Back to square one: To hijab or not to hijab?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Twenty-year-old Fardowsa Mahamoud’s questioning why the hijab, or veil, is not permitted in the Finnish military brought a sense of déjà-vu. About six years ago, Busman Gill Sukhdarshan Singh won after a year-long legal battle to wear a turban at work.

In Finland, Sikh bus drivers won the right to use turbans at work, while in the United Kingdom granted such a right in 1969.

Singh’s struggle and Mahamud’s rejection by the Finnish military are all examples of how some sectors of Finland continue to believe that they are the only one’s living in this country. Even if our official adaption policy is supposed to be a two-way street, it is a one-way process (assimilation), full stop.

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Mahamud wanted to enroll in the army to serve later as a peacekeeper, which is her dream. Her efforts came to an abrupt end when an interview with the Karelia Brigade said they did not permit hijabs for safety reasons and that uniforms had to have the same appearance.

“I was disappointed to learn this,” she was quoted as saying in Yle News. “I wouldn’t have applied for service if I didn’t accept what they wear in the army, but the hijab is my choice and decision. It’s important to me.”

Apart from the rejection, Mahmoud has been the victim of racist and hostile attacks, including death threats on social media.

Sami Järvinen is a Perussuomalaiset* candidate in the municipal elections and works to help the homeless. His post highlights on Facebook how people of his far-right and white nationalist party loath Mahmoud and minorities for demanding their rights.

His political party, the PS, and its views of minorities and spreading white nationalism are examples of the conflict that many Finns experience. We are for “social equality” but we ethnocentrically deny such rights to others we consider suspect.

“Absolutely the right decision [not to allow Mahmoud do use the hijab in the defense forces]. Hijabs should not be allowed as part of a peacekeeper’s or police’s uniform. For example, the hijab or kipa are religious symbols. They invite bias and undermine credibility. No one should wear non-military headgear. Fardow can still think about [her decision] and serve in the Defense Forfe just like everyone else.”

Cultural diversity means inclusion and the right to one’s identity. It means giving space to Others.

Even if the struggle in Finland will be a long one, there will be many changes in the years ahead.

When that change begins to bloom, that is the Finland I respect and love.