“It is the free decision of a woman to wear or not wear a headscarf”
A working group of tüews INTERNATIONAL editorial members worked on the topic “wearing a headscarf”. Aliaa Abd Khalaf, Fatima Salehi, Halima Ibrahim and Michael Seifert were part of the group. Initially, short interviews were made among the acquaintances in order to capture different voices. Finally, the group went to junior professor Fahimah Ulfat who works in the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen and conducted a detailed interview with her.
Ms. Ulfat, you’re wearing a headscarf yourself, what experiences did you make?
Ulfat: I started to wear the headscarf when I was in high school. Since my sisters and I were the only immigrant students there, my teachers initially took pity on me because they thought I would be forced to wear the headscarf. But they got used to it quickly. Also in the public, on the street or on the bus and train, I hardly had any bad experiences. Maybe someone at the bus stop once spoke to me unfriendly, but that was very rare.
And how did it go for you at work?
I worked at different schools and wore the headscarf – that was no problem at all. In 2008, a law was passed banning headscarves from school. And then I was not allowed to wear the headscarf anymore. The headscarf could theoretically only have been worn in Islamic religious education. That was a paradox.
Does this law still apply today?
About three years ago, the law was repealed, because it is not compatible with the German Basic Law. I myself have taken a different path before, left school, got a scholarship and started to do my doctorate and work at the university. Had I not had this opportunity, I would have accepted the compromise and not worn the headscarf at school.
Who or what helped you to wear the headscarf today?
First of all, my faith has given me the strength. And then eventually it became a habit for people to look at and talk to me about the headscarf. Above all, the work at the university helped me a lot. There it does not matter what I wear. It depends on what I think, what ideas I have and if I can work well with others. I can be there as I am. That’s the beauty of the university, it’s a sheltered space where the interest in science is paramount.
But in some occupations, women have a problem wearing headscarves.
Earlier, women wearing headscarves here in Germany mainly worked as cleaning ladies and the headscarf did not bother at all. Today, many women undergo training or graduate and are accordingly placed in higher occupations such as banking, medicine or law. And suddenly the whole thing has become a problem. The question is whether there are any objective reasons for a ban on headscarves in certain occupations. If it does not exist, a headscarf ban is not compatible with the Basic Law – as the Federal Constitutional Court has decided for the schools. If women are disadvantaged by the headscarf on the job market, they should fight back and turn to anti-discrimination bodies.
Do Muslim women have to wear a headscarf and what must it look like? What does the Koran say about that?
This theological question is complicated. There are three places in the Koran where women’s clothing is addressed. What does God mean when he talks about it? The theologians are trying to find out. Jilbab is a cloth or overcoat that women used to throw over their shoulders. Apparently the breast was not covered by it. The Koran now demands that women should dress in moderation and not flaunt their charms. Then there is a second place where the Prophet’s wives are concerned. In this context, one speaks of a hijab. But this is not about a headscarf, but about a partition or a curtain. The women of the Prophet should not be bothered by simply joining them, so the distance should be maintained through this curtain. A third passage in the Koran is about the Khimar. Again, it is about that stimuli should be covered, that the shame should be guarded. The covering of the head at the time was also a sign for free, respectable women, thus a sign for the social status of a woman. Female slaves, for example, have not covered their heads. The covering should protect them against being harassed by looks from others. This is not clear in the Koran. We appeal to the tradition of the Prophet. The headscarf has a spiritual meaning for many women today. It expresses the closeness to God, the devotion to him and the trust in him. Maybe it was like this before, I do not know. Different forms have developed in the different Muslim countries and in the West over the centuries. There are also modern forms that look like a turban, for example, quite chic.
Isn’t that a problem when you see the neck?
That’s not really fixed. Today, there are also many new fashion forms, because the women, young and old, want to look good. And so they adapt to the clothing style of the environment, to the fashion. Theologically, one can not say what is right or wrong. The headscarf on the whole has the purpose of protecting women from harassment. If they are being harassed here in the West just because of the headscarf – one hears repeatedly that women are spiked with a headscarf -, then the headscarf loses the protective function. One must also see: Islam is changing. New situations and new questions require new answers because they did not exist in the historical context in which the Koran was born. There are rules that were good and right 1400 years ago, but which we need to rethink today.
So is it voluntary to wear the headscarf?
Yes, it is the free choice of a woman to wear a headscarf or not. In Germany, it is not a valid right that a woman must wear the headscarf. It’s different in Saudi Arabia. In Germany, a woman can come to the conclusion: Here I do not need the protection by the headscarf, the state protects me, yes, I live here in a constitutional state. But the protection might also not be the main reason, but the relationship with God.
Does the hair have to be covered by the headscarf or not?
This is a very subjective matter. There is no evidence in the tradition. So I can not say what’s right or wrong. I know women who like to wear the headscarf further back so you can see hair, and I know women where you do not see hair. A woman should wear the headscarf in the way that she feels comfortable with it.
Is it enough to just wear the headscarf and perhaps a T-shirt or pants?Does it have to be a long dress or can it be a short one?
This question is about the “aura” of the woman, so the nakedness that must be covered in Islam. There is a defined aura of the man where he should cover himself, usually between navel and knee. And there is an aura of the woman she should cover. And the theologians comment on this quite differently. Some even say that the face and feet must be covered, others do not share this view. This can not be deduced from the Koran. You see, it is people who set this in a legal system for a particular society.
