Interview with a representative of the Ahmadiyya community
The headscarf belongs to Germany, says Tayba Ahmad from Kassel from the Muslim Ahmadiyya community. But there are still many prejudices.
Kassel – Recently the Council of Europe, Europe’s human rights organization, withdrew a campaign for diversity and against discrimination against women wearing headscarves after protests. Criticism of this decision comes from the women’s organization of the Ahmadiyya community also from Kassel. According to the Muslim women’s group, the campaign could have set an example for religious diversity and tolerance. Instead, the withdrawal promotes public opinion against women wearing headscarves.about:blankhttps://acdn.adnxs.com/dmp/async_usersync.html
We spoke to Tayba Ahmad from the Kassel Ahmadiyya congregation.Ms. Ahmad, why are you wearing a headscarf?On the one hand, because it is a command of God that women should cover themselves so that they can be recognized and not molested. With the headscarf, I also reveal myself as a Muslim and show that I am a believer. I’ve been wearing the headscarf since I was 18. As a young woman, I also experienced how the environment reacts to me without a headscarf. I can say it makes a difference – and not just for men. In general, when I’m wearing a headscarf, a person is more likely to look me in the face and notice what I’m saying instead of being distracted by external appearances.
The headscarf should not only cover the hair, but also the chest area of the woman. These are charms that the man does not have. In the Holy Qur’an it is first and foremost that men should cast their gaze to the ground across from a woman. What is meant is that they should look at the woman with respect. In Islam, extramarital relationships are not permitted. The headscarf creates a border and signals to men: I practice this.
But aren’t we civilized and enlightened enough in the 21st century to sort it out without a headscarf?
Sure, you could. But today it is unfortunately often the case that women are presented very freely, especially in the media, in order to attract attention through their physical stimuli. So that I am not reduced to my appearance, but rather emphasize my inner values, I wear a headscarf – just to make it clear that I am adhering to the teachings of Islam.
What reactions do you experience as a headscarf wearer in everyday life?Personally, I have not yet experienced any direct negative reactions. But it also depends on how you behave towards others. If someone walks towards me on the street with a suspicious look or sits across from me on the tram, I smile and say hello. The funny look then usually disappears. But I also know many Muslim women who are hostile or rejected from the start because of their headscarves – also in the professional world. There are many Muslim women in our Ahmadiyya community who study, among other things for teaching. They are concerned that they will not be allowed to wear a headscarf later as civil servants. From my point of view, this is discrimination against Muslim women.
What experiences have you had in the professional world yourself?
After graduating from high school, I trained in a law firm in Bavaria. I was hired without my headscarf being discussed, but later my supervisor asked me if it had to be. We wouldn’t live in the Orient, but in Europe, he said. I suspect that clients had asked him about my headscarf in the meantime. I then received warnings for the smallest errors. So I was encouraged to finish the training with very good grades. Also because it was clear to me that when looking for a job as a headscarf wearer, I had to convince more than others through my performance.
How did the job search go then?It lasted for several months. Maybe it was because I had a photo with a headscarf on the cover of my application. When I finally received an offer, I initially felt a certain reluctance during the interview. But when the bosses noticed that I spoke Bavarian, they immediately decided in favor of me (laughs). With the argument that performance matters.
You criticize the withdrawal of the Council of Europe campaign with pro-headscarf contributions. Why would it have been important?
To show that the headscarf belongs to Europe and Germany. Just like Muslims belong to Germany. Women wearing headscarves are no longer restricted to Islamic countries. For example, I was born and raised in Germany. This is my home. In Germany, freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution. That is a great good. Then why am I not allowed to show my religion? The campaign would have been helpful in making the headscarf socially acceptable.
In many Muslim countries, strict dress codes are associated with restrictions on women’s rights. In the western world, the headscarf is therefore often seen as a symbol of the oppression of women. Can you understand that?
Definitely. Unfortunately, the headscarf and Islam are politically abused in some countries. This is how misunderstandings arise. That is why we also see it as our task to seek clarification. The true teaching of Islam says that women are equal to men and must be treated well. Islam generally grants women many rights that women in the western world were only granted in the last century. For example inheritance and divorce law and the right to education.
In Islam, however, there are definitely different rights for the sexes. The man can marry several women, for example. Can we speak of equality?
Equality does not mean that men and women are exactly the same. They are not, they were obviously created differently by God. That is why men and women have different needs. An important point is that women bear the children. This results in various rights and obligations. For example, the man has the task of providing for the family with his earnings. The woman is also allowed to go to work, but she is free to do what she does with her income. That is even an advantage for women.
Isn’t that exactly where inequality begins? Because then the woman often stays at home and is not financially independent?
There are no restrictions on female employment. On the contrary, in Islam it is the duty of men and women to acquire an education. But the fact is that the baby usually has a special relationship with the mother and the woman therefore stays at home for the time being. That’s how many families do it here in Germany. You have to distinguish between culture and religion. Not only in the Islamic world are there cultures that have a traditional family image. Personally, I see myself as a Muslim German. For me, only belief is in the foreground, not culture. I will definitely go back to work when our son is a little bigger. Incidentally, according to Islam, the man also brings up the children.
What would happen if you stopped wearing a headscarf?
The headscarf is a matter of faith and a matter solely between the woman who wears it and God. Nobody has the right to force the headscarf on someone, not even the husband. In our community it is mostly younger women who do not wear a headscarf. We look for a conversation to clarify whether there is perhaps a fear of discrimination and try to encourage them. For me, my mother kept talking to me about the headscarf. But the decision was mine. I am also free to take off the headscarf again – which I can hardly imagine.
How would you feel without a headscarf?
I couldn’t imagine going out without a headscarf. That would be a feeling of nudity. As if part of my identity is missing. The headscarf is the most important item of clothing for me when I go out in public.
What do you think of a full veil?
I don’t think much of a veil where you can’t even see your eyes. Islam does not prescribe that. I would like to know who I am dealing with and be able to recognize the person. The woman disappears under a full veil. (Katja Rudolph
Tayba Ahmad (31) was born and raised in the Rottal-Inn district in Bavaria. Her parents are from Pakistan. She has lived in Kassel with her husband since 2019. This year their son was born. Tayba Ahmad works as a paralegal assistant and is currently on parental leave. She is a member of the Ahmadiyya community in Kassel. There she is responsible for interreligious dialogue in the women’s organization “Lajna Imaillah”.
Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat (AMJ) is a religious community founded in India in 1889. It sees itself as a reform movement of Islam and sees its founder Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a messiah. Many other Muslims reject the Ahmadiyya teaching. This is why their followers are even persecuted in some countries. In Germany there are 225 Ahmadiyya congregations with around 40,000 members. The Kassel community with mosque in Niederzwehren has around 430 members.