Đermana Šeta is the Head of the Research Department at Center for Research and Education “Nahla”. She is also the Head of Human Rights and Freedom of Faith Commission of the Islamic Community in B&H and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies, Sarajevo. She (co)authored books/volumes/articles involving the issues of religion, human rights and women. She is the author of “Why the Headscarf: B&H Muslim women on their life and work with the headscarf” 2011, CNS & CIPS. She holds a MA degree in Religious Studies from Centre for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies, University of Sarajevo. She is a doctoral candidate in Sociology (focusing on Sociology of Religion) at Faculty of Political Science at Sarajevo University.
1. Tell us something about yourself, early, age schooling and college life?
I was born in 1981 in small town in central Bosnia called Jajce, but lived my life in DonjiVakuf, Koper and Sarajevo. I have a BA degree in English from Sarajevo University, MA degree in Religious Studies from Centre for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies, University of Sarajevo and I am currently a doctoral candidate in Sociology of Religion at Faculty of Political Science at Sarajevo University.
2. When did you start having interest in religion?
Religion has always been a part of my life. It firstly became significant for me personally. Then I noticed how also my understanding of religion and its interpretation changes in relation to my age and experience. And this led me to start reaching more into religion and religious studies.
3. Should reports about the weakening of institutional religion in the process of secularization of societies be taken for granted? Does it automatically means weakening also the importance of religion for individuals?
Well this phenomenon is something that is today understood under the notion of believing without belonging (together with belonging without believing as well). The religion is not disappearing it is only taking different shapes. In today’s global world it moves towards individualized understanding and pursuit of faith or individual spirituality. It moves towards civil society as well. It is changing forms in order to adapt itself to different life demands and circumstances, but it is not disappearing despite some previous forecasts that it will be so.
4. Today there are over a billion Muslims in the world with different customs, cultures, norms and economics. However, in many cases, also different interpretations of religion and practices. Is there only one correct version of Islam as Arabian, Egyptian, etc. Or we have to have consider the different geographical, social and economic context which necessarily determines a certain kind of religious practice? For example, women in Saudi Arabia tend to wear black clothes, while men thobes, Muslim women in the West often wear diverse clothes and are much more relaxed and liberal as far as choosing a dress. How much is it right or wrong for a group of people who are newly arrived from one region to another to impose religious practices of their country from which they came?
It is never easy to speak about what is right and what it not. As a Bosnian Muslim I believe that our tradition and heritage shape the way how we understand society and religion in it. How we understand Islam and live it in different contexts. I believe Islam is only one, but it takes different shapes and forms in different circumstances. And there is nothing wrong in it. I also believe different interpretations within Islam are a blessing since there is no one who can claim monopoly over interpretation. What is important is to keep up to the principles of Islam – principles of justice, dignity and humility.
5. “While in Rome, be a Roman.” The issue of integration of immigrants, Muslims in Western societies. Western societies on one hand are proud of their freedom of expression and multiculturalism, while on the other hand are expecting a complete fitting or assimilation with their perception of life, standards, etc. As an example, the ban of the niqab in France. As arguments against the ban its pointed out that the niqab does not fit in the French way of life. How then can we talk about multiculturalism in this context? How to create a balance between the need to be integrated and successful members of society in the countries where they arrived and on the other side to be faithful bearers and keepers of their religious beliefs and practices?
The process of integration is very important. People need to understand the countries they live, their health, educational and political systems. Therefore they need to learn the language and acquire appropriate education. The main issue at stake here is I believe the issue of trust. Muslims need to trust their respective states and vice versa. This process is not an easy one. But Muslims have been the part of European soil for too long now and they need to go out from the victim mentality into contribution mentality as professor Ramadan states it. Into the mentality that show that we are here to contribute together with others to the betterment of our societies. And the societies must be ready to accept us as such, with all our specificities as far as we are a part of a solution.
6. You’re also involved in research experiences. Is it difficult for a covered woman to get employment?
The issue of labor market discrimination of women in general is a huge one. Hijabi women have even more difficult time in this regard and suffer multiple discrimination. It is hard for them to get employment and keep the working position once they decide to wear the headscarf. A problem is also in the fact that these cases are usually not easy to prove. But the biggest problem in this regard is that women lose self-confidence and this influences them as persons. Therefore this issue is very important one and in the case of Western European countries mentioned above, accepting these women in the labor market according to their competencies would show the greater appreciation and acceptance of the Muslim communities in the West. UK seems to be a good example of this.
7. The ban on women`s driving in Saudi Arabia? A woman who wanted to break this taboo has faced with a sharp condemnation of the local people and beyond. According to her, the ban is based on the initiative of a local professor who has submitted to Shura the statistics and research of UNESCO whereby countries in which women are driving are faced with higher rates of rape, murder, immorality, etc.
For me this has nothing to do with religion. Man have always in different places, notwithstanding their religion, tried to limit women’s freedom and women have always fought back. Every context and every region has its own “prohibitions” for women. I think that “Western” women also have their own contextualized (similar) problems of different shapes and forms. I believe that women should choose things for themselves. So when they choose religion, they do it out of their own genuine understanding of what e.g. Islam is and what is in there for them.
8. Your message to our readers?
Today’s globalized world made it possible for us to learn about different people living in different parts of the world. Let’s use this opportunity and expand our understanding of our obligations as human beings towards others. Always try to excel and never settle for less.
Interview took by Irma Velić