Since Jack Straw’s comments exactly a decade ago, the Niqab has been in political debate which at times have become heightened. Currently, there are reports that the Prime Minister is considering a ban on the veil in schools, courts and other public institutions. No doubt, the Niqab will become the subject of much debate over the coming months.
In light of this, very rarely do women who wear the veil have the chance to speak about the impacts of people’s prejudices against them. How many newspaper reports, when reporting on political developments about the Niqab, have then interviewed women who choose to wear the veil. Very few have and in fact, we can’t recollect seeing a Niqab wearer being approached by news outlets when discussing the topic recently.
We want to highlight the other side of the coin – the fact that women who wear the Niqab are subject to prejudice, aggression and open hatred at points. It is also important to note that over the last 4 years of work within Tell MAMA, it is clear that women who wear the Niqab suffer more incidents of anti-Muslim hatred and more aggressive incidents of anti-Muslim hatred, including assault.
These are the words of a Muslim woman who wears the Niqab and who recounted her experiences for us.
“I’m worried about the day my very young daughter suddenly tunes into the daily abuse, realises it’s her mother that these respectable-looking strangers – maybe parents of her schoolfriends during pick-up or drop-off, maybe the people behind us in the supermarket queue – are talking about / to.
“And what do I tell her? I’ve brought her up to believe people of all faiths are equally worthy of respect; the majority of her schoolfriends are Hindu or Christian. How can I explain to her that these people hate me because of the visible clues to my faith – particularly my outfit? Me, who taught my little girl that she should never care what other people thought about her appearance, to be proud of her mixed-race looks and unique dress sense.
“What if she’s ashamed to be seen with her mother? What if she’s angry with these strangers for hating on her mother, starts believing non-Muslims are abusive bad people who hate Muslims? What if she develops a fear of white strangers instead of her beautiful trademark confidence and friendliness? What if she’s present when the trolley-shoving, the jostling, the swearing, escalates into a more vicious kind of physical violence? There’s only so much verbal abuse and sly jostling/ shoving I can take passively before I turn round and tell them to have some manners.
“I’ve had women my mum’s age making explosion sounds at me and calling me ISIS, men my age telling me I’m disgusting, women younger than me telling me to f*** off back to Saudi. I’ve been called terrorist, dirty scum, f***** freak, Islamic whore, brown c********, Arab f****, Jihadi b*****…… All in front of my 7-year-old daughter. I had a trolley rammed into my belly when I was pregnant; it was after a bunch of skinheads made knife gestures at me that I stopped going out by myself until I gave birth and no longer felt like a walking target as a pregnant niqabi. I’m pretty confident that I could defend myself but I couldn’t risk the life of my unborn baby.
“If I’m out with my husband I get dirty looks and hissed insults at most; people only become audibly abusive or openly confrontational when I’m out without my husband – unfortunately the presence of my little girl doesn’t seem to silence them in the same way.”