A public discussion entitled ,”Hijab, why not?,”, was held in Sarajevo a few days ago. Its main goal was to send a message to the public about the meaning of headscarf and that those women who participated in the discussion have chosen to wear it by their own free will. It was hosted by various women intellectuals, including journalists, poets, professors, directors, women who are active not only in their private but also in public life. They sent a message to women on the necessity of education and engagement in social and political activities. Their goal was also to challenge false stereotypes which portray women who have chosen to wear a headscarf as uneducated, oppressed, “stuck in middle age”…
Out of mere curiosity, I started reading the comments from some portals and Facebook pages on that subject. 90% of comments were displays of pure ignorance and primitivism. The paradox is that some members of the nation obsessed and infatuated with European principles of progress, tolerance, education, freedom, general democratic principles, can be brought down to a level that represents them as supporters of a totalitarian, undemocratic regime.
Of course, we should not create a perception of ‘real’ situation in society based on comments on various portals or in general, because most of those who post inappropriate comments are uneducated and misinformed. Smart and educated people do not waste their time writing comments in such discussions, where all human principles are distorted, because they are occupied with smarter things. That is also why we don`t see much support for Muslim women who have chosen to cover their hair. However, we see that some members of the ‘we-want-to-be-a-part-of-Europe nation’ apply their not so tolerant ideology to “members of the Wahhabi movement,” and in general, the hijab.
What is interesting is that the concepts of hijab, backwardness, illiteracy, the Middle Ages and Afghanistan are so often linked. However, so far, no one has ever been able to prove that the clothes that cover the head automatically, in some miraculous way, cover the mind as well. There are frequent comments such as “ its unimaginable for me to see a covered, Muslim woman, who is also a Doctor of Science.” This is a reflection of an individual’s lack of information and lack of experience with women who have covered their hair, women who are educated, uneducated, who are have PhDs, intellectuals, chauffeurs, housewives … Of course, our own experiences have immense influence on the creation of our perception, which may or may not be based on reality.
Covered women who have had only positive experiences with their headscarf would probably think this is a tolerant society, in which there is room for both private and public practice of religion. On the other side, women who have had negative experiences will feel like victims of discrimination and prejudice. The point is that discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina exists, just as tolerance, love, compassion and support of women with headscarf. Discrimination mostly comes from people who have the syndrome of nostalgia for the “beautiful” paradise of Socialism …We can conclude also that many Muslim women often have a wrong approach to solving this social problem of intolerance and misconceptions towards them. They often use verses from the Qur’ an about God’s punishment and how it can befall them at any time, and repeat the same phrases (such as ”Headscarf protects women from being raped and viewed as sexual objects”, ”Headscarf makes men respect women”) without any further explanation, over and over again… In every conversation, one should always talk with his correspondent in the language he can understand, having also in mind the nature of mentality that shaped his personality and opinion. In the Western societies, phrases like that might seem ridiculous and might cause more misconceptions (that Islam objectifies women, that Muslim men are human beings only of lust, who women as object of their desires and not as if they have intellect and personality, which causes the need for the headscarf).
It seems naive to think that by only wearing the headscarf, the percentage of rape and sexual harassment cases would decrease. Headscarf is only one link in the chain that Islam prescribes to create and keep a society safe and moral. Expecting to solve moral problems of society only by filling that link and at the same time not fixing the way male population perceives women, not fighting against objectification and sexualization of women, is unrealistic. Domestic violence and sexual harassment won’t change if many other links and problems in society are not solved.
Also, one of the important things is to distinguish bigotry from cultural shock. Western people might find it strange and won’t understand why some women choose to cover their head and face in these modern days, where all rights should be guaranteed for women.
What is interesting is that often both sides, Western and Eastern, perceive women on the “opposite side” as oppressed and exploited. Women from East looking at the billboards, where half-naked female bodies are exposed all over the streets, might see that as a sign of a sick society and exploitation of female bodies. On the other hand, the way women are dressed in East, not allowing women to drive, allowing men to have four wives, propaganda on the violent nature of Muslim men, could cause Westerners to perceive them the same way.
Often, misconceptions of Muslim women is that they are uneducated, forbidden to work, to live, to have a career, etc. Of course, illusions and stereotypes are often the result of lacking personal interaction with covered women. If someone doesn’t interact with a certain group of people, how can they see things objectively?
Wasn’t the goal of the discussion ,”Hijab, why not?,”, to represent Muslim women in real light and to give the chance to the public to see things objectively? Some covered women are educated, some are not; some are intellectuals, some are not; some are housewives, some are not! There is such diversity among those women, in the way they dress, they way they think, their personalities, careers, professions, activities…
One of the biggest mistakes of certain groups of people is that they form their opinion based on their personal desires. In any conversation, their goal is to defend their opinion at any cost, not wanting to come to the truth.
Pointing a finger at these women who participated in the discussion Hijab, why not?, accusing them of primitivism only because they cover their head, while they were showing women the necessity of education, means that three fingers are pointing back at them. Who is primitive in this case?
“The hearts of Muslims are not burdened with the worries that other people have. Because we have tawakkul (trust in God). We have faith in qadar (predestination) . This gives us calmness. That is why we are obligated to extinguish the anger and negative energy with calmness, as the Holy Qur’an teaches us : ”And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace, And those who spend [part of] the night to their Lord prostrating and standing [in prayer]” ( Furqan 63-64). So, keeping calm, good behavior, and working on self-improvement. When we change for the better, Allah will help change the state of our nation. This is so logical. For people who criticize us, we need to look at them as suffering from ignorance or delusion, imposed prejudices, and we should act like doctors. This is short in regards of religion. As Mazlums, we do pray (and such prayers are not rejected ) that Allah guide our people and improve our condition. There’s no use in anger and unnecessary debate. ” – Ammara Šabić Langić, the poet that hosted the tribune.