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Thursday 18 December  
Semra before and after
Klaas den Tek's picture
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands

I stopped wearing my headscarf

Published on : 24 November 2010 - 3:32pm | By Klaas den Tek (photo: RNW)
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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."

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.

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."

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."


Facts4real 8 April 2013 - 8:13pm

Fact a hijab or khimār is only to be worn by the truly devoted. It is a suggestion not a law.

Joths 18 April 2012 - 1:31pm / Australia

Wow and you are still alive.try that in a muslim dominated country and you will be gang raped.

Anonymous 14 April 2014 - 6:47pm / uk

Such bullshit. Not all women in "Muslim" countries wear headscarves...
What about the Christians and atheists who live in those countries and the muslims who don't wear headscarves?
Have you even ever been to a so-called Muslim country?
I know Saudi Arabia as the only country where men and women have to be covered.
And why would they be 'gang raped'?? In most muslim countries you'd get disapproving looks at the most.
Your ignorance is astounding.

Pavaneguy 22 May 2011 - 2:18pm / Canada

Semra looks very attractive, both with or without her scarf. I have no problem with any which way. I only have a problem with face coverings, which is tribal and male domination custom and that doesn't belong in our western societies.

user avatar
knirb 15 February 2011 - 1:48am

No one is bothered when the Queen of England wears a headscarf while horseback riding, or Gambian and Indian women wear them to complement colourful traditional fabrics.
In all too many Islamic countries the headscarf and other dress is imposed and many women wear them for fear of being bullied or brutalized. It is not just a fashion statement or matter of practicality.
No matter how nice or well intended individual Muslims may be, the headscarf is often fairly perceived to be a statement of identity with an invasive movement that is at odds with the rest of the world. To many, it has become as odious a symbol as a swastika (as are minarets, burquas and other symbols of Islam). This is one reason why there is an increasingly negative reaction to it around the world when worn by Muslims.
This article glosses over much of the politics of headscarves. Here is some further relevant reading on the subject:

Anonymous 8 December 2010 - 7:27pm

I can't have a problem with people expressing their identity through their clothing, for natural (worldly) or for supernatural (religious) reasons. I do favor a ban on all face masking clothing as it doesn't have a place in the public sphere of free societies where people should be able to recognize one another and no worldly or religious argument should counter that.
Some religions stipulate precise clothing rules for people, but hey...there are also 'clothing rules' for free Western people. These 'clothing rules' are made by worldly 'fashion designers, film makers, advertisers, companies, peer pressure etc.
Personally I favor the worldy 'clothing pressure' above the religious 'clothing pressure' because in the first case we can change it, as we know it's done by humans and in the religious case we supposedly can't change it because it is brought upon us by an 'omniscient God' who is always right...yeah right!

Anonymous 1 December 2010 - 3:41am

That's because of the headscarf ban in Turkey.

JW 25 November 2010 - 8:49pm / NL

Agreed again. Women should be relatively free to dress as they please. Neither religious nor political leaders should disparage them for the choices they make. Though some may be coerced, which is clearly wrong, others may feel more at ease in the clothing their mothers wear.
I'm happy that you agree with me that we shouldn't express intolerance to those who would choose a different mode of dress. Best regards.

Anonymous 24 November 2010 - 9:46pm / belg

u r one of a brave heart, 21 centuries modern muslim woman,

at least you brought changes to your self. if you can't chage a socity, atlest change your self that is a big example. be proud that you are free moslim.

SandraV 24 November 2010 - 8:33pm / Nederlands

I admire this young womans courage though I worry about her safety from hostile fanatics that are against her making her own choices.

Yijiang Wang 17 June 2011 - 4:53pm / Xi'an China/Toronto Canada

Comparing above two photos, I totally prefer headscarf. She appears less and lost without it. But of course her face isn't covered and good-looking, if black burka covering face then I need time and effort to obtain values from her.

Ozzixx 25 November 2010 - 12:25pm / Netherlands

Don't worry,
there are lots of women İ know
in turkey who decided not to use headscarf anymore, and they are all fine.

Anonymous 1 December 2010 - 3:49am

That's because of the headscarf ban in Turkey.

Anonymous 21 April 2011 - 7:50pm / Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey revoked the headscarf ban-you can one one wherever you want. Look it up folks!

anonymous 22 April 2011 - 8:27am

Now only fundamentalist nut jobs will be wearing it, unless Islamists get the upper hand and impose it on everyone.

JW 24 November 2010 - 5:22pm / NL

This courageous and independant young woman illustrates an important point. What a person wears on their head should be a matter of personal choice. We should all be free to choose.
Legislators, religious leaders, parents, bike helmet advocates, take note!

Yijiang Wang 17 June 2011 - 4:28pm / Xi'an China/Toronto Canada

Legislators, religious leaders, and parents should dare let their identities appear as frequently as ordinary civilians. This way will trigger natural learning, not teaching.

Hiram2 24 November 2010 - 6:43pm

JW, forcing women to wearing headscarves is not the same as forcing children to wear helmets for safety reasons. Children do not make wise decisions about safety while riding their bikes and the public trys to protect them from head injuries by making laws to protect them; as to forcing women to wear headscarves is not for safety reasons. Your logic is weak my friend. P.S. The Muslim woman made a wise decision but she still is not free from the yoke placed on women.

JW 25 November 2010 - 9:04am / NL

The helmet dig was just for fun. I schooled you as much as necessary in the helmet comment thread.
But that is not the point of this thread. As I said before, I advocate freedom of choice. I do not think women should be subjugated or forced to wear a certain type of clothing. But nor should they be discriminated against if they choose to wear a headscarf. The punitive tax Wilders proposes is just that sort of discrimination. In the same manner as someone who would enforce headscarf wearing, Wilders would strip away freedom. If you are a proponent of free expression, you should agree with this.

Hiram2 25 November 2010 - 3:32pm

JW, if you go back and review the articles where Wilders wanted to tax head headscarves, you will see I did not support taxation of those who wear headscarves. I don't believe the purpose of life is to support the "state"with continous taxes. It is just not Wilders who would strip away freedoms. I am a "proponent" of free speech.

JW 25 November 2010 - 4:32pm / NL

Agreed, then, on rejecting headscarf taxation. Cheers.
As a proponent of free speech, are you also a proponent of freedom of dress? If a free woman wishes to cover her hair, do you support that too?

Hiram2 25 November 2010 - 5:31pm

"As a proponent of free speech, are you also a proponent of freedom of dress?"....First a question to you JW. Should a woman be forced to wear a jahib? I don't think a women should not be forced to do anything she doesn't want to do. If Muslim woman believes she has a right to express herself by not wearing a jihab, she has a personal right to do it; but, should she do it in a Muslim community, she will suffer the consquences for expressing her belief. I believe a person has a right to express himself but I also believe the person needs to be able to accept the consquences. The woman in this article has a right to wear or not wear a headscarf but in her culture it is frowned upon and could cost her life. As to your question: A person has a right to express himself by walking down the street in his birthday suit! I would stand-up for the Muslim women. As to the naked person, I would give him my shirt because I believe the government took it away for failure to pay Wilders taxes on clothing.

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