“Not Another Headscarf”

My first thought upon looking at the photograph accompanying Ari Korpivaara's blog post concerning a Muslim woman was, "Not another headscarf." When people talk about Muslims, it’s often accompanied by a photo of women with their heads or indeed their whole bodies covered or images of violent protestations usually ending in burning of flags or effigies. What struck me was how some people would presume a certain kind of character about the person in that blog post which would invariably include piety, observance, rigidity and probably an absence of gaiety.

The lady in question is a pool-playing, music-loving Northerner (from England). Her faith identity and the visibility of it do not stop her from living and participating fully in a democratic society that is her home. Ari's blog post is spot-on as it succinctly explains what the At Home in Europe Project’s subtext is: never judge a book by its cover, and it's ok to be different as it’s this difference that makes for the virtues of an open society. It’s also this difference that is now assessed by some as being a threat to the values of Western society – irrespective of a consensus on what "values" are shared by Western societies and why they would be incompatible if you are from another ethnic or religious background.

What is usually missing from stories and reports about Muslims is the silent majority. This is the vast majority of people who have a Muslim background but who do not wear their religion on their sleeve or indeed their head. The debate raging in Europe on the burqa completely misses the point that it’s only a tiny minority of women who wear this apparel, and it’s not the uniform of Muslim women.

Public policy is increasingly influenced and shaped in certain countries in Europe on the back of counterterrorism strategies, the desire to control immigration and posturing political rhetoric. The majority of Muslims, secular or spiritual, are your average garden-variety residents and citizens of Europe who don’t want to stand apart because of their religious or ethnic background. Faiths forms one part of their identity and most are tired of having to be continually asked to defend themselves against the actions of a few. They are fully integrated members of their neighbourhoods, cities and countries. They throw out their rubbish on the same day as everyone else, they worry about the quality and type of schools available for their children, they  want a safe and secure environment and they watch popular cultural TV shows like Pop Idol.

For your next blog post, Ari, it would be great if you could showcase an image of this kind of Muslim. We have 11 cities in Europe for you to choose from.

3 Comments

I so agree with the article. Being a Muslim woman living in Copenhagen, i don't wear my religion on my sleeve but will not tolerate if it is criticized or made fun of. Religion is private and personal. No one should question my beliefs as i don't question other peoples beliefs! I believe in Live and let live!

I appreciate Nazia Hussain's perspective and understand her frustration with yet another headscarf photo to identify Muslims. It is indeed important to focus attention on the silent majority of Muslims "who don't wear their relgion on their sleeve or indeed their head." But it is equally important to keep showing those who do, for it is the headscarf wearers who are the targets of discrimination against the entire group. Only when the outwardly different among us are fully accepted can we call ourselves an open society. (To see more photographs of Muslims, go to the At Home in Europe site, and watch the video.)

Thank you for this article, Nazia. I think you have very aptly articulated what millions of other Muslim women and men, "the silent majority", feel but have limited opportunities to express.
Those few who do wear their religion on their sleeve or head make captivating media headlines.
But the headscarf issue tends to divert attention and energies from much more serious discrimination in such vital areas as employment, education, justice, etc.

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