Friday, July 25, 2008

On headscarves

Interview with two Swedish women Anne Sofie Roald and Pernilla Ouis who decided to convert to Islam in the 80's in an effort to step forward and explain the religion to the people. In the process they adopted the headscarf. A recent trend towards secularization of religious practices has led a lot of Muslim women to shed their headscarves. The interview chronicles life under the scarf, their reasons for remaining veiled and ultimately their reasons for giving up the practice thirty years later.

What made you initially decide to adopt the headscarf?

Anne Sofie Roald: I became a Muslim in 1982 and the pressure came not just from one man, but from a number of men around me. When I became a Muslim, I had no idea you were supposed to wear the headscarf. I've always been a seeker in life, and I'm a Muslim even without a headscarf. When I came into contact with Muslims, they said women had to wear the headscarf, but nobody did that in Norway then. Some Pakistani and Moroccan women went round with simple cotton scarves tossed casually over their hair. But the Muslim group had greater expectations of me as a convert, and I was one of the first in Norway to wear the headscarf.

The headscarf wasn't all that practical. The worst thing was that it made your head so hot, plus we used safety pins to keep it in place under our chins, because it was important to keep it in place. I lived in a detached house, and every time I wanted to go out into the garden I was supposed to wear it, but it was such a bother to put on and take off so in the end I didn't go out at all. In that way the headscarf became a barrier between inside and outside

What made you decide to take off your headscarves?

Pernilla Ouis: What came first? My altered view of religion, or my divorce? One explanation is that the pressure from my husband had gone. Another interpretation is that I got divorced because I started thinking along different lines. And after the divorce I found myself in new social settings; people outside the Muslim community became important to me. I was "the one with the headscarf", but I felt it was a false description of who I was. My religiousness had changed, and the headscarf was a symbol of something I could no longer defend. I started wondering why I should have to pay such a high price. Everyone thought I was stupid, thought I had problems with the West. I became so one-dimensional; in every context I was just a Muslim. You could see it as a defeat and say we should have carried on fighting and insisting there was much more to us than that.

A painting I did a couple years back titled 'Veil - A Mea Culpa'... More on the painting here.

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