Rida Hamida looked at a crowded room of mostly women with head scarves — many pink — and asked a simple question.
“Who here is non-Muslim?” asked the 38-year-old Muslim organizer who wore a pink head scarf.
Most of the 400 people stood up or raised their hands in a cramped room at the Islamic Society of Orange County mosque in Garden Grove. Wednesday marked Orange County’s first World Hijab Day event, which Hamida called #IStandWithHijabis.
“This is the spirit of solidarity. We thank you, sisters and brothers,” she said.
Hamida, the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to work in public office in Orange County, had expected about 150 people to show up after an estimated 300 registered for the event. Instead, more than 450 people attended.
All of the more than 300 seats were taken and many others stood along the walls and gathered outside the entrances, near the parking lot.
The beauty of being a Muslim in America is that there is separation of church and state.
The event comes on the heels of reports of increased hate crimes against Muslims nationwide and a Trump administration travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries.
Hamida, president of the Arab American Chamber of California, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice and the Islamic Society of Orange County, held the event, hoping to bring solidarity while sharing a halal dinner and sharing stories during a panel discussion about the hijab.
Molly Veera, a 37-year-old Muslim activist from Palos Verdes who converted to Islam 16 years ago, said a woman can have her faith, wear the hijab and love America too.
Veera, who wore a head scarf while speaking, says she usually only covers her head when she prays. Wearing a hijab, she said, is a choice.
“Like all faiths, Islam is not a monolith. I have Muslim friends who wear and don’t wear hijab for a variety of reasons,” she said. “The beauty of being a Muslim in America is that there is separation of church and state. My religious decisions are between me and God, as Islam intended it to be. America allows me the opportunity to be a Muslim in the fullest sense because of the freedom that I am allowed in this country.”
Lucy Silva, a Mexican American woman who converted to Islam 18 years ago, said she put on her hijab just two weeks before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
On the day of the attacks, she said many women took off their hijabs for safety reasons and she followed suit at the behest of her family.
“So I did for half a day. But then I thought, who am I trying to please, right? Is it people who are trying to hurt me or trying to say something bad to me?’” said Silva who lives in Garden Grove.
She then thought about God.
“So it is an act of faith,” Silva said. “I did it for God and to this day I still continue to wear my hijab proudly. And I’m proudly American. I’m proudly Mexican and I’m proudly woman and I’m proud to be here as well.”
Follow Cindy Carcamo on Twitter @thecindycarcamo