I stopped wearing my headscarf

RNW archive

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Turkish woman Semra Çelebi no longer wears her headscarf. She says she doesn't need to in order to be a good Muslim. The decision was not an easy one. Semra recently started a Facebook page called I took off my hijab.

The scarf is still folded up neatly in a cupboard at her parents' house. Semra Çelebi has saved all her old headscarves. They are part of her past but they are not part of her current identity. Semra now lives in Amsterdam, where she feels anonymous and free.

Semra was ten years old when she first started wearing a headscarf. She was following the example of her younger sister, who attended an Islamic primary school. Semra herself went to a Christian school in the Dutch town of Barneveld. Her father, who is from a traditional Turkish family, believes women should wear headscarves. It took a little getting used to for Semra.

"I felt ill at ease, because I wasn't sure how my friends would react. I remember them dragging me into the classroom because I wouldn't go in. They just accepted me."

Teatowel
Sometimes she gets negative reactions. One person called her "teatowel". Usually she ignores any comments. Once she was refused a job at a toy company because of the headscarf. They told her "we can't do that to our customers".

Wearing a hijab became more and more a part of her religious identity. After all, God wants women to dress modestly. She defended her decision to wear the headscarf in debates and her quick tongue started to get her noticed.

Identity
However, when Semra started studying law at Utrecht University she started to change her mind. She did internships in Sheffield, New York and Brussels, far away from her home town with its strict rules. After reading a number of books on the subject, Semra decided to stop wearing her headscarf.

"It no longer suited the way I saw my religion. I don't need it to be a good Muslim. It was six months before I actually stopped wearing it. It was very difficult. It is not just a piece of cloth. It is part of my identity and I wore it for 16 years. I was afraid of how people would react."

Support
That was three years ago. And Semra still has to defend her identity, but this time as a Muslim woman without a headscarf. Her father does not approve and she gets negative reactions. But she refuses to give in. Recently she started a Facebook page to support women who decide to stop wearing headscarves.

Within three weeks around 100 people had joined the page. Some girls write that they are afraid to stop wearing their headscarves because of the reactions they will get. One father stopped talking to his daughter for months. Semra says her Facebook page is not intended to encourage Muslims to stop wearing their headscarves.

"The important thing is that you make your own choices. That is not always easy. My choice was about wearing a headscarf, but it could about something else. A colleague told me his girlfriend's father ignored him for five years because he and his girlfriend lived together. That was his decision."