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Diversity brings out understanding and love in Fort St. John for World Hijab Day

Photo Courtesy: Fatima Bennis
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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – World Hijab Day was celebrated yesterday worldwide but Fort St. John also had an event over the weekend.

Fatima Bennis helped spearhead the event at the Pomeroy Sports Centre over the weekend.

“World Hijab day is a social event that started a couple of years ago by a New Yorker and the incentive behind World Hijab Day is to support women who do wear a Hijab and do choose to cover in various ways and to help create a dialogue with different people from different walks of life so women who are not Muslim or are from different faiths or different cultures come together and they try it on for a day or just for a couple of minutes.”

Bennis was born and raised in Toronto and had held similar events in Toronto. This year, she partnered up with one of her friends in Fort St. John and was curious on how the event would go.

“We were curious how it would go in Fort St. John and it was really great.”

She says she estimates that they saw mostly foot traffic with people stopping that were attending public skating and other events at the Pomeroy that day.

“We had a lot of people come and try it (Hijab) on. I think throughout the day, we spoke to about 30 or 35 people which was really, really good considering we were on the second floor of the Pomeroy and it was a little quiet, but it was great and we had a lot of different people come and try it on. We had really great discussions.”

Those who did try on the scarves, got to keep the one that was tried on them, something Bennis says was a thrill for those who kept them.

Next year, they plan to do the event again and want to make it “bigger and better”. They want to celebrate with citizens within the community.

“It is a celebration of different faiths, and different people coming together and having a conversation. The dialogue is really important. There are a lot of misconceptions or misunderstandings that surround the Hijab, so it just gives everyone an opportunity to understand it and ask the questions.”

“We want people to ask questions. The more we get to know each other, the more we understand each other, the more we are going to respect one another and love each other and support each other. I think all of those things are important to us as Canadians.”

Bennis says many of the visitors to the booth were excited to see diversity, something that visitors that spoke with them said is needed within the community. She says having been in Toronto for the past 25 years of her life, it was nice to see so many people here in a small community take an interest.

Bennis also touched on how she believes the timing of the booth and message of world Hijab Day, was important given the circumstances in the United States politically but that the event wasn’t geared at that specifically.

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“I think people were, some people felt apologetic, which was funny. I had a conversation or two with people who were like ‘it is really awful sometimes what you guys, or what people or going through because everyone is painted with the same brush’. I wouldn’t say our event specifically had anything to do with that, but it came at the right time. Because of the political climate that we are in, of course the United States always affecting Canada, I think it is necessary.”

She also points to the opportunity to learn directly from someone who lives and experiences life in a certain context, not from a politician or the internet.

“If you want to learn about Hijab, instead of learning about it from Donald Trump or somebody else, it might just be better to learn from someone who practices the faith. Someone who can give you the actual understanding of it and what it actually is because, I do wear it and I know what it is all about. I have been wearing it for 10 years, not my whole life and it was my decision. Hijab is self empowerment and it is feminism because it is about what a woman chooses to do with her body and concealing her body for herself. It is all these things that you never hear about from the media or other sources or other people and it is sometimes silly. I wouldn’t go and get a medical diagnosis from Web MD and rely on all of that when I could go to an actual doctor who has learned and studied and practices, so that is sort of where lines get blurred sometimes and I think it is important to get your information from the right source.

It (the event) wasn’t charged at all because of what is happening everywhere but it definitely came at a good time and unfortunately with the event that happened in Quebec, so I’m hoping that some people who came by the booth now have more of a understanding of who we are and what we stand for.”

Bennis says she was also grateful for Fort St. John City Councillor Byron Stewart and his wife, Lisa, who stopped by the booth. She said next year, she hopes more of Council will come out and support the event.

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