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New York • On the night of the California shootings, Asifa Quraishi-Landes sat on her couch, her face in her hands, and thought about what was ahead for her and other Muslim women who wear a scarf or veil in public.
The covering, or hijab, often draws unwanted attention even in the best of times. But after the one-two punch of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks by Islamic militants, and amid an anti-Muslim furor stoked by comments of Donald Trump, Quraishi-Landes, an Islamic law specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wanted to send a message.
"To all my Muslim sisters who wear hijab," she wrote on her Facebook page. "If you feel your life or safety is threatened in any way because of your dress, you have an Islamic allowance (darura/necessity) to adjust your clothing accordingly. Your life is more important than your dress."
Amid a reported spike in harassment, threats and vandalism directed at American Muslims and at mosques, Muslim women are intensely debating the duty and risks related to wearing their head-coverings as usual.
Sites for Muslim women have posted guidance on how to stay safe. Hosai Mojaddidi, co-founder of the educational group MentalHealth4Muslims, drew nearly 4,000 likes for her Facebook post advising women to "pull out those hooded sweatshirts, beanies, hats and wraps for a while until the dust settles."
Muslim women in several cities are organizing or taking self-defense classes. The ad for one such class in New York features a drawing of a covered woman in a karate stance.
The question of whether to wear the hijab is already deeply sensitive for Muslim women. Scholars have debated for years whether women have a religious obligation to dress a particular way. And Muslims disagree over whether the hijab is a symbol of piety or oppression.
Women who wear a scarf or veil say they have many motivations for doing so, including demonstrating devotion to their faith and showing pride in their religious heritage. Well before the latest uproar, it was common for American Muslim women wearing the hijab to be stared or cursed at, or have strangers tug at their scarves.
Now, many Muslim women say this is the exact moment when they need to make their presence known by wearing the hijab without any modification as an act of defiance.
Suehaila Amen, a community activist in Dearborn Heights, Mich., said she would never take off her headscarf. Still, she and her sister plan to take a self-defense class this weekend. "I wasn't this concerned about my safety after 9/11. This is the first time in my life that I've ever said I worry when I leave the house," she said.