Exclusive – How Muslim women feel compelled to remove their headscarf out of fear

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SHAFAQNA – Over the past years a flurry of hateful and violent crimes against Muslims in the UK prompted concerns that some of the political narrative fronted by the British government led a social slide towards fascism.

Criminalized, castigated and segregated against, British Muslims, and most particularly women are feeling not just vulnerable but down-right scared.

In September 13, 2012, Tasneem Kabir suffered broken teeth and a smashed lip after she was hit by Michael Ayoade, 34, as she walked to college in Plaistow, Newham. Yoade, who is originally from Nigeria, was jailed for four years in February 2013 after pleading guilty to two ‘vicious’ attacks on Tasneem and another young woman.

Miss Kabir’s assault is an example of the Islamaphobic attacks which were investigated in Inside Out London Special – aired on the BBC.

It came as police revealed there has been a sharp rise in the number of hate crimes against Muslims in the capital, with women who wear a headscarf or hijab accounting for some 60 per cent of victims.

The 13-second video of Miss Kabir’s attack shows the victim walking near the Black Lion pub in High Street, Plaistow, before Ayoade jogs up behind her and punches her in the head.

 

Teenager Meanha Begum was subjected to an Islamaphobic attack as she walked home one evening with a friend.

The 18-year-old, who was brought up in east London, wears a Niqab – a veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered – and said she has become used to being insulted over the way she dresses.

Hers is one of the many stories rights groups and media have uncovered.

 

Recalling the night she was attacked, she said a woman approached her and a friend.

‘She was saying: “What are you doing here, we don’t trust you, you need to get that off your face”.

‘She pulled my face veil down and pushed me to the floor. She then turned on my friend and started punching and kicking her.’

Ms Begum said there were several witnesses but that no one came to their aid. Some even laughed and turned their backs, she said.  

‘I felt disappointed and heavy hearted,’ she added. ‘Just because of the way I dress people don’t think that I’m worth rescuing.’

Mother-of-two Joni Clark is another Muslim woman who has spoken to the BBC about her experience of discrimination.

On one occasion, a man threw a lit cigarette at the 22-year-old as she was waiting to cross the road with her sons.

Ms Clark said the abuse she suffered on the street was so bad that she decided to move her family from Penge, south east London, to Whitechapel – an area known for its large Muslim community.

She said: ‘People always say Muslims isolate themselves and we don’t mix with others but actually it is others who don’t want to mix with us.’

Hasina Khan was spat at by a stranger during a ‘humiliating’ assault in a Bristol shopping centre.

She was on her way to work when a man approached her and remembers him ‘saying something about “your people killing Christians in the Middle East”.’

The 36-year-old told BBC Inside Out London that it is ‘predominantly women’ that are getting attacked but ‘the majority of women don’t report the incidents’.

‘They just accept that’s the sort of society they are living in at the moment,’ she added.

 

Figures for the 12 months up to July showed 816 Islamophobic crimes, compared with 478 for the previous 12-month period. Tell MAMA, an organisation that monitors Islamophobic attacks, claimed women were the primary targets.

 

Many Muslims women now feel scared and vulnerable because of their headscarf. Many told Shafaqna they are now contemplating removing their head cover in order to “function in society” and protect themselves from unwanted attention.

 

But where does it stop?Why should the victims of hate be made to assuage their attackers? Why should anyone be made to feel they need to hide their faith, to hide who they are on account Britain’s narrative remains negative towards Islam and Muslims in general?

 

Sheikh Saeed Bahmanpour from the Islamic Centre of England told Shafaqna in exclusive comments he believes Muslim women should hold true to their beliefs and refrain from acting out of fear. “It is not appropriate for them to remove the hijab, because such an attitude may gradually lead to abandoning all Islamic values and rituals.”

 

Ultimately what those women need is the support of their family and community. Ultimately they should not be asked to bargain their faith and beliefs away for hatred is now driving the debate –  and ultimately it is down to all of Muslims to stand in solidarity to one another, while promoting dialogue.

 

Hate cannot be defeated by violence or more hatred, for an evil to be truly erased one needs to do a greater deed as the Quran teaches us.

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