Here we go again…

4 Jun

(Originally written for and published on the blog Yes I Have A Voice)

In the light of a German feminist calling for a headscarf ban in German schools in September 2009, I wrote this post. Although an old(ish) article, I still think it is very relevant today.

You can view the article here.

This doesn’t come as a shock. With France planning to ban the niqaab (face veil / burka), it was only inevitable that other European countries would follow suit. But this is somewhat a different kettle of fish. Rather than the niqaab, a ban on the hijab (headscarf) has been called for.

Physically, the hijab is a cloth, a pashmina for example, wrapped around the head and draped over the chest. In most professions a woman is allowed to wear it. For example, nurses in this country who choose to wear it, can, while abiding to health and safety regulations (the scarf should not drape but should be tied around the neck ect).

It in no way obstructs sight or speech, or breaches any security issues (well- neither does the niqaab- but that’s for another day!). So what is the problem with the hijab if not physical?

Hijab = Extremism

Alice Schwarzer, this “prominent German feminist”, sees the scarf as “more than just a piece of fabric,” but a “flag and symbol of Islamists” which “followed a crusade all the way to the heart of Europe by the 1980s.“. What I think she is trying to say is that donning of the hijab is “extremist” behaviour. I’m not sure why. Hundreds of women walk around in the hijab everyday, shopping, smiling, talking, working. Well thats here in the UK, maybe in Germany women wearing hijabs walk around with bombs strapped to their ankles.

Hijab = Oppression

“Extremist” is not the only stereotype that has been pinned on hijab wearers. The assumption that women or girls who wear the hijab are oppressed and have somehow been forced to wear it has been a long standing theme. Granted, there have been alot of cases where women have been forced, and these cases seem to take the forefront. However, many do not realise that forcing one to do anything religious is, according to Islam, a wrong act. What people fail to recognise is that the majority of women make their own decision to dress Islamically.

Schwarzer writes: “Only this forceful act (banning the headscarfs from schools) would finally give the young woman from a fundamentalist orthodox family the chance to move with freedom and equality, at least within the confines of the schoolyard,”. Has this woman actually spoken to these girls? Probably not. So I’ll say it- do these girls need “saving”? Schwarzer needs to get her facts straight. Yes, the hijab is a “fundamental” part of Islam, but not in the sense she means.

Is there another way?

If these girls have been forced, then here is the solution for Schwarzer: don’t call for a ban on the hijab being worn in schools. If you really want to help, go and read a book. Speak to a Muslim leader. Learn that, Islamically, it is not right to force anyone to do anything, including wearing the hijab or getting married. Learn that the hijab is worn to guard modesty, Muslims believe that it is a command from God, and men also have a way that they must dress. None of these commands result in extreme behaviour, if one is following the true Islam. If she cared to speak to a knowledgable scholar, she would learn this. Next, if she really wanted to, she could work with Muslim leaders on educating these“fundamentalist orthodox” families- as she puts it- who do force their girls, if they do. Banning the hijab in schools or in wider society is only going to isolate Muslim women who WANT to wear it- which is hardly going to encourage integration.

A change within the Muslim community as well as a change in the way you see us- stop the generalisations

Schwarzer is not only to blame. If there is a rise of Islamic extremism (in terms of hate crimes, social security threats and the like) in Germany, then that is the fault of the Muslims. Where Schwarzer has gone wrong, I feel, is generalising. Only speaking to journalists and authors who have been oppressed, and others who share her views, is hardly going to help her see the big picture. For example, Djemila Benhabib, who went out without a veil in Algeria despite threats from The Armed Islamist Group of Algeria, has contributed to Schwarzer’s book. By narrowing research down to people who have had experiences like this, Schwarzer neglects women who love Islam, love Shariah Law and love to dress Islamically. I am not saying we should ignore problems within the Muslim community, I am always willing to speak out against perpetrators of injustice whether they are Muslim or not. But all too often the real Islam, which calls for compassion, equality, kindness and justice, is ignored, along with those who follow it.

The hijab and German school girls – the real problem

It also seems that Schwarzer’s main worry is school girl’s not having the same opportunities as others: “The wearing of the headscarf, which turns the girls into ‘strangers’ who are cut off socially and limited physically, comes along with a whole array of special treatments that their parents demand from the school. It is always a question of dividing the sexes or – insofar as this is refused by the German schools – giving girls special dispensation from swimming class or gym class, from school trips and from sex education classes.”. Is she saying that Muslim parents are the only parents in the world who have concerns about their children’s education? I’m not saying that certain parents should demand this, that and the other from schools (again, this discussion is for another day!), but I am saying that there are parents of other faiths or cultures that might not want their children partaking in specific classes or trips. So why isolate Muslim parents?

