COLUMBIA — What began as a high school fashion experiment turned into annual effort of worldwide activism. Donning pink head scarves has become a symbol of Muslim support in the fight against breast cancer.
While on a Rock Bridge High School field trip in 2004, Hend El-Buri and a few of her friends decided to sport pink hijabs in an effort to appear more approachable. She said she doesn't even remember where the trip took them, just that it was to a place with few to no Muslims.
At the time, the girls thought in their teenaged minds, "Look, we're wearing pink, and we're so friendly," El-Buri said, now a senior at MU.
Annually for the next two years, El-Buri and her friends continued to wear pink hijabs at Rock Bridge. By brightening their head scarves, the young women strived to make their peers feel more comfortable asking them questions about Islam.
During her freshman year at MU, El-Buri created a Facebook for the first Pink Hijab Day and since then, the event has gotten bigger every year.
Now, three years later, she is the founder of Pink Hijab Day, an international breast cancer awareness initiative. According to pinkhijabday.net, the purpose of the event is to break stereotypes of Muslim women, as well as raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
Pink Hijab Day is now celebrated in 11 countries: the United States, Botswana, Canada, Egypt, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Trinidad, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates. During the month of October, Muslims around the globe participate by wearing pink hijabs and ribbons and donating money to various breast cancer foundations.
Other than being a woman, El-Buri does not have any personal connection to the breast cancer research cause. She said she could have chosen any other cause to support but because breast cancer and hijabs are both very personal to women, it made sense to connect the two.
According to the American Cancer Society Web site, female breast cancer incidence in Missouri from 2002 to 2006 was 122.2 out of every 100,000 women, and the female breast cancer mortality rate in Missouri was 25.3 of 100,000.
Hijab is an Arabic word that refers to the head covering worn by many Muslim women. In the Islamic tradition, many women wear hijabs as a sign of faith in God and as a way to remain modest.
El-Buri began wearing a hijab when she was in fourth grade because she saw her mother and older sisters wearing them. She said it wasn't until later that it became more about her faith.
According to El-Buri, there are no rules regarding color or fabric of the scarf, but it should cover everything except the face and hands. She said the color choice of the hijabs seems to be cultural. While it is common for most Saudi Arabian women to wear a black hijabs, there are many American Muslims that wear other colors.
Missouri celebrated Pink Hijab Day on Wednesday. El-Buri and a handful of other women from the MU Muslim Student Organization set up a table outside of Memorial Union.
For five hours, they sold homemade baklava and ribbon-shaped cookies and offered henna tattoos, breast-cancer information and pink ribbons. All event proceeds will benefit the Mid-Missouri Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Fatima Baig, a MU junior who helped with the event, said she didn't start wearing a hijab until about a year ago. She and her younger sister started wearing them on the same day. The Islamic head covering was a tradition that they increasingly wanted to participate in, even though their mother didn't wear one until she was in her 30s.
Pink Hijab Day at MU continues to grow. This year, El-Buri organized a student panel on Muslim women and activism to coincide with the day's events. Since the students working the table sometimes have only quick interactions with passers-by, the panel provides a venue for more in-depth discussion about Islam.
The panel, which took place Wednesday evening, included a brief presentation by El-Buri and fellow MU student Nabihah Maqbool and was followed by questions from the audience. MU sophomore Arwa Mohammad served as the emcee.