I took off my hijab - and they didn't like it

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

"God will punish you if you do not wear a headscarf."

That was just one of many reactions received by Turkish-Dutch woman Semra Çelebi after doing an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide, in which she explained why she stopped wearing her headscarf. Her Facebook page 'I took off my Hijab' also led to a huge response.

The idea behind her Facebook page was to start a discussion about whether or not Muslim women should wear headscarves. Reactions came from as far away as Indonesia, England, Malaysia and the United States. There was a huge response - and most responses were negative.

"They have called me a disbeliever and Satan who will burn in hell, because I took off my headscarf. I also received patronising texts from the Qur’ an. There were Muslims who urged me to start wearing my headscarf again. There was no room for an open discussion. I have to block people from my Facebook page every day."

A difficult decision
Semra says the fact that her facebook page currently has over 300 members from all over the world shows that the headscarf discussion is very much alive in the Muslim community. She describes one reaction from an American woman who had converted to Islam and was wondering whether she should wear a headscarf. 

"She was really struggling with it. Her family didn’t want her to start wearing a headscarf. It’s a difficult thing. I told her about my own experience here in the Netherlands. But I cannot decide for someone else whether or not she should wear a headscarf. That is up to the individual."

Semra Çelebi wore a headscarf from the age of ten. In her traditional Turkish family, her father felt it was important she cover her head. But once Semra started studying, wearing a hijab became less important to her. After reading various books on the subject, she decided to stop wearing it.

An individual decision
Semra started her Facebook page 'I took off my Hijab' hoping it would give support to other women in the same position. But she is clear that the page is not meant to urge other Muslim women to follow her example. Semra believes women should make their own decision, but says it is not easy.

"Months before I stopped wearing my hijab, I dreamt about how my parents would react and how the community would react. In the end, my parents did not react that badly. But you are scared of hurting them. That caused a lot of stress and pressure."

In spite of the fierce criticism from abroad Semra Çelebi still keeps up the Facebook page as a platform where people can openly discuss whether or not to wear a headscarf.