When Turkey was founded in 1923 it was on firm secular principles. Turkish women were restricted in wearing the headscarf – known as the hijab outside Turkey – in all public sector jobs and universities for most of the 20th century.
During the current AKP party government, a young, confident, female, Muslim middle class has emerged. That is less worried about being socially accepted and more comfortable sharing public spaces with secularists.
Hulya Aslan is the editor of Ala, a monthly fashion magazine in Istanbul. That serves a growing Turkish market of Muslim women who think that fashion and Islam are compatible – “conservative” women. Those who want to wear the hijab but also want to dress fashionably, with color and style.
“Covering” in Turkey once meant long, cover-all tunics called “pardessus”. But now that clothes designers have started to cater much more to Muslim women. Those who want to dress modestly, it can mean colors, glossy fashion magazines, and high street hijabi fashion stores.
Hijab in Turkey:
In the ’90s, covering meant pardessus and a black burqa. That pardessus was very ugly. They were seen as similar to wearing a black burqa. Most women didn’t want to cover. Because they wanted to be fashionable,” says Taha Yasin Toraman. The co-founder of online hijabi fashion outlet E-Tesettur.
But not all agree with the new, arguably commercial look. Busra Bulut, a student and journalist who writes for the conservative Turkish news magazine Haksoz strongly opposes it. She feels there is a tension between her faith and the consumerism represented by Ala and the fashion industry.
“They claim to create alternatives for covered women. Whether it’s a magazine or other platforms. But the fact that there are hundreds of brands doesn’t mean I can wear them or that they’re Islamic…. Why should a woman need to use dress to show herself off? Or to exist? It’s a key question. Why does she need to create her identity through dressing up? Why is this a priority?” says Bulut.
This film follows Hulya Aslan at Ala and looks at hijabi fashion, social change in Turkey. And the ongoing debate about a Muslim woman’s right to choose how she dresses.
First, being against the hijab is not the same as being against someone wearing it. Many secular Turks resent the hijab itself and the obligation to wear it. They believe that the obligation to wear a hijab is an archaic rule. And it reiterates a patriarchal, male-dominated world view.
But that does not mean all secular Turks resent the people who wear it. Some older generation Republicans direct their resentment. Towards the hijab onto the women who wear it. However, the majority of the younger generations respect. And defend their devout citizens’ right to wear it.
The Women Perspective:
Second, being against the hijab is different from being against someone advocating it. I think almost all secular Turks will resent when someone says “Women should wear hijab.” And it’s worse when guys say this. Then, not just secularists, but also many Muslim women will say that the guys should mind their own business.
Third, being against the hijab doesn’t mean a blanket opposition to it. Someone might be against wearing a hijab if it is because of this-and-this reason. While being supportive of it when it is because of that-and-that reason.
For example, I have no problem when the person is freely choosing to wear it for religious reasons and can stop wearing it whenever she wants. But that’s not because I’m secular. That’s because of my understanding of freedom: If nobody is interfering with your decision, and you hold your freedom to revert your decision, then you made your decision freely.
The problem is that many, including me, doubt that conservative women have this kind of freedom. So our skepticism towards the hijab isn’t actually due to our secularist sentiments. It’s because we believe conservative women are not really free. When a Muslim woman says she chose to wear a hijab freely, the first thing we ask ourselves, “Is that really so?”
But deep inside, I know that I am being cynical. Personally, when a woman tells me that she chose to wear a hijab. I should accept that statement. She says she chose to wear it and. By doubting her statement, I am effectively calling her a quasi-liar without evidence.
The new rules of Turkey about Hijab:
The new rules, which don’t apply to workers in the military or judiciary, come into effect immediately and were put into place to address concerns. The restrictions on the hijab were discouraging women from conservative backgrounds from seeking government jobs or higher education.
“A dark time eventually comes to an end,”. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech to the parliament. “Headscarf-wearing women are full members of the republic. As well as those who do not wear it.”
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