Before typing these words about living as a Muslim woman in Europe, I had to consider many ways how to express myself in a short essay, but I have come to realize that a few words will not do justice to that goal. However, I will try my best to hint at the topic on a subjective basis while considering the collective experiences of Muslim women who live in Austria.
Being born in Austria in a small town called Kufstein, raised with the Turkish culture as well as with the Austrian one by spending most of my childhood in kindergarten and speaking German which quickly became my mother tongue, was nothing interesting or special to me as a kid. Why would you consider it as something special anyway? Well, because you have the privilege to be raised bilingually, right? But this was not the case for a Turkish child, because my Turkish roots were not regarded as considerably special as someone else’s who was raised bilingually with the languages German and Spanish, or German and English. The reason behind this regard of worthlessness was never understandable to me, and I would never question it anyway – but in reality, I was feeling and carrying it deep inside.
My teachers in high school would always question my belief in a humiliating way on every occasion when they would see a wrong representation of Muslims on the news. They would expect a child to condemn an act they did not do or distance themselves from a specific occasion they were not part of. They would expect them to fight back while knowing they would not win anyway. So their goal was just to humiliate you and your religion. In return, I developed a defensive approach to social gatherings, socializing with friends, or just talking to my teachers because I would expect them to try to talk down to me. My defense mechanism taught me to educate myself on matters where I was expected to defend a global religion like an expert – as a child. Clearly, the problem here was not the education itself, but the traumatic cause which leads a child towards that. Any other cause for that specific education wouldn’t lead to such a soreness at that age.
The lack of acceptance of ethnic roots, religious beliefs, and living according to both of these harmonically was the main problem for the West. This encounter is re-experienced by many others who are ethnically diverse and choose to believe in another religion. The West may claim as much as it wants that their culture consists of richness in diversity – my experience together with many others clearly prove how white privilege could still not be defeated for countless years.
The feeling of being less worthy than the majority, wearing the headscarf while all the others did not, and preparing oneself psychologically for any kind of encounter every day before going out from home, were experiences that were much easier for me to bare after I found my own Muslim youth community when I moved to Vienna. A group of people who faced the same problems every day, gave me a sense of belonging for the first time. My first days in Vienna were moments of realization that I was a human being and am as worthy as any other human, together with my headscarf, my appearance, my successes (and failures), my opinions, and feelings – regardless of gender, religion, or ethnicity. To this day, I am grateful to God who has shown me what it’s about to love and to be loved, to care and to be cared about…
Being a Muslim woman with a headscarf is still a matter that is not simple as it seems. Being a Muslim man is different from the experiences a woman has since she is most visibly apparent with either her headscarf or the way she dresses. Thus, it is expectable to be encountered prejudices in such a society. People, before they talk to a Muslim woman assume that she cannot speak German, or is even illiterate, or even stupid (!), or was forced to wear that thing she wears on her head. You might consider that prejudices are legitimate, however, society has lived with diverse communities for over half a decade now. Breaking these prejudices after at least 50 years of coexisting in a supposedly tolerant community, is nothing but taking away energy and time. It is completely abnormal to think that prejudices are the reason why Muslim women have to suffer from psychological burdens. Undoubtedly, we live in a globalized world, where mostly everyone (especially in the West!) has access to social media, the internet, or similar research tools where simple information is available!
Another encounter Muslim women have to face is the idea that they have to be freed from the headscarf, which is an idea that is defended by feministic groups as well as countless politicians. However, they cannot accept that a Muslim woman – with her own choice and freedom – chose to wear that which she wants. Thus, these people, while talking about freeing her from the scarf are in fact forcing her to become what THEY want, and not allowing her to simply be herself and wear a piece of cloth on her head.
Describing these concepts of discrimination and assimilation might make an impression that the life of a Muslim woman in the West is unbearable and impossible, while most people would principally think about the advantage of economic prosperity. In reality, the encounters happen occasionally, not constantly, though: they leave a big burden on someone’s heart and mind, which then only becomes a barrier to achieving self-growth, success or any positive achievement since these everyday problems only become time-absorbing preoccupations.
Nevertheless, Muslim women of diverse communities and different ethnicities including myself, gather and fight collectively against the misconceptions, aiming to become a better society that values and takes advantage of their minorities, accepts them, and loves them instead of degrading them unfairly.