No Headwear Allowed

Guest contribution by Marwa Abed


I remember someone once asking me why I wore a ‘headdress,’ and I almost had to stop and ask them what they meant, before realizing they were referring to my hijab. Headdress?

Today while logging onto Facebook, I scrolled through my newsfeed and saw mention of ‘headwear.’ The comments weren’t in reference to football and helmets; rather this was yet another one of the odd names people make up when trying to categorize hijab.

A Muslim woman from Massachusetts had posted a photograph of a note she received from a test proctor while taking her Bar exam. The note read: “Headwear may not be worn during the examination without prior written approval. We have no record of you being given prior written approval. Please remove your headwear and place it under your seat for the afternoon session.”


I was initially outraged. Who is this proctor and what is this ruling? Then I read on to find that anyone who chooses to cover for religious reasons — be it with a Sikh dastar or a Jewish yamaka — must get written approval by the state’s board of examiners prior to testing.

I understand that there must be rules and regulations, and that hats, for example, may have been used creatively by cheaters. But is this really the case with this specific examinee or with the many others who wear religious head coverings? Is it rather that people of faith, specifically Muslim women, are being targeted?

I can’t help but to think that some sort of Islamophobia was involved. The Michigan Law graduate who took the exam at the Western New England University School of Law, claims to have already received approval to wear her ‘headwear.’ (Side note: can we all agree that ‘hijab’ itself, is the perfect term to use when referring to… hijab).

Why also did the proctor not bring this issue up prior to the test or at least during a break? In what kind of formal fashion is it proper to pass a student a note during the middle of an exam, especially one as tightly regulated as the Bar exam, breaking the student’s concentration or confidence and possibly even disturbing surrounding examinees? Was the student expected to pass a note back?

The lack of communication here is ridiculous. While many would write off this issue as simply a lack of better communication or a case of proctor rudeness, it is more than that. We live in a day and age where Islamophobia has become very normal, and we should not accept it as such. Many Muslims seem to internalize this racism and are scared to cause a stir. We cannot remain silent, and must actively speak up in the face of discrimination. If no one ever speaks up, the bullies and, in this case, misguided proctors will never be challenged and the status quo will remain, unfortunately, the same.

Marwa Abed is a Palestinian-American grassroots organizer. She can be found on Twitter at @MarwaSammi.


There are 6 comments

  1. Jeffrey Dahn

    You contradict yourself. On one hand you state that ” anyone who chooses to cover for religious reasons: be it a Sikh Dastar or a Jewish yarmulke must get written approval by the state’s board of examiners prior to testing.” and then you bring up the issue of Islamophobia. Which is it? How is a Sikh Dastar perceived as Islamophobic?
    I’m not trying to be argumentative, I’m just confuse. I fully agree that this situation was handles poorly by the proctor involves. Perhaps one day people will be judged on their merits alone rather than their religion ar their choice of dress. But, alas, I won’t see it in my lifetime.

    1. Sami Kishawi

      The post refers specifically to the woman involved in this case and reasonably concludes that this plays into greater Islamophobia. The examples also show that others may also experience similar forms of discrimination, which is to say that there is also a great amount of intolerance and bigotry yet to be defeated. We hope this clarifies things a bit.

      1. jeffreydahn

        Thank you for the clarification. While am in total agreement with the post, you can understand my confusion.

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