Emel Zeynelabidin, the daughter of the founder of the German chapter of Milli Görüs, has broken with her father and thrown off some of the strictures of Islam, even though she remains a Muslim.
JLH has translated an article about Ms. Zeynelabidin that was published last month in Neues Deutschland — which is , according to the translator, “the old faithful publication of the former East Germany.”
The Revolt of the Curls
by Thomas Klatt
Muslim Emel Zeynelabidin has emancipated herself from her father, who founded the German section of Milli Görüs [the Turkish Islamist organization with links to IHH and other terror-supporting groups].
It could be one of those black/white or good/bad stories that sell so easily in the media: “The grown daughter of a well-known Turkish Islamist leaves her religion, puts aside her head-covering, and demonstratively declares her allegiance to Western, democratic values. But with Emel Zeynelabidin, it’s not so simple. The 49-year-old is still an avowed Muslim — and after 14 years, still loves her father.
Yusuf Zeynelabidin was still a medical student when his first daughter was born in Istanbul in 1960. He named her Emel — that translates as “wish,” “hope.” Four years later, his second daughter was born in Hannover. They moved to North Rhine-Westphalia. The father became a surgeon and he became politicized. In the mid-1970s, he founded the German section of Milli Görüs (translated: National Vision), an organization stemming from Turkey, which is controversial because of partly [no partly about it — BB] Islamist tendencies. Zeynelabidin founded the house organ, Milli Gazette, where Emel’s husband, Ahmde Algan, later worked. The marriage had been arranged early on.
“We Didn’t Know What It Was We Were Saying”
For years Milli Görüs has been under observation by the intelligence services, among other things, because of its anti-Semitic tendencies. But Milli Görüs has changed, maintains Emel Zeynelabidin. “The social interests that my father pursued at that time — all that is no longer to be seen. Today, it is chiefly about political power and financial enrichment. It has also become more of an economic enterprise. In his time, the prophet Mohammed supported the interests of women. In the case of Milli Görüs, I object to the fact that it is male-dominated. The men set the direction. According to my understanding of Islam, that cannot be,” declares the daughter of the founder of the German Milli Görüs.
– – – – – – – – –
The worst thing for her as a daughter at the time was that her father was with the family much less than he had been, because of the organization. Every minute was valuable. “My father initiated me in the Koran. Whenever he drove us to school, he made us learn the Koran by heart in Arabic. He recited, we responded, without knowing what we were saying.” These short suras were necessary for the performance of ritual prayers. “My father did not teach us the content, At the time, the Koran was not important to me; it was a possibility of being with my father. That was true later, too, when I was 13 years old and he taught me Arabic writing,” Emel Zeynelabidin recalls.
Even today, she can still chant those childhood suras and it is as if the young daughter were still sitting right here. “The Koran has become a part of me,” she says. “Today, the Koran means a great deal to me acoustically. In print too it moves me deeply. I would wish that each Muslim finds his/her entry to its contents.”
Emel Zeynelabidin has begun to read the Koran on her own and anew, without asking anyone’s permission. After more than 30 years, she has taken off her head covering. After 25 years, she has divorced her husband and taken back her maiden name. “There is an educational gap in Muslims worldwide. It is claimed that the head-covering is God’s will, and everyone accepts that without any follow-up questions.” Subordination to the opinion of a theological authority a big problem for today’s Muslims. By that means, they live “unnoticed in a passivity, which is controlled by an I-am-allowed-and-I-am-forbidden mindset” she says indignantly, “and that makes it impossible to resolve contradictions.”
It is a rule of life to learn to take responsibility for your own life and actions. Nowhere in the Koran is there mention of a head scarf for women. Only in two places are women asked to cover themselves, and that is so that the men of Mohammed’s time could distinguish in their importations between pious women and permissive slaves. That is unnecessary today, at least in our latitudes, where there are no more slaves and men have learned to deal respectfully with feminine charms.
Emel Zeynelabidin went on the offensive. With a Berlin milliner, she tried out new head coverings in an attempt to ameliorate the overheated battle about the head scarf between Muslims and politicians. She discovered for herself the “the hair insurrection.” In 2005, she dared the decisive step and completely gave up head covering.
To her amazement and against everything that had been drummed into her for years, she was not harassed by any men. Right in the middle of Berlin, she could move freely and unobtrusively with no head covering. Emel Zeynelabidin systematically continued on her path of self liberation. She divorced and gave up the chair of the Islamic women’s group Cemiyet-i Nisa. Soon she lost contact with most of her earlier friends and family. Many from her Muslim community declared her to be shameless, crazy, possessed by the devil. Or worse.
A Business Card with a Picture and no Hijab
When she talks about it now, she can even smile, but not at that time. She became independent — or better, an adult. Today, she works as a communications operative. It says so on her business card, where you can see her picture with no head covering.
However, she has not given up being a Muslim. On the contrary, she is seeking, if not confrontation, then intellectual exchange with conservative Muslims about the proper way to interpret the Koran. “There is the Islam of the Prophet Mohammed and the Islam of the scholars. Muslims believe in the punishments of Hell and sharia — a system of control and condemnation. Sharia is in the heads of Muslims.” It was conceived by men, scholars, who invoked the Koran and the Prophet and defined the sexual regions of man and woman. “While this is described as from the navel to the knee in men, women are expected to cover the entire body except for the hands and face. But what about the attractions of the man?” asks the self-confident woman.
In the question of the head scarf, she insists, there must be freedom of thought on all sides. So she does not want a government ban on the hijab, because that would patronize women. She no longer accepts that women should do or not do something in their lives strictly out of obedience to some authority or that they should ask permission.
She experienced how burdensome that can be when she wanted to travel far from Berlin for a pressingly necessary rest cure. “There is a rule that a Muslim woman cannot take a trip alone. We combed legal sources, looking for some permission so that I could take this approved trip. Finally, we found that a Muslim women may do that if she is with one or two other devout women.” Today it leaves her speechless. “When I think back about that, I find it ridiculous. That is infantilizing in the name of God,” she says.
In conversation, the daughter of the founder of the German Milli Görüs seems joyful and free. She seems to have found a mission for herself: encouraging individual thought and the capacity to make one’s own decisions about what is allowed and what is forbidden in Islam. Her maiden name Zeynelabidin means “the radiance of the faithful”. She carries her father’s name with pride.