When Freedom Means Choosing A Headscarf

Rebelling against a parents’ beliefs and customs is practically a routine rite of passage. But writer Krista Bremer was more than a little surprised when her daughter asked to wear a headscarf. Guest host Tony Cox speaks with Bremer who is married to a Libyan Muslim.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

In a moment we hear from the editor of a collection of rejection letters. The notes range from the stunningly stupid, like the museum that early on turns down Andy Warhol, to the inadvertently insightful. Consider this note from the Army supervisor of none other than Jimi Hendrix arguing why he, Hendrix, should be booted from the military.

Mr. BILL SHAPIRO (Author, Other Peoples Rejection Letters, Editor LIFE.com): Private Hendrix plays a musical instrument during his off duty hours, or so he says. This is one of his faults because his mind apparently cannot function while performing duties and thinking about his guitar.

COX: More of that in a moment.

But, first, determining what to reject or embrace of a parent's beliefs and customs is a rite of passage for any child moving toward adulthood. Krista Bremer wrote an article about this topic for this month's edition of O Magazine. Krista is a California-born woman who married a Libyan Muslim. The couple have a nine-year-old daughter Aliya(ph). And Aliya surprised her mother by asking to wear a headscarf.

Ms. Bremer joins us now from NPR member station WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. Welcome.

Ms. KRISTA BREMER (Writer): Nice to be here, Tony, thanks.

COX: I can only imagine the expression on your face, which I would have loved to have seen when your daughter told you, mommy, I want to wear this scarf.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BREMER: Well, it's true. I had seen my daughter looking admiringly at some of our Muslim friends. And I knew that she was intrigued by the clothes that they wore. But when she actually found a headscarf that was for sale at a Muslim festival and turned to me and asked me to buy it for her, I was really put on the spot.

COX: Was it a situation where you think that because your husband is Muslim that she gravitated toward him and his environment more than your American-born environment?

Ms. BREMER: You know, I can't be entirely sure. But I will say that when my husband and I agreed to raise our daughter to allow her to choose what she liked best from our dramatically different backgrounds, I really felt a bit overconfident about that arrangement. I really felt that she would certainly choose my comfortable, American, Western lifestyle over his Muslim one.

I think that one thing that she has experienced is that in our Muslim community, she experiences a lot of connection and intimacy and support. And so I think that her experience of that community overall is extremely positive. And that probably helped her to gravitate to that type of clothing.

COX: One of the things that struck me about your article was and as a parent myself, I certainly understand the fear that parents have about the possibility of quote, unquote, "losing" a child to another culture, to another environment, to another person. You seem to grapple with that and yet you seemed also to come out feeling. And correct me if I'm wrong and talk about this if you will, that you're secure in the fact that you haven't lost her. You just recognize and accept the fact that she is different.

Ms. BREMER: I think that's true. I think that we have two choices with our children. We can either impose our own ideas about who they should be, without regard to who they are and who they are becoming, or we can accept our own limitations in terms of what we know about what is right and what we know about what their future holds.

And I think in the case of my daughter's choices, it helps that I have had a positive experience of the Muslim culture. And so I really can recognize the benefits it has to offer her if she chooses to continue in that direction. And I think when my daughter chose to wear the headscarf, it also made me reexamine some of my own reactions to that item of clothing and also my own experiences having grown up in California, having experienced a lot of physical exposure. And I began to reexamine that physical exposure and reconsider both the benefits and the drawbacks of all the exposure we experience as American women.

COX: I want to read something from the article to you, that struck me, and get you to tell us about it. You say: I have no idea how long Aliyas interest in Muslim clothing will last. Do you still feel that way?

Ms. BREMER: I do. You know, I see in my daughter, a lot of experimentation at this stage in her life. I mention in the article that she has memorized the Fatiha, which is the opening versus of the Quran. She's interested in praying with her father and shes interested in learning Arabic. And at the same time, she is interested in rock climbing, and mountain biking, and writing and a lot of interest that I bring. So I think at this point its an open question. And I think it will be really interesting to see how she integrates those two backgrounds in her own life.

COX: And heres my final question. A lot of times as parents we think that we are teaching our children, when in fact, the reverse is what is happening. What did your daughter teach you as a result of this experience?

Ms. BREMER: My daughter taught me that, in spite of the way I express a value for self-confidence, and I tell her she should express her individualism and resist peer pressure, I realized that I have some latent insecurities about doing that myself. And, you know, I was so impressed with her courage in the way she chose to wear this item of clothing without any self-consciousness about how she might be perceived, and without any baggage about any negative repercussions that could come from wearing this particular item of clothing. You know, the way she carried herself made me reexamine the ways one could find freedom by being veiled, by having a bit more privacy.

COX: Krista Bremer writes in the current edition of O Magazine about her young daughters decision to wear a head scarf. She joined us from NPR member station WUNC in North Carolina.

Thank you very much for coming on and sharing your story.

Ms. BREMER: Thank you.

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