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Without a doubt the Muslim headscarf - or hijab - has been used as a symbol of oppression and inequality through the ages. Fundamental Islamistic states have forced their women to hide their hair and often their faces as well from the outside world, whether those women wanted to be “protected” that way or not. This was and is wrong. Every person has to have the right to wear - or in fact, not wear - what he or she pleases.
This misuse of the hijab is what remains in people’s heads most strongly though. Even I have to admit that I have a certain feeling of… reservation towards this symbol.
But we should not forget that it is also a religious symbol.
Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, wanted the Turkish women to have equality. One way of achieving this was for him to forbid the hijab, declaring Turkey to be a secular state.
Today there’s a move by some of Turkey’s politicians to try and reverse this, but they will face some major difficulties.
This November the European Court for Human Rights in Straßburg/Strasbourgh rejected the suit of a 32-year-old medical student who had been forced to leave her studies at a university in Istanbul.
The court argued that the ban of the hijab was not against the basic rights to education and religious freedom.
In their decision the judges referred to the protection of democracy and pluralism and the equality of the sexes. Yet they admitted that the plaintiff had been barred from showing her religiousness and from taking part in lectures.
Somehow contrary to that they still judged the ban to be constitutional. It would keep the Turkish state from favouring one religion and would therefore ensure freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
As the ban would forbid people to publicly display their belief, people of a different faith and non-believers would be protected from repressions by the state or religious fundamentalists.
(In 1999 already the young woman went to Vienna, Austria, to continue her studies…)
For a few years now politicians in Germany have been advancing the idea that teachers should be forbidden to wear hijabs at state schools and universities.
Turkey was always named as a glorious Muslim example. “See, if they are forbidding it, it can’t really be a religious symbol, or a Muslim country would never do that!”
School rules and lesson plans being decided by the counties rather than by the state, the decision about the hijab was left to the respective counties as well.
Some politicians advanced the idea to not make any general decision at all but to decide in each case. Basically not such a bad idea, but how exactly does one find out whether that new teacher wants to wear a hijab because of religious reasons or because of being a fundamentalist?? If she is the latter she will very likely be clever enough not to say so.
If I am not mistaken (either Google doesn’t know everything, or I’m asking the wrong questions ) five counties so far have passed a law to forbid the hijab, among them Baden-Württemberg, Niedersachsen, the Saarland and Hessen. My own county Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) has just set the process in motion, endeavouring to become number six.
I find it very interesting that they manage to forbid the hijab while not even explicitely naming it. The reason for that is said to be that this way the law sounds more like something that international courts would approve of.
Here’s the bit they want to put into the school laws (there’s two different words for male and female teachers in German, and I want to keep that in, so excuse the awkward translation):
The new passage will forbid female and male teachers the use of symbols that endanger “the political, religious or ideological peace at school” through “giving the impression that a female or male teacher will take a stand against the dignity of man, equality (…), the right to freedom or the free democratic basic order”. Only in the attached formal explanation they actually state that what they mean is: No hijab for female teachers in NRW.
If no miracle happens in the meantime this will be the law from the beginning of the schoolyear 2006/07 on.
The choice of vague words has been well thought through. They are meant to forbid the hijab, while at the same time allowing the wearing of the Christian cross or the Jewish kippa, as for many the hijab is - so the additional law text states - a symbol of the inferior status of the woman in society and family or a demonstration of a fundamentalistic theocracy. The Christian-occidental tradition though is a fixed part of the regional constitution.
Apart from kippa and cross the hijab-free counties still allow the habit of the nuns, some even defining the habit as work clothes.
An FDP politician stated that the point was not the evaluation of religions but the self assertion of our order of values against the Islamic fundamentalism.
A Die Grüne politician quoted Johannes Rau (SPD; “The illegal use of a symbol should not impair its legal use.”) and added “How do I recognize a fundamentalistic male teacher anyway?”
I will conclude my fact finding - again - with a little passage I found on the web, on the main page of the Institut für soziale Dreigliederung to be correct:
The issue here is not the question whether one approves of the hijab or not. The decisive factor is that one cannot forbid the hijab without betraying freedom oneself. And the question arises whether one is much better then than those who work for enforcing the hijab in Islamic countries.
Well, like in the good ol’ school essays, time for my own words here at the end.
Like I said in my opening paragraphs I myself am having mixed feelings about the hijab. We do have a problem here with Muslims taking the ancient “traditions” too far, be that by keeping their women from learning German (or to read and write, for that matter), forcing them to wear hijab in public and keeping up the time honoured values of family honour by killing their daughters and sisters who dare go against that.
There I do agree with the - also time honoured - cry of: If they want to live here, they have to accept our social and democratic values. Period.
But if we are a free and democratic country, offering religious freedom, then we can’t do that with one blind eye.
We can’t allow the habit and crosses because they’re part of our “Christian-occidental tradition”. I am a Christian - although admittedly from the point of view of the Pope the wrong kind of - and all the crosses on the school walls I encountered annoyed the heck out of me.
The habit of a nun defines her as a nun, so in a very broad sense you could maybe argue that this makes the habit her working clothes. But as her “job” is religion that renders the whole thing null and void again. Besides, a lot of nuns active in youth work often do not wear their habit at work. Interesting, hm?
Besides, I’ve always felt that the habit serves exactly the same purpose the hijab does in some places (except for the bride thing of course): A nun is the bride of Jesus (I think. Or was it God? Can somebody tell me?) and every earthly man has to keep his hands off her. So she dresses up in some drab uniform, even hiding her hair from people. Hm, that does sound familiar, doesn’t it?
As for the Jewish kippa being a part of our Christian-occidental tradition… Since when? So, ok, Jesus was a Jew and all the rest, but we are a Christian country, not a Jewish one. And maybe it is just this region (I’m not going to google for population percentages now), but a male teacher with kippa would have surprised me more than a female one with hijab. You see hijabs everywhere!
For any Jew happening across this humble blog I’d like to add that I don’t have any problems with either Jews or teachers wearing the kippa; it’s the principle here that I’m having a serious problem with.
And talking about religious freedom at schools, I’d like to take you back to my youth.
In grade school our main teacher prayed with us once a week before school started. I don’t remember her sending out our two Muslim pupils, or there ever being a word about them having a different faith and these prayers not concerning them. Unfortunately I was caught up too much in my own confusion and misery (and ignorance) to notice whether or not they were in the same awkward position I was.
Because, you see, we always had to cross ourselves.
I didn’t even know how to do that! I am not Catholic; I did not have to!
Only after having a word with my parents - and they with the teacher - did I stop trying to keep up with that crossing thing. But I still felt out of place.
In Germany we teach religion at school. I know that in some places more is offered, but here it’s just Catholic and Protestant religion lessons taking part at the same time. To keep our two Muslims busy it was offered to their parents to let them take part in one of those lessons (one family declined apparently). But was there a choice for the parents who sent their son to religion classes at grade school? No. It was a given that Muslims would attend the Protestant course.
Much later, at the end of the fourth grade, a fellow pupil told me that in Catholic religion class - held by that main teacher lady by the way - they had been told that Protestants were heathens. Furthermore we were also said to be stupid.
Thankfully this is not happening in the local grade school anymore, but back then - and further back - these were not single incidents.
My sister often had to walk back home from her grade school in the place we used to live before 1980 because if the last lesson for the day for some reason did not take place at the Catholic grade school, their dean called the bus company and cancelled the last bus for the day, totally forgetting about the fact that they shared the bus service with the adjoining Protestant grade school. And that was quite a march, or else there would not have been a school bus in the first place…