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Integration & Politik

Against the mainstream

- why the concept of Hijab is more modern today, than it ever was

It is largely believed that the wearing of a headscarf is obsolete today and its mention in the Quran were bound to its historic context. I disagree, and maintain that the principle of the headscarf may actually be even more vital than ever, nowadays. I maintain that there are quite a number of rational reasons to retain the headscarf and the ideas behind it, and adopt them into the 21st century. The reason for wearing a headscarf will always remain a choice of the heart based on the love for God. But love does not stand in contrast to reason and faith does not impede rationale or enlightened thinking. On the contrary. It is my intention to demonstrate how the Muslim philosophy of “the headscarf” which, in fact, addresses both men and women, is more modern today, than it ever was.

                After so many years of ‘headscarf-bashing’ it will certainly not be easy to find some good things to say about this particular garment. Women who wear it are stigmatized as suppressed and heteronomous. The Islam-critic Seyran Ates declares: “I think it’s alarming to see that there are more and more girls every day who decide to put on a headscarf. Supposedly, by choice. But it’s really not that simple. Are these girls encouraged to develop a free will? Or are they told what they must want?” The point of critic in this is that the headscarf reduces women to their gender and their sexuality.

                The spectacular weakness of such arguments lies in the fact that our entire society is drenched with notions that degrade women to a sexualized object. There is a marketing of women’s, bodies fueled by capitalistic and patriarchal ideas, which suggests a constant sexual availability. And this is a form of socialization that begins very early indeed. Girls learn from a very early age to seek attention by optimizing they outward appearance. They are taught that pleasing everybody with looks, being as beautiful as a princess or Barbie, must always be a woman’s primary goal. There are distinct conventions regarding the design, form and color of toys and clothes for girls. The advertising industry invests millions of dollars every year in the marketing of a pink- and glitter-streaked world of top models and princesses. Within such a socialization, girls are constantly encouraged to match up to one female ideal of beauty and to always want to please. There is a whole generation of young women and girls who have internalized the male eye, not least because of misogynistic programs such as “Germany’s Next Top Model”. The overriding principle is: seek to please.

                I have no trouble acknowledging the fact that Muslim girls are influenced by Islamic education. What I do have a problem with is when this fact is assessed one-sidedly and thus made into a huge problem, all the while ignoring that the effect of socialization is much more dominant in a culture with a hegemony of the majority is implemented through mass media. We should ponder the question as to why there are hardly any pop-cultural ideals who represent the denial of sexual availability. Along comes a woman in a headscarf who resists possibly all capitalistic interests and debilitates the efforts of the ad industry, which she responds to with a slap on the face. Maybe, this is why there is hardly anyone who gets agitated about the exposure of women, while a covered-up woman can cause emotions to be cooking within an instant.

                It certainly is astonishing that this obvious prevalence of double-standards is never pointed out. Using the powerful influence of social norms, girls are trained from the earliest age to identify themselves through their gender. The substantial difference within this identification is that a young woman wearing a headscarf is encouraged NOT to define herself through her outward attractiveness. Her personality, humane values and her character are the main objects of focus.

                This reality must be held up against Necla Kelek’s appeal of stopping a depriving of Muslim girls of their childhood. Girls in Germany are a lot less threatened by an impending coercion into wearing a headscarf by fundamentalist parents than by the increasing sexualization of the playground which is evidently depriving more and more children and teenagers of their carefree childhoods every day.

                Obviously, the primary consumers and beneficiaries of the physical attractiveness of such a parading of suggested sexual availability of women’s bodies are men. A woman who does not offer her body for public display, and who declares her body as private property and an unobtainable space of intimacy, autonomously evades men’s gaze. And she certainly does not serve men’s interests by doing so.

                It is the culture of the masses that is sabotaging all efforts for more gender equality and not the headscarf which stands for a respectful coexistence of the sexes. 

                Against the backdrop of a culture in which the media and ads constantly propagate the image of a woman as masked out into perfection, a veiled woman is like an embodiment of the proclamation, “No! I will not play along!” It takes a firm conviction and a strong personality to do that, because otherwise it is impossible to defy the mainstream so distinctly. But how could anyone understand, where this strength comes from, where the refusal of gaining admiration for appearance comes from, when God is no longer a premise and mundane entities have captured their minds? This is why all these so-called Islam critics keep repeating their tantrum about the headscarf being an instrument to suppress women, over and over again in an infinite loop. They are blind to the fact that the headscarf is a liberation of every form of dependence, which results from the need to seek for approval. Freedom beyond the compulsive this-worldliness. Those who recognize truth from within will not seek any form of reassurance from outside.