Furthermore, as a practicing Muslim who does wear the hijab, I have never felt like a “stranger”. I can honestly say that my sense of dress has not stopped me from integrating normally. I started wearing my hijab half way through university and I was accepted and respected as I always had been. In fact, this paved the way for open discussions with my professors and fellow students who would ask questions about this sudden change. I have worked in offices where I was one of the only Muslims, I have made many a non Muslim friend, sat in classes, contributed to discussions, attended conferences and done presentations, all while donning my beloved hijab. If a girl or a woman feels like a stranger because of her Islamic dress, this is something she has to look at inwardly. Maybe she wasn’t quite ready to wear it, maybe she has been the subject of bullying and cruel remarks, or maybe she has not grasped a full understanding of the hijab and what it means.

Rita Breuer, an “Islam expert” who also contributed to Schwarzer’s book, spent a year in German school yards. She speaks about the“pressure that girls who wear headscarves often put on the students who don’t wear the scarf, making comments like: “Are you trying to look like a German?” or “The headscarf is our honor – don’t you have any?”…Such schoolyard discussions are then padded out with Koran commentaries, Fatwas – Islamic legal pronouncements – sermons or in the Internet, Breuer says. In these places, she adds, “Islamic woman’s clothing is propagated as the embodiment of her protection and her dignity, whereas the Western alternatives are seen as heinous and disgraceful […] I see no trace of girls having the ‘freedom to decide’ whether or not to wear the headscarf, which we so much like to suggest.”.

I cannot believe that this has been used as research findings. These are school girls who clearly have not been taught the etiquettes of advising and speaking to other Muslims, or respecting the rights and norms of non Muslims. It is the same as little boys saying to eachother “Why are your trousers so tight? Are you trying to look like a girl? Are you gaaaaay??”. Comments like these do not necesserily reflect hate or evil, but immaturity. In my view this is schoolyard banter. I’m not saying that it is right for these girls to talk to eachother or others in this way, but it also does not indicate that they have been forced. They have most probably just been educated in the wrong way. They may love the hijab and Islamic way of dressing, but their understanding just needs tweaking.

As for seeing “western” clothing as “heinous and disgraceful”, there are many people, religious and not religious, Muslim and non Muslim, who see clothing (or the lack of it) these days as disgraceful. Since when did having this sort of opinion become a crime? I may not agree with what you wear, but I respect you enough to recognise that you have the right to wear what you want, just as I have the right to wear what I want. Which is why I stand against this as much as I would stand against any laws passed that ban people of other faiths from wearing what they like.

On the subject of disgraceful clothing- if Schwarzer is such a prominent feminist, should she not be campaigning against the sexual obectification of women in the media, against the derogatory way that some artists sing and rap about women? Just a thought.

Open your mind

So, to Alice Schwarzer, you may think you have done extensive research, but what you have done is research that is based on your own biased beliefs. It seems that you may have formed your opinion about the hijab long before you did research for your book, or long before you decided that German, hijab wearing school girls were oppressed. I say to you, and those that have the same opinion as you, stop generalising. If certain women want or need your help, then help them, or raise your concerns and let the wider Muslim community help them. As for the rest of us, we’re not bad, we’re not oppressed, and we’re not stupid. We are just humans that love our faith, and want to practice it in the right way.

It might be worth talking to Muslim women, and working with us, rather than against us.

~Zara ‘ZAS’

Read more about Zara here

See also:


4 Responses to “Here we go again…”

  1. Posie Parker June 4, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    I only noticed today that Serb Muslims do not cover their heads, I guess when one has been truly oppressed they like to banish all signs and symbols of oppression. The root of hijab wearing is for the protection of men and I am astounded that Muslim girls are expected to be the gatekeepers to men’s lust….where I live I see more and more pre pubescent girls wearing the hijab. I know that their mothers are told by men at the mosque that these tiny girls should wear them. Why aren’t Imams saying something about this? I think that there is no place for the hijab in school, it’s insulting to girls and boys, it’s also segregating which is not serving the Muslim community well at all.

