I moved here five years ago. In the beginning, I was sympathetic to the argument that Turkey's ban on headscarves in universities and public institutions was grossly discriminatory. I spoke to many women who described veiling themselves as an uncoerced act of faith. One businesswoman in her mid-30s told me that she began veiling in high school, defying her secular family. Her schoolteacher gasped when she saw her: "If Atatürk could see you now, he would weep!" Her pain at the memory of the opprobrium she had suffered was clearly real.
Why had she decided to cover herself? I asked. As a teenager, she told me, she had experienced a religious revelation. She described this in terms anyone familiar with William James would recognize. She began veiling to affirm her connection with the Ineffable. "Every time I look in the mirror," she said, "I see a religious woman looking back. It reminds me that I've chosen to have a particular kind of relationship with God."
Seen thus, the covering of the head is no more radical than many other religious rituals that demand symbolic acts of renunciation or daily inconvenience. I have heard Jews describe the spiritual rewards of following the laws of kashrut in much the same way. It is inconvenient, they say, and seemingly arbitrary; it demands daily sacrifice. But a Jew who keeps kosher cannot eat a meal without being reminded that he is a Jew, and thus the simple act of eating is elevated to a religious rite.