Röster från täckta ansikten
This study is based on the debate in Sweden over the past two years about a possible ban on face veils in schools, workplaces and public spaces. The aim of this paper is to shed light on one perspective that is often overlooked in this debate: that of the women who actually wear the face veil. Our study is based on conversational interviews with five women who are currently wearing, or have been wearing, face veils. We have also studied the debate in the Swedish national press and summarized their arguments for and against a ban on face veiling. For the purposes of this paper three overarching themes were investigated: Firstly we investigated the theological and internal Islamic debate on face veiling. Secondly, we focused on the debate surrounding a possible ban in the Swedish media. Our third focus is the women we have interviewed, and how their views relate to those expressed in the previous two realms. The primary questions to be answered in this study are: - How do the women we have interviewed motivate their wearing of the face veil? - What arguments were put forward in the debate on a possible ban on face veils in Swedish national press during the periods: 2009-09-20 2009-10-31 and 2010-08-01 2010-08-31? (These dates correspond with statements by various politicians favoring a ban, and with a report made to the Discrimination Ombudsman by a woman who wear the face veil. Two events that made the debate about a possible ban particularly topical.) - How do the women we have interviewed relate to the arguments put forward in the debate on the possible ban on face veils in Swedish national press? The five women we have interviewed were all born and raised in Sweden, and four out of five converted to Islam in their late teens or early twenties. We have found in this study that the women have various different motivations for their wearing of the face veil. Their interpretations and readings of the sources in Islam (The Quran and sunna) support their view that the face veil is a desirable practise within Islam. The women also points to the wearing of the face veil as enhancing their relationship with God. As previous research has shown, the veil is an important part in constructing a new religious identity as a Muslim woman. But the face veil cannot be reduced to a mere statement of a new religious identity; the spiritual reasons are a significant part of why these women wear the face veil. All the women stress the fact that they have made the decision to wear the face veil of their own free will, some to the vexation of their families. The women we have interviewed find the arguments favouring a ban (such as difficulties of communication, the face veil as a sign of gender inequalities and extremism etc.) to be superficial and often without grounds. The pro-ban arguments put forward in the debate voice concerns that the women themselves do not relate to. It seems clear that the debate attributes more meaning and symbolism to the veil and the women who wear it, than it can possibly contain, and the women relate to, such as Islamic extremism, the threat of the "other", anti democratic values etc.