French veil ban: One Muslim woman's story from the UK

11/04/11

Saira

As other European countries consider a ban on Muslim women wearing veils, would the UK consider a similar thing?

A private members bill has already been put forward calling for a ban on face covering and polls suggest most people in the UK want to follow in France's footsteps.

But Muslim groups in the UK say what France is doing is offensive and fuelling hatred of Muslims.

They say a lot of young girls are choosing to wear the Muslim veil and it's not an act of enforcement as some claim.

For 21-year-old Saira, covering up is a personal lifestyle choice which surprised her Pakistani-born parents.

"I'll be honest, it does look scary when you look at it," she said.

"I remember the first time I saw myself in a mirror in a shop I thought, 'Oh my god.' So I started wearing colourful scarves to liven it up. Also I'll lift it up if I need to."

Saira says she's no different to any other British girl.

Born in Berkshire, she started wearing the niqab three years ago but says it doesn't mean she isn't proud to be British.

She says she does normal everyday things like shopping, going out with friends and holding down a nine to five job at a local company.

What made you decide to cover up?

"I used to be a troublemaker when I was a teenager.

"I would bunk school, swear at the teachers, jump on school tables and mix with boys.

"Islam never appealed at first because I was always hearing about what you weren't allowed to do.

There are ladies that walk around not wearing much, people with tattoos and piercings that could make people uncomfortable. People like me, we're not walking around to cause terror or intimidate people

"Then I got in touch with a Muslim friend who explained the positive things.

"I started to wear the hijab but I was still doing things I shouldn't be like being rude, nasty and bunking school.

"Wearing the niqab now means I have responsibilities and have to act in a certain way. It gives me boundaries.

"In the Koran, it talks about covering your modesty and beauty. It's down to your interpretation of what beauty is but generally it's considered the face so I want to cover it.

"But it doesn't stop me living life. I still have a job, I go shopping, drive my own car and hang out with friends."

What reaction do you get from people?

"I don't understand the problem really. I'll confront people who say something to me to explain.

"There are ladies that walk around not wearing much, people with tattoos and piercings that could make people uncomfortable.

Saira
Image caption Saira says she doesn't agree with French ban on women wearing veils

"People like me, we're not walking around to cause terror or intimidate people."

Can you still integrate into British society?

"Of course. I don't go to the pub and my idea of a good time isn't going out clubbing.

"I like to go out on day trips around the UK with my friends instead. We went go-karting a while ago.

"In my office I will remove my veil if I need to.

"Whenever there's a security issue I'll lift it up.

"We're not living in an Islamic state, I will abide by the rules and laws here. I'm not trying to make anyone uncomfortable."

What do you think of the ban in France?

"France is such a beautiful country and it's really upsetting.

"I refused to go recently with my friends out of principle.

"They've decided women who wear the veil are oppressed and it's just not true.

"I don't want to go to France now. This law could end up splitting families.

"They want to jail men for something a woman chooses to wear. That is wrong.

"If the UK ever brought a similar ban here, I'd probably have to leave.

"Taking off my niqab is out of the question.

"It's a part of me, my identity, who I am. It'd be like losing a limb."