Thursday, November 09, 2006

What's Wear A Hijab Day?

'Wear a Hijab Day' to support Muslims
By Chris De Benedetti, STAFF WRITER
FREMONT — As many as 10,000 people are expected to participate in memorial services and other activities in coming days to honor Alia Ansari, an Afghan mother of six who was fatally shot last week in the Glenmoor neighborhood.
But amid the outpouring of grief, outrage and compassion for the Ansari family, there is disagreement among some over how best to reach out to the grieving Afghan and Muslim communities.
Some leaders are organizing "Wear a Hijab Day" — scheduled for Nov. 13 — as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Muslim women. Ansari was wearing a hijab — a traditional Muslim head scarf — when she was shot, her relatives said.
"So many people have contacted us, and people wanted to do something beyond sending money," said Melanie Gadener, founder of Foundation for Self-Reliance, a Fremont nonprofit offering programs for Afghan immigrants.
Ansari, 38, was killed last Thursday as she walked on Glenmoor Drive with her 3-year-old daughter. Some of Ansari's relatives said the killing was a hate crime, but authorities have yet to establish a motive.
Racially motivated or not, the slaying has galvanized people to show support for Muslim women, said City Councilmember Anu Natarajan, a co-organizer of "Wear a Hijab Day."
"This has shaken the entire community," Natarajan said. "All of us want to say, 'We will not tolerate something like this in Fremont.' We want to do something visually symbolic."
The day's planners said they
also have contacted local Muslim and Afghan leaders to avoid unwittingly offending the family or trivializing Ansari's death, Natarajan said.
But Bruce Green, a Fremont minister who has an office at Centerville Presbyterian Church, questions if there might be a better, more inclusive way to show solidarity. "I've talked with different Afghan women who don't want to embrace the hijab," Green said. "Not every Muslim wears one or thinks of it as a positive symbol."
Instead, he advocates an idea he calls "Ladies Only Hug a Hijab." It encourages women of all backgrounds to approach women wearing the Muslim head garment to offer an embrace and express sadness over the Ansari killing.
Green also wants to be sensitive to the tradition among most Muslims that prohibits casual physical interaction between men and women. So he urges men in the same situation to put their hands on their hearts and say, "As-Salaam-Alaikum (peace be unto you)."
Green has assisted Afghan immigrants in recent years, building bridges between Muslim and Christian communities. He bristles against what he calls the "premature framing" of the shooting as a hate crime.
"We want this community to be characterized by love, not hate; by an embrace, not a shove," said Green, also a board member of the Afghan Coalition. "We're not a perfect community, but (racism) is not endemic here."
But opinions expressed by Muslim women at a Fremont mosque's recent open house dispute Green's viewpoint, said Moina Shaiq, vice chair of Fremont's Human Relations Commission.
"They said they feel unsafe," said Shaiq, a Muslim woman. "I wear a hijab and now I'm scared, especially after this incident. I hope this is not race-related, but you don't know."
The custom of wearing a hijab or not — much like some Catholic nuns who do not wear a habit — illustrates the diversity within the Muslim faith, Shaiq said. Since 9/11, ignorance and the "fear of the unknown" are what hurts the Muslim community, she said. And "Wear a Hijab Day" can be an educational opportunity toward that end.
"Seeing another woman wear a hijab will make me feel good," said Shaiq, originally from Pakistan. "It will show that I'm accepted in this society."
A prayer service will be held in honor of Ansari at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Swim Lagoon in Central Park, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said.
Authorities estimate that between 2,000 and 10,000 people may attend the Central Park gathering, police Officer Dennis Madsen said. Open to the public, it is expected to last 15 minutes. People may park in the Swim Lagoon lot in the park's southeast end.
Wasserman visited Saturday with the Ansari family, who are Muslim. "They said they would be proud to see non-Muslims at the service on Friday to share in their grief," Wasserman said.
The mayor also announced that Fremont Bank has agreed to participate in a fundraiser to financially aid Ansari's six children, whose ages range from 3 to 13.
In addition, Green will host a second memorial service at 11 a.m. Saturday in honor of Ansari. It will be held at the Centerville Presbyterian Church gymnasium, just a quarter-mile from the site of the slaying. Churchgoers on Sunday morning found Ansari's name and the letters "R.I.P." spray-painted on the church walls.
If the church lot is full Saturday, people are encouraged to park a few blocks away at Flamingo Palace restaurant, 4100 Peralta Blvd.
Meanwhile, authorities have not arrested anyone in connection with the slaying. On the day of the killing, police arrested Manuel David Urango Jr. — a 27-year-old parolee who fit witnesses' descriptions of the assailant — on unrelated charges. A black or Latino man in a black Toyota Tercel or BMW with a rear spoiler was seen fleeing the scene, witnesses said.
Police are calling Urango a "person of interest," and he is being held at Santa Rita county jail in Dublin.
Donations made by check to the Ansari children's fund may be made payable to "Alia Ansari Memorial" at Fremont Bank, Account No. 55041477; and to "Ansari Family" at Washington Mutual, Account No. 3091558830.