Why British Muslims need a ‘poppy hijab’ to remember World War One

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SHAFAQNA – Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq’s Remembrance Day hijab is being sold by the Royal British Legion for the first time. She tells Radhika Sanghani why she designed it and why it’s important for British Muslims to embrace it.

Poppies are the undisputed symbol of Remembrance Day. Anyone who wants to commemorate the lives of those who died for Britain during the two world wars and other conflicts, simply has to buy a red flower and proudly wear it on their lapel.

But Muslim women are now able to go one step further, by wearing a ‘poppy hijab’.

The Royal British Legion had decided to sell the poppy-patterned headscarf, which was created in 2014, for the first time this year. It’s trying to promote the wearing of the symbol among Muslims.

Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq, 25, is a British Muslim who designed the hijab while studing at the London College of Fashion.

“The idea to do a headscarf came from knowing that many Muslims generally mark Remembrance Day,” she explains. “We felt it wasn’t that widely known. The number of Muslim soldiers who fought in World War One was even less known. We wanted to create something that illustrated this history.”

More than a million Indian soldiers and 400,000 Muslims battled alongside British troops in 1914, but it is a fact that is little known or talked about.

It’s why the Islamic Society of Britain and integration think tank British Future approached Tabinda to help them find a symbol of Remembrance that would appeal to British Muslims.

That’s where the idea of the poppy hijab came from.

“I thought it was a really simple and clean way of saying that I’m very proud of being British and Muslim without it being in anyone’s face,” she explains. “We used a hijab because it’s become what we automatically associate with Muslims.”

Each headscarf costs £19.99 with all proceeds going straight to the Poppy Appeal. The idea is to give Muslims a unique way to commemorate soldiers lost in war – but why is it needed? Surely all faith groups can simply wear a poppy badge?

Why do Muslims need the poppy hijab?

“We’re very open to Muslim people carrying on wearing the poppy,” says Tabinda. “It’s just another way to commemorate the soldiers. It’s not a replacement. I feel very proud wearing it.”

But the hijab isn’t just to give Muslims a new way to mark Remembrance Day – the goal is to help educate the public about the role of Muslims during WW1, and to quash anti-Muslim prejudice.

Tabinda-Kauser Ishaq

Only four years ago, a group calling itself ‘Muslims Against Crusades’ set fire to a poppy on Remembrance Sunday and shouted ‘British soldiers burn in hell.’

It caused national outrage. But it’s acts like these that Tabinda wants the public to distinguish as extremist, and not the views of most British Muslims.

“A lot of Muslims are very positive and it’s a very small number of people who have such extreme views,” she stresses. “Any negative or bad act generally creates negative perception of people.

“I think many Muslims celebrate Remembrance Day. There are also many non-Muslims who don’t mark Remembrance Day with a poppy. There are many who commemorate all the soldiers we lost, regardless of their faith.”

It’s to take attention away from extremists

Sughra Ahmed, President of the Islamic Society of Britain, agrees: “Thousands of British Muslims already wear a poppy in November. This is just another way for them to show they remember those who gave their lives for their country. It’s also a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines.

“This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.”

The poppy hijab was launched in 2014, exactly 100 years after the first Muslim soldier was awarded a Victoria Cross for bravery – Khudadad Khan from Pakistan, who fought for Britain on the Western Front during the First World War.

It was Tabinda’s desire to spread this message to as many people as possible that led her to focus on the hijab – a headscarf worn solely by women – and not a male item of clothing, or even a gender-neutral one:

“The male equivalent would be the hat. Not many people wear a hat regularly unless they’re going to the mosque. It wouldn’t generate the same exposure as a hijab. We had to be strategic.

“It’s a strong message we’re trying to put out there so people really need to see it and build curiosity and ask questions.”

It’s all a matter of opinion

She hopes the poppy hijab will create an open dialogue, where non-Muslims will approach women wearing the scarf, and ask them questions about it.

But is she worried that it will backfire, perhaps leading to more prejudice, or being rejected by Muslims?

A model wearing the poppy hijab

“We’re hoping not, but it’s only natural,” she says. “It all comes down to matter of opinion. Over time people have become very experimental with the hijab. As far back as I can remember, people have been wearing patterned ones. We feel more comfortable in trying different things. As a nation we’re very fashionable now. We like to keep on trend.

“[During a photo shoot] passers-by stopped to say we really like [it]… All the models that we used were Muslims and they absolutely loved it and said they’re looking forward to purchasing it. My friends and family, they’re all really eager to buy one and wear it.”

Tabinda, too, is personally glad to wear the scarf. “I have been wearing [a hijab] since I was very young. So it holds a very special place in my life. It helps me keep connected. Apart from my headscarf I’m very modern. It keeps me rooted and grounded.

“I felt very proud wearing [the poppy hijab]. It’s a way to say I’m proudly British and Muslim.”

The new sportswear hijabs for Muslim women

Although the hijab is marketed directly at Muslim women, she also hopes that non-Muslims will feel comfortable buying the scarves and wearing them in different ways:

“It doesn’t have to be worn on the head. We expect people to be creative with it.”

As a budding fashion designer, Tabinda hopes the poppy hijab will now give her a head start on the rest of her career, and help her achieve her dream of working in sustainable fashion. Designing Muslim clothing isn’t something she feels strongly about.

“I know I’m Muslim but it’s something that’s never appealed to me, my designs are mainly mainstream fashion. This is the first project I have designed that’s specifically for Muslims. It’s not something I really hope to delve into.

“I really want to revolutionise the fashion industry, to make sure we always conduct it ethically.”

But in the meantime, her goal is for British Muslims to embrace the poppy hijab, and use it as a way to commemorate the 1.6 million Indian and Muslim soldiers who fought in the war:

“I hope the headscarf gives British Muslims a new way to mark Remembrance Day, and also raise money for the Poppy Appeal. It’s educational all around really.”

The poppy hijab is available to purchase at The Poppy Shop for £19.99 with all costs going directly to the Legion’s work in caring for and supporting members of the British Armed Forces, veterans and their families.

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