Turkish-German Woman Bares All for Playboy
While I was living in Sydney, Australia last year, a very interesting topic almost continuously dominated public discourse—the right of women to wear the burqa. As is the case in many Western countries, Australians greatly value individual rights and freedoms, and this led to an interesting split in opinions.
There were those who believed that like all people, Muslim women have the right to wear whatever they wish, and if their wish is to wear the burqa, then everyone has to respect that. The other camp vehemently opposed the burqa, believing it to be a symbol of female oppression.
I always found it highly ironic when these detractors call the burqa anti-feminist. In Islam, women are enjoined to obscure our beauty and our bodies from strangers. This prevents women from being objectified and sold as commodities, a truly anti-feminist phenomenon. By protecting their modesty, women become valued for more that their physical form, a goal feminists have been trying to achieve for years.[pullquote_right]By protecting their modesty, women become valued for more that their physical form, a goal feminists have been trying to achieve for years.[/pullquote_right]
A few weeks ago, the media reported on the controversy caused by a Turkish-German actress disrobing for a photoshoot in German Playboy magazine.
“For me, these pictures are an act of liberation from the cultural constraints of my childhood,” the woman in question, Sila Sahin, was quoted as saying.
I feel this is a huge step backwards for Muslim minorities everywhere who are facing the onslaught of Islamophobia. By making such a public denouncement of Islamic practices, the hatemongers’ argument that Muslims are rigid and refuse to “integrate” is given validation. It conveys the false impression that aurah is a choice for us rather than an obligation.
Sure enough, one writer argued that:
“The appearance of Turkish-German actress Sila Sahin’s attractive, naked body in the May issue of Playboy magazine shows how young women with immigrant backgrounds can rid themselves of religious and cultural constraints, without needing to cite statistics or elaborate arguments provided by integration experts.”
Germany, like many European countries, is struggling to deal with its suddenly-significant Muslim population, many of whom are immigrants of African, Middle Eastern or South-Asian origins. The Swiss just last year banned the building of minarets, a symbolic gesture belying the majority’s sentiments towards the growing presence of Muslims in the country. France recently banned the burqa, another symbolic law against a very visible, recognisable representation of Islam that would affect about 200 or so Muslim women out of the country’s population of 65.8 million.
Unsurprisingly, Islamophobia stems mainly from ignorance. Right-wing politicians in Europe often garner support for anti-immigrant or anti-Islam policies by arguing that Islamic values are diametrically opposite to European values of gender equality, liberty and laïcité, or the strict relegation of religion to a citizen’s private life. They cite the permissability of polygamy, the “wearing” of one’s religion publicly, so to speak, and the terrorism perpetrated by West-hating extremists as reasons why Muslims don’t belong in Europe. These fear-mongering tactics are extremely effective in influencing those who know little about Islam.
To be fair, I have, in my travels, noticed that many Muslim immigrants do seem alienated from their adopted societies. There can be many reasons for this, ranging from wilful resistance towards integration to plain ignorance and the failure to see the importance of integration.
Having been a transient resident of Australia I was able to understand these mindsets. The Australians are fun-loving people who bond over booze, barbeques and beach-going—the first a haraam indulgence, the second bringing up inconvenient logistical issues about halal meat and the separation of food preparation areas and utensils, and the third: imagine the awkwardness of being the only one under the Sun covering up more than what is deemed appropriate by Western standards. It just seems easier to cloister one’s self within a familiar, understanding community of fellow Muslims.
[pullquote_left]Those who, like Sila Sahin, succumb to such pressures and temptations make it harder for the rest of us to explain the steadfastness of our beliefs and the immutability of our obligations to the non-Muslims who question us about it.[/pullquote_left]
But I think that immigrants should integrate, should make an effort to promote mutual understanding and respect between the society and culture they have come from, and the society and culture they have chosen to enter. Integration does not entail removing our hijab, or consuming and indulging in that which is not permissible to us. In fact, those who, like Sila Sahin, succumb to such pressures and temptations make it harder for the rest of us to explain the steadfastness of our beliefs and the immutability of our obligations to the non-Muslims who question us about it.
Integration simply means being a part of the society at large, instead of alienating one’s self from it. Our Muslim beliefs are able to coexist peacefully with Western values, but as the “intruders”, the onus falls on immigrant Muslims to make this possible. Taking the easy way out either by not compromising at all, or by compromising completely, as demonstrated by Sila Sahin, is lazy and will continue to provide fodder for Islamophobia.
Shahirah is an aspiring journalist who is interested in social issues, women’s rights, the Middle East conflict, and Islam in the Western world. She is also interested in languages and is currently studying the Arabic language.