Jessey Eagan, a Christian mother of two and part-time children's director at Imago Dei Church in Peoria, Illinois, has chosen to wear a hijab this Lenten season and has been blogging about her experience #40daysofhijab since she started.
In an interview with The Christian Post on Monday, Eagan explained why she decided to wear the traditional head covering — worn in public by women of some Muslim sects, but not all — and shared some of the the reactions that she's received from both Christians and Muslims.
The following is an edited transcript from CP's Part 1 interview with Eagan.
CP: What inspired you to wear a hijab during lent?
Jessey Eagan: About seven years ago my husband and I lived in Amman, Jordan. We ended up teaching at an Islamic school when we were there. When we went, we didn't really know anything about Islam. And we just came to know a lot of people who are Muslims and built really great friendships. And so, that had a really big effect on our outlook on life.
[This year], I was sitting at home the night before Ash Wednesday and I said to my husband, maybe I should wear a hijab for lent. He asked why, because he wanted me to have a good reason. I live in Peoria, Illinois, and there's a really big Muslim population here. I told my husband I would be putting on the practice of hospitality because I want to remember what it feels like to be an outsider, because in Jordan I definitely knew what that felt like. When you see a blonde hair, blue-eyed girl in the Middle East, I definitely stood out. I'm reminding myself what it feels like to be an outsider, so that I can love other people who are friends, strangers and enemies.
CP: So wearing the hijab is about being inclusive?
Jessey Eagan: Yeah, it's difficult with the media that seems to often portray Islamophobia. People end up grouping all Muslims with extremists. I want to remember that people are individuals, and so by doing this I'm remembering to welcome and include people no matter what they look like.
CP: How have Christians and Muslims reacted to your decision to wear the hijab?
Jessey Eagan: I've gotten very positive feedback from both sides. I'm a part-time children's director at my church, and so I'm very well connected with that specific Christian community. I've gotten a lot of great feedback.
On Sunday at church, a woman came up to me and said, "Jessey, I'm so proud of you and have really enjoyed reading your blogs." She was at a home expo in Peoria where there was a Muslim woman running a business expo and she said, "Before your blog, I would've shied away and never made contact with her, but because of your blog, I did just that." It has really changed her perspective that people are people. That was really encouraging!
Before I started [wearing the hijab] I messaged my friend who's Muslim. She's the assistant principal at [an Islamic school that I worked at near my house]. I told her I don't want to offend people, and I want to know if you think that this is an OK idea. She thought that it was a very good idea and couldn't see anyone having a problem with it. She called it a nice act of peace and love, and actually let me borrow 20 scarves to wear.
My mom asked me to go swimming — which I never thought I'd be doing in the middle of winter — while I was [wearing the hijab during lent], and I said OK, but I have no idea how I'm going to do that. My friend from the school had what's called a burkini, which is a swimsuit that covers you from head to toe. I wore that to go swimming with my mom and our kids. And from the Muslim community here, I've gotten a lot of appreciation and encouragement. A lot of people have said that it's really good to know that there are people out there willing to do this kind of stuff.