I would dress up for school, and I was so happy to be free there.

My story is a bit complicated. I think I’ve been wronged and I’m thankful about it. Because even if it took years away from me and stole the good things I might have lived, there are some good things I learned as well. There were times when I was nervous and reactive, but as time passes, humans reconcile with their past.

When I was still in the 5th grade summer holiday, I met a study centre referred by my uncle. I took the exam, won a scholarship, but I was one of the last ones; even a backup. We were supposed to prepare for the high school entrance exam. Although my father highly valued our education, he couldn’t afford to send me to a study centre. So, this was my only choice. But it was an extremely religious institution. The classes of children were divided into girls and boys, starting from a really young age. We had religious programs to attend every week. Students with scholarships who did not participate in these programs could lose them.

As I passed the grades, I realized that their demands were also increasing. Previously, once-a-week religious conversations happening just upstairs turned into a two-week compulsory camp during summer holidays. At the end of the sixth grade, I got a high ranking in the exam. I’ve always wanted to be successful. So, I felt more obliged to stay there. I joined their religious camp that summer. It was happening where we studied. They asked us to come with a headscarf. We were reading the Quran and praying; so anyhow, we were already required to wear a scarf. I thought, what was the difference if I also wore it outside of the camp? So, that’s how I started coming to the course. Then, it was over. I went to the study centre as usual on the day it started again, but without a headscarf, and my teacher said, “Did you take it off immediately?” I looked around, and everyone from the camp had worn theirs on that day. I was so embarrassed.

The next day I went to the course with a headscarf. I’d come home after school, wear it and go to the study centre. I couldn’t tell anyone at home because I couldn’t get in touch with them, and they were not the right people to help me out. Seeing a friend who started wearing a headscarf during summer vacation, my father said something like “She looks better than you, you should take her as a role model.” I mean, I wasn’t bothered by wearing it then because my world consisted of my classes and family.

Then, I began a good high school. There were 250 people in my school at the time, but only the three of us were wearing a headscarf. I felt so lonely and mixed-up.

We would come to school, take off our headscarves in the toilet, and then we would wear them again when leaving school. One of my classmates was making fun of me for being neglected and wearing a headscarf. I talked to a teacher about it, and we took care of it. I would dress up for school. I was so happy to be free there.

Then when we were in the 11th grade, the headscarf was allowed to wear in schools. On the first day, we headed to school without one. Then when we found out about the new rule, we wore it in the toilet. I felt so helpless and disgraceful. What was the point of all of this? Was just some hair so important?

Covered or uncovered, who’s to say anything? But I couldn’t share this thought with anyone. My high school years have passed. I got placed in a great department at the university and was hanging out with a group of friends. Most of them were wearing a headscarf and doing their prayers. I wasn’t. Even my friends who did not wear it were doing their prayers. Everyone was asking me why. Why why why… Of course, I couldn’t tell them anything that even I couldn’t confess to myself. My faith in Allah was weakened.

Then, I began doing research and questioning. I was fasting in Ramadan without doing my prayers. Suddenly, I said to myself, “I’m tired of this fake Muslimhood. Either I become a true Muslim, or I put an end to this game.” I read Quran interpretations, listened to talks of religious scholars from different backgrounds. It certainly wasn’t for me. A religion telling women to cover their hair when outside, giving men the freedom to beat their wives if necessary, condemning innocent people of the same sex who loved each other, but on the other hand, allowing men to marry more than one woman, and punishing sexuality with a whip was very irrational for me. I believe in the Creator, but I think religions are entirely fabricated. So, I took off the headscarf last year. My family was shocked because I was playing well before. My mother cried the first day or two, though I didn’t see a reaction from my father. I found his response very human. Because people often want to convince and be on the same page even with the people they don’t know. Let alone I’m his daughter.

After the first week, everything settled down. Then I remembered the days when I was afraid about even thinking these. I had worn myself out so much. Despite being transparent and confident would solve everything, I kept lingering in limbo. I betrayed myself by fearing what would happen and thinking about what everyone would say. I realized that I owed it to myself. The first day I went out uncovered, I said this is the real me. Just me. Ladies, whether you want to wear a headscarf or not, do not postpone this for anyone, do not try to deceive yourself, do not silence your inner voice. Be yourself, don’t hesitate. I told you my story. I hope this inspires someone, even if it’s just one person.

(Image: Heikala)

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