On Tuesday February 11th 2014, Leena Suleiman was on her way to work, bundled up to keep herself warm in what many are calling Chicago’s most brutal winter. Suleiman, who works as an architectural designer downtown, wears the Muslim headscarf hijab. On this particular day she noticed that was treated differently, as the headscarf she wore was concealed under her winter gear.

“People started talking to me more. Women would speak to me like I knew them since forever. Men looked at me like I was actually approachable. And I was made to feel like I was actually from this place,” said Leena Suleiman in the Chicago Sun-Times.

In this case, non-Muslim individuals treated Leena better than they had when her hijab was visible. It is as if non-Muslims created the idealistic image of how women who don’t wear the hijab are more liberated and accepted in modern society. The choice of Muslim women to wear the veil is entirely personal. It is a symbolic identity that portrays humble character and modesty, however that image is not limited to only these women.

Last year in October 2013, a non-Muslim student at St. Louis University wore the hijab to an Islamic Awareness event and described how she differently in an interview with Taqwa Magazine.

“My name is Amelia Ramo, I’m from San Antonio Texas, and I am a Roman Catholic…People know me by my hair. I think it wasn’t until I came to college that I really thought about hair as a body part and what people can just see you as…I walked out of the Cross Cultural Center that morning, and I felt so different..nobody looked me in the eye, nobody wanted to come up and talk to me”.

Women should not be treated differently whether they are Muslim or not. People in the United States are unfortunately exposed to media every day which reinforce stereotypes and negative images of ‘oppressed Muslim women’. These stereotypes create an unfair negative perception of Muslim women which leads to a lack of understanding of the religion and its values, as well as a lack of understanding of the women who practice the Islamic faith.

An article from the Muslim Media Watch explains the difficulties associated with the stereotypes of Muslim women, “A quick Internet image search of the terms ‘Muslim women’ will return hundreds of examples of women shrouded in black, covered by face veils.. images of women in black niqab, media often homogenize”.

The hijab’s inaccurate stereotypes should not define a person, but unfortunately this is currently the case in many Western countries.