The issue is not being freer, the freest, very free or not; it’s about the most basic activities being banned.

I’m 19 years old; I was 14 when I started wearing a headscarf and 7 when I was told I should do my prayers. I remember my first prayers clearly. The eagerly performed prayers with my sister and the happiness when our mother gifted us our first prayer rugs… Performing prayer was amazing. I got a beautiful doll as a gift after my first prayer. Seeing my family proud each time I did my prayers was very motivational.

But still, I was only a 7-year-old kid. I could be busy playing games and forget about the prayer. I could skip my prayers during the short lunch breaks, where I could barely finish my lunch. But no, my family didn’t think that way. If I started doing my prayers, I mustn’t stop. Because a person who had stopped doing their prayers was even lower than a pig for a Muslim. Back then, with the influence of my grandmother living with us, the pressure about religion was harsher. Years later, she passed away.

After a few years, with the start of high school, it was time for me to cover my hair. Our religious education was in total control of our parents now. My father is a university graduate who has read and researched a lot. During his university years, he followed teachings against Islam and couldn’t accept society’s fanatical understanding of religion. But eventually, maybe because of the social pressure or other issues that made him too tired to think, he has accepted, internalized, and became a defender of it. My mother is more of a traditional type whose knowledge about religion is based on her parents and my father. She is a person who is scared to death of what others would think, and being excluded and ashamed. Naturally, in such circumstances, high school is sort of a cornerstone to start wearing a headscarf. When I was 14, I already knew that I’ll have to be covered because my sister started wearing one a year ago; and my cousins started at 12, 13, and 15. In short, everyone in the family wears a headscarf.

In such an environment, one decides to cover her hair knowingly.

It wasn’t hard for me because it meant adding only the headscarf. I already abandoned short sleeves, capris, V-necks, and shorts a long time ago. Because as a girl, if your breasts have grown, or your lower back shows just a bit when you bend down, you have to be careful about what you wear.

On a hot summer’s day, in the company of all my uncles and aunts, I was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt with a cardigan; somehow, my bra strap managed to show, and I was shocked by the voice of my father yelling. I wasn’t offended by the idea of wearing those clothes in summer, but my father’s speeches about “how improper my clothes were” still goes to my nerves. As you see, I covered my hair not only because of my family but also with my consent. But I could never say that I did it of my own will. One way or another, I started wearing a headscarf. As an insecure teenage girl who thought herself ugly, it was for my benefit to cover as many parts of my body as possible anyway.

In the first year of high school, it was still forbidden to wear a headscarf in government buildings; we were wearing a veil on the way to school but removed it there. Which means you were wearing it for a male classmate who had already seen your hair 1 hour ago. Maybe, this being nonsense had occurred to me back then.

My relationship with the prayers was shaky, too. I can’t remember how many times I fought with my mother over this subject. I can’t forget that my mother realized I was lying when I said I did my prayers and cursed me. Despite all these, one day, I decided to do my prayers regularly because I was thrilled by a saying: “A Muslim who does not perform the prayers should be killed.” It was told by my older uncle’s wife, and she was knowledgeable about religion and trusted in the family. I couldn’t pull myself together after I heard that during a conversation, and without questioning its correctness, I started doing my prayers regularly. Otherwise, I would be a person so low that she doesn’t even deserve to live. It continued like this. Those became my own opinions too; I got more and more radicalized but still didn’t prefer skirts over pants or overcoats over tunics. My actions and thoughts contradicted each other. I kept going on like that for a while after I started university. After reading about different opinions and meeting different people, my loose bonds with religion got even weaker.

I was living in a dorm 2 hours away from school and studying in a challenging department. It became impossible to do prayers when I couldn’t even find the chance to sleep, so I quit. I didn’t have a bad feeling suggesting bad things could happen if I didn’t perform prayers. I was living my life naturally, just like others who didn’t do their prayers. But still, I had to do them at noon because I was at school. In a group of religious friends, the only valid reason to skip as a headscarved person was being on period.

I wasn’t brave enough to say that I wasn’t doing my prayers. If I had told them, would they stone me to death? No. But it would sound like nonsense to them as it sounded to me. Because, while I was obeying a secondary command such as wearing a headscarf, not following an essential command is irrational. But they didn’t know that covering my hair meant nothing to me anymore. My head was covered, but I was wearing tight pants with my ankles visible; my shirts were not long enough, and I was wearing more makeup than my friends who didn’t wear a headscarf. But if you asked, I was covered. What’s this, if not hypocrisy?

Also, it’s not the only problem; my problem is not about dressing decently. I’ve never had a dream of wearing a mini skirt because I’ve never liked my legs, nor have I imagined wearing a t-shirt because I would be too lazy to remove my arm hair.

But why would I have to wear long and dark-colored clothes and two layers of head cover on a summer’s day? Why do I have to wear that ridiculous thing called burkini, which prevents the water from touching my skin when swimming? I’ve always wanted to ride a cycle, but I’ve never had one; I wonder if I would look silly if I tried to learn it now. Besides, if I started exercising, how would I find a tracksuit for hijabis? Also, those clothes are always more expensive than normal ones. Let’s assume that I found one; my religion doesn’t allow me to exercise in front of men, so I’d sign up to a women-only gym. I’d have to do it in restricting clothes that make you sweat a lot.

In short, the issue is not being freer, the freest, very free or not; it’s about the most basic activities being banned.

Well, what are all these for? I’m not wearing the headscarf properly anyway. But the real issue starts right here; you, as an individual, had thought all of it and decided what makes sense and what doesn’t. That moment, you think about your family. I’ve never talked about this issue, not even jokingly. I’m sure their response would be bad, but I’m not sure how bad it would be. If I moved abroad in the future, I know that I’d uncover my hair. But at 19, maybe the best years of my life, why would I restrict myself to that extent? I love my family very much. Because of what I’ve written, you could’ve thought they are monstrous, fanatical people. But I don’t know how I could live my life in line with my decisions and still not disrupt my family’s happiness.

Nowadays, I’m always thinking about these. I’ve already made my decision; I can already feel something is breaking off of me, but I’ve never made a decision against my family’s will and that much radical. For now, I live wearing a headscarf and doing prayers only around family or friends, as a hypocrite. But I’m sure about something; I’m not who I used to be anymore.

(Image: Serpil Odabaşı)

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