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Muslim women on wearing the hijab in Europe

MEE speaks to hijab-wearing women in Europe about their experiences
Khadijah Safari, teaches Muay Thai Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) to women in the UK

With recent discussions and controversies surrounding Islamophobia, Middle East Eye wanted to speak to women on the streets of Europe, asking them to tell us their experiences about wearing the hijab (Muslim headscarf).

We have a mixed range of responses, everything from "generally positive experience" to "uncomfortable at times". Hear from European Muslims themselves as they express their experiences in their own words: 

Dr Munazzah Chou

I have been wearing hijab in the UK from the age of 16 (over a decade and a half) and have not experienced any open hostility as a result of it. I have, on rare occassion, felt that I am viewed with some contempt - but this is unusual in my experience and mostly I have found that people are just a little more guarded, at least to begin with.

I work within the National Health Service and find that as an employer it is very accommodating; I have only ever had problems in one hospital which was a result of a few theatre nurses who took issue with my hijab. This was overtly highlighted as a clinical safety problem but the experience led me to conclude that a certain level of prejudice certainly does exist in places. (UK)

Sara Chaudhry

I decided to start wearing the hijab when I was 21. I didn't think about the external impact my new lifestyle change would have until I was living it. I often get questioned about why I wear the hijab, which I am always happy to answer, but I have found that these questions come with preconditioned ideas of "oppressed Muslim women". If anything, I have learnt to feel more empowered wearing my hijab in my current surroundings. I am currently studying my master's in London and have generally had a positive experience wearing the hijab. This is probably due to the diversity and multicultural nature of London. (London, UK)


Sara Chaudhry: "I have learned to feel more empowered wearing my hijab in my current surroundings"

Hélène Agésilas                                       

In France, as a practising Muslim woman, it is not easy to reconcile our professional life and religious involvement.

Despite my extensive academic background it was extremely difficult to get a job, especially since the tragic event which happened in Paris last January (the Charlie Hebdo shooting). Many employers have a negative perception about Islam and hesitate to employ Muslim women who wear the hijab for fear that it would affect their brand image. The choices available to us are either to stay at home or to accept anything, even if it does not match our aspirations or our level of qualifications.

Eager to develop our own aspirations, a friend and I decided a year ago to team up and set up our own business by creating Fringadine, the first upscale French designer clothing brand dedicated to Muslim women. Fringadine is today gaining more and more interest in France and internationally. (France)

Kawtar Boughroum

Wearing the hijab in Spain is uncomfortable at times, so uncomfortable that you start to think, "Why does it bother people so much that I cover my head?" My first years with the hijab were horrible because of hearing comments like "Go back to your country," "Take off that loin cloth," and "Poor thing, why are you wearing that on your head?", among others. Although society has progressed, there are still lots of revolting looks of shame and repulsion towards Muslim girls. In Spain there are still people who are incapable of accepting that there are surnames that aren't Garcia or Lopes.

(Age 20 - Currently studying Journalism at King Juan Carlos University - Spain)

Kawtar Boughroum "Why does it bother people so much that I cover my head?"

Khadijah Safari

My hijab is one of the few that causes a look of shock on people's faces, usually followed by a somewhat confused expression. It usually starts that way when they realise that not only do I speak English, but I do so with a British accent. To hear that my father is Italian and not Arab is where the confused face then starts to appear, but the real deal breaker is when they ask me what I do, or where I'm going (cab drivers used to make polite conversation with this same question every time). What they were not expecting to hear is that I'm on my way to teach Muay Thai kickboxing or MMA [Mixed Martial Arts]. There's usually a second glance in their rear view mirror to check that they didn't see wrong the first time and that I'm still wearing my hijab and wasn't just shielding myself from the rain! (UK)

KhadijaH Safari teaches Muay Thai Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts to women in the UK

Fadumo Ali 

I am a hijabi who lives in London. Being a Londoner born and bred I can safely say I haven't been subjected to Islamaphobic attacks. When I first started secondary school the kids saw me as an alien - bearing in mind that I lived in quite a racist white area. The children were quite interested in my hijab so naturally asked me a lot of questions, some good and some quite stupid (Do you shower with a hijab on? What happens if you take it off?). As I grew up, non-Muslims knew that my hijab meant I was a practising Muslim, so they knew I wasn't allowed to go to the pub with them or to the clubs (which was a very good thing to be honest). London is such a diverse place, with people from all religions and ethnicities, that being a hijabi is fine. It doesn't hinder me, nor do I feel scared about wearing it. London is a safe place, I feel, for a hijabi. (London, UK)

Yasmien N

I started to wear my hijab almost three years ago. I didn’t suffer from the headscarf ban during my studies, since it’s accepted at universities and only banned at primary and secondary schools. But I did experience a lot of difficulties finding a job/internship. Of course giving up was not an option. The hijab is a part of my personality. A part of who I am and it's my choice. I won't accept the oppression of my personality. Now I’m a trainee at Microsoft and I love it more than anything.

My hijab made me realise how important it is to be independent and to work things out myself. To be my own boss and even to start my own company, which I hope to do soon. (Belgium)
Yasmien. N. "My hijab made me realize how important it is to be independent and to work things out myself."

Shaheen Sattar 

A waiter, who was seemingly interested in current affairs, once thought to ask me, “Do you wear it out of choice or are you forced?” in casual conversation, as if he was asking if I wanted the rice or salad. I get odd stares on the London Undergound, people look at me with distrust. The hijab has become a political tool; my actions whilst wearing it have the potential to affect X amount of Muslim women across the world. My hijab has become public property. So I smile at people on the Tube, even if I am in a bad mood. (UK)

Shahnaaz Abdul Salaam

I converted to Islam in 2001 and have found it an easy experience wearing the hijab. As a white convert, when I started wearing it, I was expecting the worst, especially following 9/11, which had happened a month after my conversion. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that people treated me normally. I wouldn’t ever give up wearing the hijab because it has become a part of me, both spiritually and personally. (UK)


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