|"I wanted to go to school, but I wanted to obey my religion, too" says Cennet|
Fifteen-year-old Muslim Cennet Doganay beat France's ban on Islamic headscarves in school - by shaving her head.
When I look in the mirror before I go to school, I hardly recognize myself. Some mornings I even say, "Wait-who is that bald girl?" It's a a very strange sensation.
Truthfully? It's brutal. My family and I are French Muslims. There are about five million Muslims here in France, a little less than ten percent of the population, and Islam is the second largest religion in the country. My parents are originally from Turkey, but they both moved to France when they were almost fifteen, my age now. My five brothers and I were all born in the eastern French city of Strasbourg, where we still live. At home, it's a mix of French, Muslim, and Turkish culture: I speak French to my parents, I pray in the mosque with my mother, we go to Turkey for summer vacation. We are a religious family; we believe in Allah.
Islamic tradition states that a woman's hair should never be visible in public. The hair is a symbol of sex and sensuality, and in our religion it's considered improper to reveal or flaunt it before men. My mother and I wear headscarves, called hijabs, when we go out. The only time we remove them is when we are at home with our closest family. But on September 1 of last year, things changed for many Muslims in France. The government put a law into effect forbidding all religious signs inside public schools including the wearing of headscarves.
France is what you call a secular country. Since 1905, French law has required a complete separation between church and state, which for the most part is a good idea, as it prohibits any preaching in school and helps ease religious tensions. The new ban is designed to uphold this idea of separation, but I feel the government has gone way too far. We're not allowed to show any religious affiliation at all, and for some of us, our religion is a huge part of who we are. We're not trying to convert anyone or imply that our religion is better than any other; we're just trying to be ourselves.
|Cennet at home in Strasbourg, France|
This new law broke my heart: I was asked to choose between my religion and my studies, between being myself and having a future. Why would the government do that?
The first day back at school after the ban went into effect was a horrible day. It took me an hour to get dressed. I knew I couldn't wear a headscarf, so I chose to wear a large beret, sort of like a reggae singer's hat. I felt like I was dishonoring my religion, but it seemed to be a good compromise. The principal didn't think so. She forbade me to attend classes while wearing my beret, "because of the new law," she said. So I was sent to a separate room, without anything to do.
The same thing happened the next day, and the next. I Was in quarantine, as if my piety were contagious. Some of my Muslim classmates complied because they felt they had to, and others left school completely. Every morning, the principal sat me down and told me I was wrong. She threatened me with disciplinary hearings or expulsion if I did not take off the beret. I was an outlaw, she said. I replied that only very obvious religious signs were banned by the law. I was just wearing a hat, after all. But she wouldn't listen.
I wanted to go to school, but I wanted to obey my religion, too. All I knew was that
I couldn't show my hair in public. The decision was difficult, but my only option. On September 5, I shaved my entire head of long brown hair. I was bald!
Shaving my head was the most powerful thing I've ever done. It was like transforming myself. I felt I grew up more on that day than I had in all the years before. I wanted to do it alone, but I couldn't reach some spots in the back. I wandered into the kitchen with my head half-shaved and asked my mother for help. She burst into surprised tears and couldn't. My dad came to help. I could tell it was painful for him to see what I'd done.
Even after I shaved my head, I wore a hat to school. I was self-conscious, and nervous about making such a big statement. I continued to spend day after day alone in an empty room, until October 1, when I finally worked up the courage to come to school without my hat. For the first time, I displayed my bald head to everyone. The students were very supportive-they actually cheered!-but the teachers were furious. They took it as an act of defiance, rather than seeing it as a girl doing whatever it takes to obey the law without sacrificing her beliefs. The way I see it, I am doing wrong by neither the government nor my religion, and I'm happy about that.
Unfortunately, there's been some backlash. My parents have always supported me-they never forced me to wear a headscarf, and they never would have thought to suggest that I shave off my hair. Every decision was my own. Still, the bosses at the factory where my father had been a truck driver seemed embarrassed by the publicity surrounding me. I think they started looking for any reason to fire him, and they eventually did. He's hurting now because of me, and that's so hard for me to bear.
Some teachers at my school say I have no future wearing a headscarf-that eventually, France is going to ban them everywhere-but I'll show them wrong. My headscarf is my dignity, not just a piece of fabric. It's me. It's the centerpiece of my outfit, the first item I pick out of my closet in the morning. My pants or sweater must match the scarf. I favor plain colors-no flowers or bold patterns of any kind-and right now, I like my purple one best.
I'll be bald until the school year ends. I shave my head once a week, in my parents' bathroom. My youngest brother, Hasan, who's only two years old, doesn't like my bald head. He says, "I want to play with your hair. Yuck, you look ugly." But I just ignore him. I don't mind how I look-though maybe I'll let my hair grow a little over the summer.
As told to Helene Fouquet of TeenVogue
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