Denmark: Islam in preschool

Denmark: Islam in preschool

Preschool teacher Bushra Naseem (32) was interviewed by Børn&Unge earlier this year. Børn&Unge is the magazine of the Danish National Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators. The article is titled "Islam in preschool; I always knew I'll cover myself".

The main focus of the article is how Naseem's appearance affects her work - how it affects children to have a preschool teacher wearing a headscarf. However, there is no real discussion of more important points that Naseem brings up. Her view of the roles of men and women, for example, or the fact that she sees all children as Muslim (though she does serve them pork).

Additionally, in some ways Naseem is a convert. She became an orthodox Muslim in Denmark, not at home and not in her homeland. How does that affect the children she takes care of?

I bring here a summary:

Naseem works in Charlottenlund, one of Denmark's wealthiest areas. She works in a preschool with no Muslim children and all her colleagues are Danish. She came to Denmark from Pakistan when she was eight. Her father had lived in Denmark for a number of years and his family came over later - Naseem, her mother and two younger brothers. Since then two additional brothers have joined them.

Naseem herself is an orthodox Muslim - she wears a headscarf and clothing which cover all of her body, and prays five times a day. Her mother doesn't wear a headscarf and where she comes from in Pakistan it is not customary to wear the type of headscarf she wears. Naseem's parents were therefore surprised, but, she says "My father was proud. He thought it was good if that was what I wanted. But my mother was afraid that would make things harder for myself by wearing a headscarf. My parents have always wanted that I'll have an easy life as possible," she says.

Naseem started focusing on Islam after the Muhammed crisis and the debate on Islam that followed. She got in contact with some very strongly religious Muslim women and together she began to go to lectures on Islam.

"I always knew that I would cover myself, but it didn't concern me before. But after that so much happened with the Prophet, and after all the problems developed, I read a lot about Islam and clothing. And I knew well that it was the right thing to go with a headscarf," she says. A year earlier she started praying five times a day.

She feels her life has become easier since she started learning more about her religion.

"It's become much easier regarding what people should do and how people should conduct themselves in general," she says.

Three months ago she started wearing a jilbab, which covers her entire body.

Her colleagues were curious about her headscarf, and she has decided to be open and answer their questions. She says it's a choice she's made and people can understand that. "Maybe it would have been different if I had been very withdrawn, or didn't have good Danish. Or if I went with it because my family said I should, or because I got married."

Some of her colleagues had told her to take it off, that she looks better without it, or that it's old-fashioned, but they belong to a generation that fought for emancipation, so she can understand them. But, she says, she doesn't need that struggle anymore. She's assured of her faith and doesn't ask questions about the rules she lives by.

When Naseem was young she subscribed to feminist ideas, and wrote an essay for a book on feminism. But as she's followed Islam more and more, she's put her feminism aside. "As a religious person you can't be a feminist. Men and women have different roles in society, we can be equal, but not identical."

She says Danish women try to be men, but they can't be. And it can cause problems at home, since both spouses have a carries and don't have any time for the children. It's better to accept what one is, instead of trying to be somebody else. God knows which roles everybody has.

She feels she's become wiser with age, and that her lifestyle and attitudes today are right for her.

Two years ago Naseem married a Pakistani man she's known for five years. Currently he's studying to be an IT-engineer in Australia.

"He isn't strongly religious, but he was born and grew up in Pakistan, where people cover themselves more, so he's glad for my decision to go with a headscarf. He would probably have been irritated if I would have continued going as I did when I was younger," she says.

She wants to have children, and is considering to put her work on hold for the first two years, though she intends to continue learning during this time, since staying at home is too boring. In any case the family won't be dependent on her salary. "According to Islam it's the man who's the breadwinner."

Regarding the headscarf ban discussion she says: "Then I won't live in Denmark. If it becomes so hostile that people can't go with a headscarf publicly, then it would be a strong signal. And then I would have no desire to live here."

As for people who think she's oppressed she says that they don't know better. They don't want to accept that people can choose to wear such things here. It isn't something that bothers her, she's too old for that.

Naseem prays five times a day. At first she prayed at home, which was easier, but she says that the prayers should be said at specific times. She doesn't drop everything at a certain second, but rather prays at about a certain time. It takes her five minutes, and the prayer rug is in a nearby closet. Since the children sleep outside, she prays in the the empty preschool.

Working with the children can also be seen in a religious context, she says.

"According to Islam one become of full age when you're 12. So I think that all children are in principle Muslims, until they are 12. Afterward they make their own decision," she says.

She feels that her focus on Islam has made her more patient with the children, though she points out that her religion hasn't influenced the way in which she fulfills her tasks.

"But maybe I'll come to a point in my process that I'll stop as a nursery-school teacher and choose to do something else," she says. "Since it feels a little strange to give the children pork [sandwiches]..."

The article continues with a discussion on whether and how having a teacher with a headscarf affects the children later in life, as well as the debate on whether it should be banned in schools.

Source: Børn & Unge nr. 23 / 2009 h/t Snaphanen.

No comments: