It was back in 1995 that I first decided to wear Hijab. This was a life changing decision. Suddenly, I was not just another face in the crowd. Everyone could see that I was a Muslim. Immediately I was plunged into a new reality, opening up a whole new set of challenges that I was previously unaware of.
|`Shop-keepers would either ignore me or talk to me as if I could not understand English and passers by would look at me with hatred thinking that I might be a traitor or an asylum seeker after their country's wealth.'
People started treating me differently. I can recall often being greeted with looks of disapproval from non-Muslims. Shop-keepers would either ignore me or talk to me as if I could not understand English and passers by would look at me with hatred thinking that I might be a traitor or an asylum seeker after their country's wealth. That got even worse after the terrible events of September 11.
Now things are different. Through becoming actively involved in the community, people have got to know me; they know that, regardless of my appearance, I share the same common values and goals as they do. They know that what I have to offer as a person is valuable. Getting there, however, was a bit of a struggle. I have to admit, I do still get a buzz watching peoples expressions change when I reply or greet them in perfect Queen's English and in more words that they thought I would know. It is very rewarding knowing that I have just shattered someone's stereotype of Muslim women, and forced them to rethink and mentally expand their view of the world.
However, the benefits of wearing Hijab, for me, strongly outweigh the disadvantages. Although I am sometimes shunned by one community, I am whole-heartedly welcomed by another. I am constantly being greeted with Salam (the Muslim greeting of peace) by people who might have otherwise passed me by. Their interaction has been warm and caring, and in some instances has led to the development of a number of rich friendships
Amongst Muslims, I feel secure in the knowledge that I will be treated as an equal and with respect. I do not have to prove anything in this company. This doorway opened up to me after I started wearing Hijab, and I had not known of its existence before. This is only because now I am recognised by all as a Muslim and I am attracting like-minded friends.
Promoting a positive image of Muslim women is something very important to me. I do this by engaging in as much community activity that my time allows. I try to do as much as I can with the local school, so that children of different cultural backgrounds can understand that a Muslim is not someone to be feared as the mass media might lead them to believe. Nor are Muslim women uneducated, submissive or enslaved.
People ask questions that I am only too willing to answer: about why I wear a scarf and what is a prayer rug used for. They should feel free to probe in order to understand. I also ensure that I am smartly dressed and colour co-ordinated. You may laugh or think it unimportant, but to me this is the way to present a beautiful product (Islam) in a beautiful package. There is a difference between being smart and being attractive. I do want to prove, however, that covering up does not necessarily mean you have to look frumpy or like an old woman. OK it's a fashion thing, but hey some habits die hard! I also find that wearing colours other than black or navy have a positive effect on people's attitudes as well as my own.
Wearing Hijab in this day and age and in this society is a challenge that takes much courage and conviction. It is unfortunate that we are made to feel this way and it is sad that we do not feel at ease or free to make the decision without the fear of being shunned or branded a 'fundamentalist' or anti-Western or the like. It's equally sad that we have to go the extra mile to prove ourselves as valuable members of our community.
I will always be British and I will God willing always try to be a good Muslim, but I know that marrying both identities will present challenges. I think that if we all accept the challenges, we will make progress and everyone will see Islam as a religion that can only benefit its people, community and society. From my experience, I can honestly say, that wearing Hijab has strengthened my spirit. I can face challenges with fortitude and regard a hurdle overcome by me as a hurdle overcome for all Muslims. It is true to say that we all represent the rich mosaic of the dynamic and diverse, face of pluralist Britain.