  2. Zara 'ZAS' June 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    Thank you very much for your comment. One of the reasons a woman has to wear the hijaab is to be recognised as a Muslim woman. It is a sign of modesty, and is not to “protect” a man’s lustful desires, as they too have parts of their body that they must cover, and an etiquette in which to approach women. With regards to pre pubescent girls wearing the hijaab, is it so obscene that little girls might actually want to wear it, because they have seen their mothers love for wearing it? My 19 month old little girl gets hold of my scarves and wraps it around her head, because she has seen me do that, and no, my husband or my teacher (who is an imam) have not “told” us that she should wear it. If you think that there is no place for the hijaab in schools, then there is no place for the turbans of Sikh boys (and girls- yes they wear turbans too), or the crosses of Christian children, I could go on. For your reference, forcing one to wear the hijaab is not Islamic whatsoever, so despite what you “know”, maybe you are judging a religion and its practices solely by what you have seen of its followers, which is like judging all Catholics because of paedophile priests, which would be a very idiotic thing to do. Lastly, and with all due respect, you have obviously overlooked all of the other posts on here, written by women who have CHOSEN to wear the hijaab, you have also overlooked the section “What is Hijaab”, which also explains the command to men from God regarding modesty. The fact that you have ignored everything else, but have so quickly chosen to comment on this issue, shows that in reality, your opinion is blinded by ignorance. Forgive me for any offence caused, but if you had also read the front page, readers were kindly asked not leave rude or argumentative comments, something else you ignored.


    • Jana August 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

      Hello Zara,

      You make a lot of assumptions about Alice Schwarzer in your writing. How much do you really know about her?

      You write for example:

      “Only speaking to journalists and authors who have been oppressed, and others who share her views,…”

      How do you know that Schwarzer has not spoken with Muslim women and others re the subject? You make an assumption that she has not.
      I can assure you, she has. Schwarzer is not extreme in her views at all. She founds all of her arguments based on research and civil-minded reason.

      Do you know what city Schwarzer lives and works in? Do you know anything about the % of Muslims living there and specifics about what occurs in schools there?

      Before denouncing her position, you should find out about these things…

      You describe Schwarzer as a “prominent German feminist”, using quotation marks as though doubt should be cast upon the description.
      I can assure you, no quotation marks are needed. Schwarzer IS a prominent German feminist and a successful author, publisher.

      Whatever your position on any given subject, it’s important to do your own research and treat others fairly when criticizing them. Be fair to Schwarzer and to this issue.

      • Me and My Hijab Admin August 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

        Hi Jana!

        Thanks for reading this piece and commenting.

        First of all, I never denounced the position of Alice Schwarzer, the reason I put this statement in quotation marks “prominent German feminist” was because that was how she was described in the original article (the link is on the post), so I was merely quoting the words used there. No doubt she is a prominent feminist, if she wasn’t, her voice would not have been heard with regards to this issue.

        As much as you ask me to be fair to Schwarzer, which I totally take on board, how fair has she been to Muslim women who wear the headscarf? Any Muslim woman who chooses to wear the headscarf will feel the same way I felt when I read the article. She may not be extreme in her views, but her views have done well to alienate and almost demonise the relgious symbol of the hijaab (headscarf). She says “Only this forceful act would finally give the young woman from a fundamentalist orthodox family the chance to move with freedom and equality, at least within the confines of the schoolyard,” . The fact that she put “ATLEAST” connotes that all Muslim women who wear the hijaab are not free or equal, but with the law she is proposing- “ATLEAST” the girls will have freedom and equality in the schoolyard!” So I ask again, how fair is she being to Muslim women. Regardless of where she lives, or who she has spoken to, with that statement alone, she generalises thousands of women who wear the hijaab, and are free and equal. You cannot analyse a group of people where you live, and stereotype the entire group in a country.

        Her findings are based on children in schools, and not on a broader number of WOMEN who wear the hijaab. Yet, some of her views evidently relates to all hijaab wearers, granted, this may be the media
        twisting things as usual.

        The piece is an opinion piece, I wrote it with the intention to show that there is much more oppression of women in the world, yet the focus seems to be on the Muslim woman. It was intended to show people another side to what goes on in the schoolyard with regards to girls wearing the headscarf.

        I think that your last line “Whatever your position on any given subject, it’s important to do your own research and treat others fairly when criticizing them” may apply to you also, as you clearly didn’t comprehend the point of the piece, the reason it was written, or where I as a Muslim women was coming from.

        Once again, I really do appreciate your comments and I am glad that we can have dialogue to get these things out in the open.

        I hope that you keep reading the blog.

        Thank you and take care,



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