In quiet revolution, Turkey eases headscarf ban

October 18, 2010

turkey headscarfFreshman Busra Gungor won’t have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey’s Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf.

(Photo: Women demonstration for headscarves at theĀ  Constitutional Court in Ankara on October 23, 2008/Umit Bektas)

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country’s secular constitution.

“I was ready to wear the wig, just like my cousin did,” said Gungor, a 18-year-old student wearing a pastel-colored headscarf. “This is about my freedom. I don’t see why my headscarf should be seen as a threat to anybody.”

The debate is not unique to Turkey — France and Kosovo, for example, ban headscarves in public schools, and parts of Germany bar teachers from wearing them.

But it goes to the heart of national identity in this country of 75 million Muslims whose modern state was founded as a radical secular republic after World War One.

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