Social media impact:

Facebook group touches lives of Hijabi women around the world

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It has become a daily struggle in some parts of the Arab and Muslim World to keep the hijab on, according to thousands of women joining a support group on Facebook.

Surviving Hijab.® is a buzzing group of a mix of inspirational and emotional venting of personal stories, offering a spiritual anchor for more than a half million women from around the world.

The group is off limits to men and became a source of motivation to women, including non-hijabis. It was founded in August 2014 by Manal Rostom, an Egyptian fitness coach based in Dubai after seeing many of her friends and close ones giving in to pressure and taking off their hijabs.

“Women feel isolated in their own countries,” she said in an interview with Saudi Gazette. “Some give them weird looks and if women are not strong enough, then that kind of pressure makes them want to take their hijab off.”

“In some Arab Muslim countries, unfortunately, we are banned from some posh restaurants, beach resorts and pools that don’t allow burkinis,” she explained. “If a woman is free to swim in a bikini, she should be free to swim in a burkini as long as the material she’s wearing is compliant with water. If she’s entering the water with jeans, she can then be banned.”

Instead of caving in, she founded the group that quickly escalated within months attracting thousands of members.

Women in the group have vented their struggles such as missing their hair, feeling unattractive, feeling older or facing peer pressure. Replies of encouragement and prayers by other members flood the posts in support.

Often covered women are judged, especially abroad, Rostom further says. “They don’t think we’re educated well enough, speak languages, or play sports. These are all things that the media has brainwashed society to believe.”

She adds, “Unless you know exactly why you’re wearing it and have strong faith knowing your religion inside out, then wearing hijab will make sense to you.”

During the time the group was founded, she boldly reached out to Nike, challenging the global brand in their lack of hijab-friendly clothing and marketing campaigns. The regional headquarters responded and then started incorporating head-covering apparel.

Today, Rostom proudly stands as the first hijabi Nike trainer and was featured in a Nike advertising campaign.

“It’s this type of impact that we want to come out of the group,” she said when asked about long-term goals, in addition to continue offering “support to women all over the world to hold on to their hijab.”


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