Simone Virzi — News Writer
After accidentally eating pepperoni pizza at a dorm social, junior Jourdan Duncan was upset, not realizing pepperoni was pork. She had not given up pork to be a vegetarian—she had given up pork because for five days she was a practicing Muslim.
“I was really upset,” she said, “I am such a bad Muslim! I was really mad at myself.”
Last fall, Duncan got new roommates, and one of them, junior Harley Gaafar, was Muslim. Since she didn’t know about the religion, she kept asking questions. She then decided to become a Muslim for five days, from Monday to Friday, week of Feb 6.
“Let me see what it’s like to wear a hijab, to pray five times a day and not eat pork,” Duncan said.
She said she did it during the academic week so that she could “get the most reactions.” Duncan also wrote in her journal every day about the experience.
“I didn’t take it as an experiment,” she said, “the idea became ‘I am Muslim.’”
Gaafar said there two things Duncan wanted to learn from the experience.
Duncan wanted “to understand why and how Muslim women live and commit to the things they do,” said Gaafar, and “to understand how a Muslim woman feels in today’s society. I don’t think it has really changed her but rather helped her gain an understanding of the religion.”
While she was a Muslim, Duncan woke up at 5 a.m. every morning to say her first prayers.
“The prayer schedule was a shock for me,” she said.
She said the prayers in English, but there were certain parts she said it in Arabic if she “knew how to say it properly.” She also followed the religion’s traditional form of washing the body, in which the individual prays while washing. The washing “should be done in the sink,” Duncan said.
Part of the Muslim tradition is for women to wear a hijab, which is a headscarf. Duncan said she got compliments from girls; she also tried to match her hijab with the rest of her outfit. She did not have to go to a special store to purchase a hijab because any scarf can be used to make the headscarf. However, the reactions she got were mixed.
“Some people didn’t recognize me. I was stunned by that,” Duncan said.
Other students on campus made inappropriate and offensive comments to her. She said she was surprised because “we live very liberally,” yet there are students who are ignorant or lack the knowledge of the Muslim religion.
“They don’t see it as a different culture,” Duncan said, “they see it as a terrorist.”
Gaafar said she wasn’t surprised by some of the negative reactions Duncan got while wearing the hijab. However, the negativity can be difficult to deal with.
“People usually are unaware at how isolated they can make a person simply by their reactions which are based off of their opinions,” she said. “Muslims sometimes feel isolated and judged simply for believing in something different, which technically shouldn’t even matter in this country because of the right to believe what we choose, and yet this country judges more than anywhere else.”
Duncan said there were both positive and negative aspects from her experience as a Muslim. She said she was able to see herself “in a different light,” and that she found praying to be peaceful.
“I still felt just as confident and pretty looking in the mirror as I did without the scarf,” she said, adding it felt weird when she would take it off, even though she was only wearing it for five days.
Peoples’ reactions and ignorance was the most negative aspect for Duncan. She said it was ultimately “the words that hurt and just felt bad; I don’t know how to explain it.” Duncan said she was proud of what she did.
“People were saying I was brave for doing it; to me it wasn’t [brave],” she said, adding she was “acting on an interest.”
Gaafar said she was happy when her roommate decided to become Muslim.
“Jourdan becoming Muslim for a week excited me because I got to see a non-Muslim woman get a chance to see how Muslim women feel in our society,” Gaafar said. “Every person that begins to understand the concepts and struggles Muslim go through, the more we can eliminate these problems.”