by a very thoughtful, nice, and peaceful act. Our role is teach and educate all people and I'm 100% in support of this idea…My hijab drawer is yours come and pick what u like. If u don't have time I can bring them to u, just let me know what colors."
How great is that? I met her at the Islamic school this morning to pick up the scarves and she helped me put on my first hijab for the Lenten season.
She says that her main goal for this project is to encourage other people, especially Christians, to look beyond appearances and remember Christianity's teachings about love.
"Jesus said to love our neighbors, strangers, and enemies. I think this is something that is not often taken seriously by many Christians," she told BuzzFeed News. "We are so influenced by the media, that we allow fear to take over, and forget to love. Fear is the opposite of love."
One thing Eagan says she hopes to do next is use make-up to "darken" her complexion and "go out into the community."
"My friend told me that white Muslims and brown Muslims have different experiences, as do black Muslims, within the Islamic community as well as in the community at large," she said. "This is all about helping my people, specifically white Christians, learn how to see difference, embrace it, and engage with it. That's what hospitality does. It welcomes people who were once outsiders into a community with love and the desire to understand."
When asked what lesson she felt would be learned, that could not have been gleaned from a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, Eagan said she felt it was more important to experience it "first hand."
"I wanted to see what my friends' public lives are like, how they experience my community differently from me," she said.
"It is likely, I think, that my friends would tell me many positive things and avoid speaking negatively, either about their experience or why they wear the hijab," Eagan added. "I also wouldn't get to understand my own prejudices towards people, which has come out at least twice."
Eagan said she expected people "wearing cammo or driving big trucks" to threaten her, but that she's been "proven wrong each time."
Eagan insists the reaction to her project has been very positive from people in her community.
She described one interaction she had with a friend in her local area: "Yesterday at church a woman, whom I have known for quite a long time, came up to me and said, 'Jessey, I wanted to let you know that I have been reading your blog and I am so proud of you and what you are doing. Before reading your blog, I never would have even made eye contact with someone wearing hijab. But I was at an event the other day where I saw a Muslim woman and I did make eye contact with her'.
"How great is that? Such a small gesture for her to make, and at the same time it was a huge step for her."