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View Full Version : The Veil has set us free

05-14-2005, 05:00 PM

(This article was reported on Daily Mail newspaper on 18th of April, I thought I'd share it)

The Veil has set us free
publication date: 1 May 2005

More and more Western women are making the remarkable decision to convert to Islam. A stereotypical view paints this as the religion which represses women and forces them to hide behind floor-length robes. But this is not the full picture, as one British woman, Na'ima Bint Robert, argues in a new book. Here, she and three others tell DIANA APPLEYARD and RACHEL HALLIWELL what lay behind their life-changing decision.

By Diana Appleyard and Rachel Halliwell

Na'ima Bint RobertNa'ima Bint Robert, 27, has just written a book, From My Sister's Lips, about her experiences as a Western woman converting to Islam. Na'ima, who is married to Abdullah, 29, who works in marketing, has two young children, aged five and two, and lives in South London. She says: I HAD the usual kind of teenage years, listening to R&B music, wearing fashionable clothes and becoming interested in boys. At university, I loved to party although I was never a big drinker, and I was more involved with student politics than anything else.

I did have normal romantic relationships, but I didn't have a hedonistic lifestyle. My family (my father was an academic and my mother a businesswoman) wasn't religious at all and I'd grown up feeling pretty disdainful of all religions.

Then, when I was 21, I went to a music festival in Egypt. At the time I was taking a degree in French, Politics and Business Studies in London. In Egypt, I became far more aware of the sights and sounds - the call to prayer from the mosque, the constant repetition of 'Ins'allah' ('If Allah wills it').

I started reading the Koran.

Initially, I was simply drawn to the fact that the lifestyle made so much sense to me: it was much more safe and wholesome than the Western culture where women were encouraged to wear revealing clothes.

I stopped drinking and having boyfriends, as well as eating pork, and I tried to lead a much more God- centred life. In a way, I had quite a sensual conversion - I loved the sights and the sounds of Islam, the prayer, and the purity of living.

Here was a whole new way to live.

I talked endlessly to friends, both Muslim and non-Muslim, debating the issues. I began to see that here was a moral code to live by that made sense. Islam placed far more store on the need for fidelity and the importance of the family than the culture I'd known in Britain. It didn't mean that you couldn't have fun, that you couldn't have a fulfilling relationship with your husband.

The more I explored Islam, the more it made me realise just how decadent Western society has become, with women encouraged to walk about wearing tiny tops and short skirts for men to leer at.

Did I want to be treated like a sex object, or did I want to be judged on my personality and my opinions? I made the decision to convert when I was 21 and have never looked back.

I went to the mosque in London with a friend, wearing the hijab - the headscarf - and I made the shahadah, which is the testament that I would worship no one but Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.

I made this in front of the Imam, the Islamic preacher, but you can just do it in front of a witness if you want. Then, when you get home, you have to take a bath. It's like being a new-born baby, washed of sin.

My mother was very happy for me - she had become more religious as she got older - but my father was really upset. He thought that the freethinking person I was would be lost under the immovable rules of the new religion and I would end up marrying some boorish man who would treat me like a slave.

Of course, that didn't happen.

Now he can see that I am the same person I ever was - only better.

At first, after my conversion, I just wore the hijab, which covers your hair. Then I married my husband, who is also a Muslim convert, and I became more attracted to the idea of covering myself up completely, to have so much privacy.

Islam does not dictate you have to wear the jilbab, the floor-length robe, and the niqab, which is the head-dress which covers all of the face apart from the eyes, but it was a relief that men could not gaze at any part of me. My body is my property, not anyone else's.

It does inevitably attract attention, though. A friend of mine took her child to a hospital recently wearing her niqab and a man in the queue said, quite loudly: 'I bet she looks a right dog under that.' People think you can't understand, that you are an uneducated immigrant, and they say the most outrageous things in front of you.

In parks and public places, people literally steer clear and don't talk to me, but I've found that once they hear my voice and see my eyes smile, they relax because they realise that under the robe there is an educated, articulate person.

I only wear the niqab in public or with strangers; at home, with my husband or with girlfriends, I wear normal fashions and makeup.

People think that we're repressed but my relationship with my husband is quite normal - in fact, we are incredibly close and have a very intense, loving relationship which is also based on friendship.

Western women slob out in front of the TV at home and dress up to go out - it's the other way round for us. I dress up for my husband in the privacy of our home.

I don't have to worry about him being attracted to one of my friends, because we don't expose ourselves to temptation in the way that Western couples do. If he has male friends round I disappear, and if my girlfriends come round he will leave us alone. He inhabits a male world and I inhabit a female world.

We go swimming and to the gym, but only with other women present.

I hate the oppression of women, and it makes my blood boil that it is done in the name of Islam - when people use Islam as a tool to oppress. Those attitudes are ingrained in some countries' cultures and the behaviour is then excused in the name of religion.

I know that more and more Western women are converting to Islam, because I interviewed a lot of women for my book. Sales of the Koran are soaring, because I think many women want answers to the way that Western society is heading, obsessed with trivia and celebrity culture. They are right to ask those questions.

¦ From My Sister's Lips: A Celebration of Moslem Womanhood (Bantam Press, £12.99).

Sarah Joesph, 33, works as a lecturer and runs a Muslim lifestyle magazine called Emel. She was awarded the OBE in 2004 for services to women's rights.

