Hijab bans

It doesn’t take much to make sympathetic accommodations for other people’s deeply-felt religious or cultural beliefs. Enabling a young man to wear a dastar or a young woman to wear hijab costs nothing. What is the point of disrupting a young person’s education or future career by insisting on some nonsensical uniform rules that are unnecessarily discriminatory?

Our daughter recently came home from school wearing hijab. This came as a great surprise for a number of reasons. First, she had not discussed her intention to do so with either of us parents. Second, because her closest friends at school are not Muslim. Third because, well, we’d always emphasised prioritising the inner aspects of religious faith over outward manifestations: we’d rather good adab (manners) came first. Nevertheless, we accept that it’s something she wants to do and have chosen not to stand in her way.

Her school has nothing to say about this; their only stipulation is that the headscarf should be black. Apart from that, it is accommodated in school uniform rules, as are trousers. I imagine there are some teachers who have concluded that she has been forced to wear hijab by her parents, but nothing has been said. There may be a time in the future that she decides she doesn’t want to wear it after all, and that too would be fine from our perspective. Each of us must choose how we wish to live our lives.

My wife also wears hijab. That too, is her choice. I didn’t know when we were first married that she had only started wearing it a few weeks before we were introduced. The decision to wear hijab was a hard one, which took great courage, for her siblings are rabid secularists who fully support hijab bans. Twenty years ago, she was prohibited from walking me through the grounds of Istanbul University because she was wearing a headscarf. A lawyer friend of hers was prevented from practising law. Teacher friends were prevented from teaching. Courage to begin wearing hijab, then, was about more than overcoming personal embarrassment or social pressures: it was outright illegal in many spheres of life.

As a husband and father, I accept the individual choices of my wife and daughter to dress as they please. I’ve never felt it right to tell others what to wear. Of course, assumptions run deep and I have long been attacked for forcing my wife to wear hijab. A work colleague once railed against me at length and for days on end, without ever asking my wife what she thought. Nobody ever does, it seems, before they decide to advocate on behalf of those they believe to be oppressed by us awful men.

I will never enforce a dress code on anyone in my life. Some will say, “Yes, but hijab is mandatory.” Perhaps so, but there are many aspects of our religious and cultural practices which are difficult to adopt, for which we all exercise personal choice and judgement. It is not my place to coerce others into making choices of their own.

Nor do I believe it is the place of a state, a school, a neighbour, family member or classmate to coerce others into believing or behaving in one way or another. All mentally-sound individuals have the autonomy to make their own choices. Both bans and mandates are a bad idea in my book.

Unfortunately, nationalism and fanaticism poisons everything, insisting all people and all of society be remade in the image of the worst of us. All sane people should resist. Make things easy for people; don’t make them run away.

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