February 3, 2014


During the exchange I chose the subject:"gender, ideology and power". This concerned the positions of men, women and transgenders in society, school and the workforce. It was interesting to learn what differences there are between the genders and how the power is divided between them based upon the various cultural ideologies. For the end report the students had to choose a topic concerning this subject. I chose "Women in Islam, oppressed or privileged?".

There are two sides of every story

This drawing inspired me to reflect on the difference of the interpretations of the cultures wherein I was raised. I was born as a daughter to a Dutch mother and a Malay father. I lived the first four years of my life in Malaysia, and was raised the rest of my life in the Netherlands. Going back to Malaysia for the exchange programme, I started to wear the veil, first because it is common in their culture to wear a veil as a muslim woman. But the time I spend there and the people I met have given me several new views on the position of women and the relationship and the roles of men and women in the different societies. I found it very interesting to see how one culture sees and portrays the other, and how this differs from how they view themselves, meaning, how many misunderstandings there are. I came across this article by Yasmin Mogahed which I could definitely relate to:

"A Letter to the Culture that Raised Me

Growing up, you read me the Ugly Duckling. And for years I believed that was me. For so long you taught me I was nothing more than a bad copy of the standard (men).

I couldn’t run as fast or lift as much. I didn’t make the same money and I cried too often. I grew up in a man’s world where I didn’t belong.

And when I couldn’t be him, I wanted only to please him. I put on your make-up and wore your short skirts. I gave my life, my body, my dignity, for the cause of being pretty. I knew that no matter what I did, I was worthy only to the degree that I could please and be beautiful for my master. And so I spent my life on the cover of Cosmo and gave my body for you to sell.

I was a slave, but you taught me I was free. I was your object, but you swore it was success. You taught me that my purpose in life was to be on display, to attract, and be beautiful for men. You had me believe that my body was created to market your cars. And you raised me to think I was an ugly duckling. But you lied.

Islam tells me, I’m a swan. I’m different – it’s meant to be that way. And my body, my soul, was created for something more.
God says in the Qur’an, “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” (49:13)

So I am honored. But it is not by my relationship to men. My value as a woman is not measured by the size of my waist or the number of men who like me. My worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And my purpose in life – despite what the fashion magazines say – is something more sublime than just looking good for men.

And so God tells me to cover myself, to hide my beauty and to tell the world that I’m not here to please men with my body; I’m here to please God. God elevates the dignity of a woman’s body by commanding that it be respected and covered, shown only to the deserving – only to the man I marry.

So to those who wish to ‘liberate’ me, I have only one thing to say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I’m not here to be on display. And my body is not for public consumption. I will not be reduced to an object, or a pair of legs to sell shoes. I’m a soul, a mind, a servant of God. My worth is defined by the beauty of my soul, my heart, my moral character. So, I won’t worship your beauty standards, and I don’t submit to your fashion sense. My submission is to something higher.

With my veil I put my faith on display – rather than my beauty. My value as a human is defined by my relationship with God, not by my looks. I cover the irrelevant. And when you look at me, you don’t see a body. You view me only for what I am: a servant of my Creator.

You see, as a Muslim woman, I’ve been liberated from a silent kind of bondage. I don’t answer to the slaves of God on earth. I answer to their King." (Yasmin Mogahed)

After the exchange I kept on wearing my veil in the Netherlands. The veil now has become a part of me, I feel naked without and I do not go out of the house without it, and when we have male visitors I also wear it inside of our house. Luckily, I have not had any bad experiences yet since I came back to the Netherlands. Actually I have had many good and nice reactions, I also managed to find an internship which I thought might be harder for girls wearing a veil. My manager has given me many tasks as his representative such as attending networking events, hosting at fairs, representing at workshops and much more. This has given me more confidence as a veiled muslim woman in a men's world of business suits and ties. I have also noticed I am approached with more respect and people, especially men, do not look at me, or touch me in an inappropriate ways anymore. I feel empowered, respected and beautiful with my veil. This was another positive change/growth the exchange as given to me.