Headscarf ceremonies for Muslim girls in Istanbul

Headscarf ceremonies for Muslim girls in Istanbul

BELGİN AKALTAN - belgin.akaltan@hdn.com.tr
Headscarf ceremonies for Muslim girls in Istanbul It is like the Muslim version of the Jewish coming of age ritual for girls, the Bat Mitzvah. I would not have known about it if columnist Fatma Barbarasoğlu had not written about it. I am quoting from her column dated Oct. 24, 2014, from daily Yeni Şafak. This is very new information for all of us, as I and my colleagues in the office had never heard of it before. Even the writer had not heard of it before. 

The news comes from a letter from a reader, who is a career woman. She wrote that headscarf-donning ceremonies were being held in large wedding halls for young girls in rich, conservative neighborhoods of Istanbul.

She wrote: “I live in a conservative, religious district of Istanbul.”

Beril, my editor, thought it was Fatih; I thought it was Üsküdar; Levent, our page designer, thought it must be Başakşehir. The letter went on, “A neighbor of mine I am very fond of told me that her daughter had decided to wear the headscarf, so there will be a ceremony for it.”

The reader said, “Because it was the first time I heard such a thing, I was surprised at first, then told her I was very happy. I wished for Allah’s blessings, but I asked her why she needed a ceremony for this…”

The neighbor was so excited; she did not listen to the ironic comments of the reader that thought it was an unnecessary expenditure. The neighbor said, “You know, we do not celebrate birthdays, because birthdays are Christian traditions. At least we should do such ceremonies for our children.” The inviting mother stressed that everybody was doing it; “Why should I not do it for my child?”

The reader thought she was going to a house but, no, a wedding hall was rented: “It was like a wedding party. A full meal was served to the guests, with several sweets, etc. The Quran was chanted, followed by a lady speaking about the verses in the Quran about covering oneself. She also talked about the importance of hijab.”

After a chat with the guests on the importance of the headscarf, the young girl set to don the headscarf for the first time walked to the stage accompanied by religious songs. Then the ceremony started. The first headscarf was put on the girl by the lecturer with chants of “Allahu Akbar.”

Yes, that means “Allah is great.” And yes, you have heard it recently several times in a much different context. 

“Then the guests started giving gifts to the newly covered young girl. I said it was just like a wedding. At the end, small gifts were given to guests as a memory from the day, like the candy we give at weddings... Muslims who oppose New Year’s ceremonies and birthday celebrations because they are Christian traditions come up with a new form of ceremony every day.”

The reader then complained about the luxury, the new cars and the new houses in her neighborhood: “The pious people here are all very similar to each other. They only think of a better car and a better house. They are keen on starting meals with salt because it is the Sunna, but they have never grasped the spirit, the soul of the Sunna.”

Columnist Fatma Barbarosoğlu guarded herself against criticisms, saying she might be asked why she is printing this letter now. What was the point? She wrote, “Well, we did not bring them up for years, well, what happened?”

She also pointed out that the daughters and grandchildren of certain radical Islamists are now organizing “baby showers.”

As a note, I have to say baby showers are quite a foreign concept for us here, learned from American films and TV shows, but are done in certain urban environments to a small extent.

Barbarosoğlu wrote: “There is no problem on the men’s front, indeed. They marry ultimate secular girls and are able to make themselves ‘invisible.’” 

Wow, wow, wow... Starting from this last sentence which has levels of protest, depth, tons of meaning, a hint of feminism, revolt, questioning, modern society-piousness contrast, gender inequality, the hypocrisy of forcing women into medieval clothes while men can go around in Armani suits…

Starting with the ceremony itself, my astonishment got bigger and bigger, and ended with the salt incident. My officemate Levent told me what it was. He had friends who started meals by whisking a pinch of salt into their mouths. 

My comment: I actually liked the idea of this ceremony, not that I agree with young girls being encouraged to put on headscarves. But in this extremely male-dominated, pious segment of the society, as well as the not-so-pious segment, when enormous ceremonies are being held for the removal of one’s foreskin; well, let the girls have their own time also. I like it. Is this some kind of creativity, some kind of a Turkish touch, a nuance to the traditions which otherwise represent very little fun and offer very little to the modern woman?