We do not need to squash our differences to be a part of Britain
As Alexandra Shulman and co. take their seats on the front row, another group of women seem to have taken over the headlines. London is in the midst of a spectacular fashion week, preparing us for what I’ll call our perfectly poised, pretty English garden spring (with a dash of eccentricity – the Mad Hatter?). It is in this same week that we have seen bombs in Iraq, Bashar al-Assad continue in his stampede, and drone attacks in Pakistan, but of course our politicians seem to have found something much more engaging for them to talk about.
So very much concerned about our attire, Home Office minister Jeremy Browne wants a debate, and a couple of others seem ready to let loose. Not quite talking about Peter Pilotto or Erdem (my favourites) but rather the hot topic in Europe: the niqaab. Not only have the politicians become engrossed in this topic, but our fellow journalists seem to have caught on as well.
Ms Alibhai-Brown (you know, the other Yasmin) seems to think she knows all the ins and outs of the hijaab (let alone the niqaab), writing much about what myself and my fellow hijaab-wearing or niqaab-wearing Muslim female Brits think and feel. “Brainwashed by proselytizers”, as she says in her piece in The Independent. And she gets far more excited, continuing to draw conclusions on job opportunities, Iran, guerrilla armies and other topics. I find her piece offensive and entirely objectionable. But it’s ok, that’s how she feels, and this being Great liberal Britain she is entitled to express that. She may have offended my sensibilities but, really, I’m glad to know what she thinks of someone like me. I myself wear a hijaab and on occasion wear the niqaab too. I’ve worn my niqaab to present on television, I’ve worn it to teach, and guess what, I’ve even worn it while driving. Yes, that is something I might not be able to do in Saudi Arabia, but we’re not talking about Saudi Arabia here, we’re talking about Britain.
From Sahar al-Faifi, a molecular geneticist, to Naima B Roberts, the author and magazine editor, to Monsurah Arowosekila, a nursery teacher in north London, many women who wear the niqaab are massively successful in their chosen fields. They have chosen to wear it and good for them. There are indeed many debates to be had about our attire, including cotton production, the rights of garment workers and meat-wearing singers, among others, but this constant barrage on the dress of Muslim women gets a little tiring and the line on this debate needs to be entirely re-phrased.
Do we need to oppress and squash our differences in order to be British? When stars step up to the stage in almost nothing, gyrating on a praised platform, and when we have placards posted on shop fronts with men and women literally wearing nothing, I, too, find it distasteful and offensive. When I see piercings which equate to holes the size of bangles, I wonder about the pain involved. But if you are fearful of a niqaab-wearing woman, know that the deficiency is within yourself – she has done nothing to you nor is she asking anything of you. I cannot comprehend a situation where a Muslim woman would object to being identified for security reasons, nor can I envisage a situation where it would not be possible to have a female officer do the identification. MP Phillip Hollobone refuses to see constituents who do not lift their niqaab and it really does make me shake my head in disbelief. Members of Parliament represent their constituents, and if he has niqaab-wearing women in his constituency, he should be doing his upmost to represent them and listen to them in situations that are comfortable for them.
We’re not always going to understand everything straight away and we don’t always need to, but we do need to celebrate differences and appreciate the fact that they exist in Britain. To live in a tolerant society is not to clamp down on things which make us uncomfortable, but it is to be able to accept those exact things when they’re not harming you.
Muslim women who wear a ‘veil’- be it a hijaab, jilbab or niqaab – may have to work a lot harder but that’s entirely up to them. Dear Ms Alibhai-Brown, wearing the niqaab is neither a “political action”, “testing of the state”, nor a “manmade injunction”, it is merely one interpretation of the hijaab that Muslim women are prescribed to wear. Whatever anyone wants to make of the niqaab is up to them, but for all of my sisters who choose to wear one, I wholeheartedly salute you.
Photo Credits: Nasreen Raja
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