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Sofyan Aswad: ”The veil is not in conflict with equality”

Sofyan Aswad
Sofyan Aswad
Foto:Lasse Ottosson

Do we have freedom of religion or do we not? Of course we have in Sweden, so we must respect all religions and beliefs. Whenever the veil is discussed, the Islamic view of women is almost always a topic.

On Monday, 11th March, I chaired a discussion at Snackbar in Kulturkvarteret. The subject was ”Veil or no veil?” Two Moslem women spoke about the choice they had made. One had chosen to wear a veil, the other had no veil.

The audience asked many relevant questions: Why do some Moslems wear a veil and others not? Is choosing to wear a veil a matter of compulsion? Who decides if a woman should wear a veil, the individual, the family, the community, the culture or religion?

Even among Moslems there are many different opinions about wearing a veil. It is a delicate subject.

But is the problem the veil in itself, or does the veil go against culture and tradition in the Swedish community?

Women have the right to choose whether they want to cover their hair or not. And women’s rights is more than simply a question of veils. There is no conflict between veils and equality. We defend equality of opportunity and equality between the sexes. It is a question of equal pay, the right to an education and shared responsibility for the children – and for the home.

”Women’s rights is more than simply a question of veils”

If you believe in the principles of human rights and religious freedom, you ought to respect the choices made by others. It is obvious that young children should not be made to wear a veil. When you are an adult, you can choose for yourself. The choice is something personal and private. We ought not to take any notice of what other people choose to wear.

The veil is a part of several of the world’s cultures and religions. It can be an expression of culture or a religious symbol. Some women feel that wearing a veil protects their integrity and freedom, others see the veil as a symbol of oppression.

The word ”symbol” comes from the Greek ”symbolon”, a sign. Interpreting a symbol can be difficult – let me give you two examples. When I filled in a form in a country in the Middle East and put an X in the box, it meant that the answer or the information was wrong. In Sweden, an X often indicates a correct answer.

The half-moon, or crescent moon, in mosques and on flags has nothing to do with religion. The moon has symbolised many things in different cultures, for example femininity, masculinity, fertility and the passage of time. You can read about that in the ”Illustrerad Vetenskap” magazine.

Constantinople used to have the crescent moon as its symbol. When the Osman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, they put the crescent moon on their flag and on mosques. Since then the symbol has spread to flags in other Moslem countries.

How people interpret symbols depends on their own interests, attitudes, religion, culture, knowledge and experience.