Should girls wear a headscarf or should they decide about it at the age of 18 when they are of age?
That’s a good question. You have to look at the individual case here. There are girls who want to wear the headscarf because they want to belong to the world of the big ones. If the child wants it, then it should be able to try it out. If she does not like it then she can take it off again and maybe put it back later. In this very individual question should not be worked with force. Not by a rule that a girl, having reached a certain age, is forced to wear a headscarf. But also not by a ban to wear the headscarf, because she is still too young.
Do you have to wear the headscarf while praying?
It is an Islamic tradition to wear a headscarf during prayer and worship. This also serves homage to God. The majority of Muslim women do it that way, but of course there are women who do not.
Can a Muslim show her reverence for God even without a headscarf?
Yes, the headscarf is not a cornerstone of faith like prayer and fasting. This is a question that concerns only me and God. Only God can judge my faith and my religiosity, no other human being can and must. We must not allow any other person to tell us whether we are good or bad, religious or non-religious.
Fahimah Ulfat was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and came to Germany in 1984 with her parents. She studied primary education at the University of Duisburg-Essen and then worked at various elementary schools in Essen. In 2016 she completed her PhD on the relationship of Muslim children. Since January 2017 she is a Junior Professor and Chairholder for Islamic Religious Education at the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Tübingen. She researches the beliefs of Muslim youth in Germany.
### Kasten 1:
Why do you wear a headscarf?
I asked my friend Dima (name changed), 24 years old and with her sister now in Germany.
“The headscarf is for me above all a service to God, as it is so prescribed in the Qur’an.” She finds the headscarf as something important in her life and she has told me that she was 12 years old when she got the headscarf for the first time. The headscarf belongs to her faith, she says, but in Germany she finds it difficult to find a job with a headscarf. “But wearing the headscarf is very important to many women.”
The interview was conducted by Aliaa Abd Khalaf.
### Kasten 2:
The freedom to wear or not wear a headscarf
Fatima, 25 years old, comes from Afghanistan and attends a language course at the vhs in Tübingen. She lives in Kusterdingen.
I asked her for her opinion about wearing the headscarf. She says she did not feel good about the headscarf and was even ashamed. She wanted to come to an open society where nobody wears a headscarf. In the beginning it was very difficult for her to just leave out the headscarf. But now she feels better without a headscarf. She thinks she lives like the others now. For girls under the age of 18, it is better for them not to wear a headscarf, even if the family has good reasons for doing so or it is prescribed by religion. For Fatima it does not matter if women wear headscarves or not, they are all equal for her.
Her husband says that women should not be forced to wear a headscarf, but they should decide for themselves. He says women with a headscarf look prettier. For him, the headscarf, the hijab, is a fashionable garment.
The interview was conducted by Fatima Salehi.
### Kasten 3:
No apprenticeship with a headscarf? But isn’t it a human right?
Madine, 31, came to Germany three years ago with her husband and three daughters from Iran. She is from Ahwaz and belongs to the minority that has Arabic and not Farsi as mother tongue. She reports:
“I wore the headscarf since my first year, that was a requirement in Iran. In Germany I wanted to do an apprenticeship and applied first as a geriatric nurse, then as a saleswoman. I only got cancellations without reason. At a job interview that lasted only 5 minutes, the boss of a bakery told me that doing the apprenticeship with a headscarf is not possible. I then made the hard decision to apply next time without a headscarf. In a supermarket, I got a traineeship and the commitment for an initial qualification and then for training as a retail saleswoman. Since then, I no longer wear a headscarf. That’s not easy for me, my parents, who are still living in Iran, do not know that because I can not tell them. But I think I can live my faith without a headscarf. There are many Muslim women who do not wear a headscarf. My husband has no problem with that. He says it all depends on a clean heart, not whether a woman wears a headscarf or not. But actually I thought that in Germany it should be a human right to be able to show ones faith through a headscarf and still be allowed to do an apprenticeship. ”
The interview was conducted by Michael Seifert.
### Kasten 4:
Break down prejudices through encounters
An interview on headscarf with Angelika Reicherter, the initiator of the project “Young Heroines”.
What do you personally think about the headscarf?
I do not really have an opinion on the headscarf. I think it is an expression of the values of a religion. So something very personal, what one got from his parents on the way. I understand that the headscarf gives a home and a sense of belonging, maybe a stop, when sometimes being overwhelmed by other impressions in foreign countries. I think the headscarf is something very intimate and important for the women who wear headscarves.
How should society deal with the fact that the women who wear headscarves have difficulties in everyday life and above all at work?
I believe that many encounters between people with and without headscarves can help break down prejudices. Tolerance is something that you have to train through new experiences – so I think that you have to create a lot of opportunities, that again and again encounters between people of different cultures can take place to reduce fear of contact.
What are your everyday experiences with the headscarf?
The women I got to know with a headscarf were always very pleasant women. We got along well. That helps me to have no fear of contact. But I also have to say that I have difficulty keeping women in headscarves apart. It’s happened that I’ve greeted someone, and then later realized I’ve greeted the wrong person – just because I did not recognize them properly through the headscarf.
The interview was conducted by Halima Ibrahim.