LONDON - Scores of non-Muslim women worldwide are planning to don hijab on Friday, February 1, to mark the first annual World Hijab Day, hoping it would lead to more religious tolerance and understanding and stress the value of hijab as a Muslim choice.
"I knew that it's about modesty of behavior, not just clothing, and that it's a faulty assumption that women only wear it if they're forced to - especially in the US," Esther Dale, 28, who lives in the US state of California, told The BBC.
That's not at all the truth, the mother-of-three added.
Hijab: What's It All About?
Hijab Handout Clears US Misconceptions
US Students Don Hijab, Support Muslims
American Team Don Hijab to Support Captain
Dale was one of Muslims worldwide who chose to mark the first annual World Hijab Day, planned today.
The event was first suggested by New York woman Nazma Khan to encourage non-Muslim women to don the hijab and experience it.
It was designed as part of a bid to foster better understanding and counteract controversies surrounding hijab as a Muslim choice.
"Growing up in the Bronx, in NYC, I experienced a great deal of discrimination due to my hijab," says organiser Khan, who moved to New York from Bangladesh aged 11 to become the only one donning hijab in the school.
"In middle school I was 'Batman' or 'ninja,'" she says.
"When I moved on to college it was just after 9/11, so they would call me Osama Bin Laden or terrorist. It was awful.
"I figured the only way to end discrimination is if we ask our fellow sisters to experience hijab themselves."
Khan's suggestion soon found support from all over the world with the group's literature translated into 22 languages.
She has also been contacted by people in dozens of countries, including the UK, Australia, India, Pakistan, France and Germany.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one's affiliations.
Wishing to try hijab, Jess Rhodes, a young British non-Muslim, decided to don headscarf for a month after knowing about the event through the internet.
"Because I'm not very skilled I'm wearing what you could call a one-piece hijab - you just pull it over your head. But I've discovered the scope is endless. There are all sorts of options," Jess Rhodes, 21, a student from Norwich in the UK, said.
It was social networking that got Jess Rhodes involved, knowing from her friend Widyan Al Ubudy who lives in Australia and asked her Facebook friends to participate.
"She assured me that I didn't need to be Muslim, that it was just about modesty, although obviously linked to Islam, so I thought, 'why not?'" Rhodes said.
"My parents, their natural reaction was to wonder if this was a good idea," says Rhodes, who decided to wear her hijab for a month.
"They were worried I would be attacked in the street because of a lack of tolerance."
Rhodes herself was concerned about the reaction.
"I can't explain it really but people have been really very helpful, especially in shops," she says.
Reaching women worldwide, the campaign is a bid to clear image about hijab as a Muslim woman choice.
As a practicing Mormon, Dale, the California resident, understands the importance of faith in daily life.
She says she knows the stigma that surround the headscarf and hopes this is an opportunity to help combat that.
"It's a good chance to educate people that you can't make an accurate judgment about someone based solely on what they're wearing," says Dale.
Showing the world that women can choose the hijab willingly, Rhodes says it's a choice she will continue to make.
"I will wear it from time to time," she says of her hijab.
"I'm saying to the world, my beauty is for my family and my partner. Any woman can wear this."
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net