She is married to Mahmud, 41, a human rights barrister, and has three children, Hasan, nine, Sumayah, six, and Amirah, three.

The family live in West London.

Sarah, who grew up in London, says: When I was 14, my brother married a Muslim girl whom he'd met at a party, and he converted to Islam. It made me realise I had a lot of prejudices.

To me, Islam was all about terrorism, hijackings and men being able to divorce women by simply saying it three times. And yet there was my beautiful, gentle sister-in-law, and soon my lovely, sweet niece. None of it added up.

I realised there was so much ignorance out there and it angered me. I started reading books about Islam and asking Muslims questions.

Meanwhile, I was being educated in Mayfair and Chelsea, and my friends had the usual teenage interests, although I went to a Catholic school so there weren't too many parties.

My father was an accountant and my mother ran a model agency, and I was surrounded by incredibly beautiful, slim women. My teenage years were full of glitz and glamour.

My mother was a Roman Catholic, but I was at that age when I questioned everything fiercely, and I realised I no longer believed in the Catholic faith - I could not accept papal infallibility and original sin.

By the age of 17, I began to feel that there were obvious pressures on women in Western society to look slim and beautiful, and that didn't have any relevance to me.

The more I studied the Koran over several months, the more I realised that Islam held many truths which I found admirable.

I had always believed in God, and here was this very simple religion with a clear, powerful doctrine. There weren't the complications and traditions of the Roman Catholic faith, just the strong, simple belief in the one God.

It took me several years to decide to convert, and I did face some prejudice. People seem frightened of the religion because they don't understand it.

I started attending the mosque in Regent's Park, and I was made very welcome by the Imam. I began wearing the hijab because that is an obligation to cover your head and dress modestly. At first I felt uncomfortable, as if everyone was staring at me in a negative way. But gradually I got used to it and it is no longer an issue for me.

As I've got older, the lifestyle choices - not drinking, having a very close family life and not being exposed to the decadent elements of Western society - have become a welcome part of my life.

But my parents found my conversion hard to accept. It was, in a way, a bereavement to them - they felt they had lost their child to Islam. It took me a long time to convince them that actually Islam was an extension of all the things they had brought me up to believe in: good citizenship, community, the importance of home and family.

I utterly condemn women being forced by men or society to wear the jilbab or niqab - that is wrong.

It should be about choice, not an imposition of society.

After September 11, my husband and I went on the road for a year with the children, lecturing up and down the country to condemn the terrorist actions. I am totally against oppression.

When I am wearing the veil, I feel as if I am not judged so much on my looks. It's liberating rather than oppressive. I find it empowering - I am judged by what I have to say, not what I look like.

I try to look smart, without wearing anything revealing or figure hugging. To go out, I tend to dress in demure Laura Ashley clothes as well as the hijab.

At home, my husband and I have a normal relationship - he is a very relaxed, modern man and we share the childcare and domestic duties.

I've found that not being obsessed with the way I look, allied to the clear, simple faith of Islam, gives me far more time to get on with the important things in life - family, work and friends.

Tasnim Salin, formerly Kimberley McCrindle, 23, converted to Islam five years ago after meeting her Sudanese husband Sabir, 38, at college.

They live in Edinburgh with their daughters Reyyeen, two, and seven-month-old Tibyan.

Tasnim says: I sometimes get abuse yelled at me in the streets where I grew up because I wear the hijab, which identifies me as a Muslim - strangers sneering that I am a terrorist and that I should 'go back to my own country'. When I calmly reply, in my broad Scots accent, that I am in my own country, they seem bemused.

When I struggle with my pram on the bus, people turn away rather than ask if I need help. It's only when they hear me speak and realise I am 'one of them' that they offer me their seat.

People need to understand Islam has nothing to do with honour killings and the oppression of women. But when they see my hijab, they seem to find it easier to stereotype me as a downtrodden foreigner rather than try to understand how my faith has made me happier and more fulfilled.

As a child I was timid and overweight-which made me a target for bullies. Then at college I became friends with some Muslim girls. They accepted me without judgment.

Through them and the Koran teachings, I learned that it's who you are, not what you look like, that counts.

All around me I saw other women getting drunk and sleeping around.

I knew that was not the way to happiness and I wanted a different life. My parents (Ronald, a greenkeeper, and Victoria, a secretary) were upset when I told them about my plans to convert. As atheists, they brought me up to believe there was no God and they couldn't understand why I needed to give my life more meaning.

But by turning to Islam, I felt I was embracing a religion that gives great weight to decency, respect and the values of a loving family.

I converted about six months later in 2000 at the central mosque in Edinburgh.

The first time I wore the hijab after I took the shahadah testimony of faith five years ago, I felt strangely relieved. People could no longer judge me by my looks; they'd have to get to know the real me.

I find it liberating rather than restricting. I like the fact that when I leave my home I am covered and cannot be judged as a sexual object. It makes me feel safe, and I wear it whenever I leave the house.

Now, I wear a mixture of Western and Sudanese clothes inside the house and a sari (a full-length robe) when I go out. I never wear makeup outside the home.

After I converted, it became easier for my family to simply ignore the fact that I wore the hijab. At first they even refused to acknowledge my Muslim marriage to Sabir, who is from Sudan, which took place about six months after I converted. But they now see how in love we are, and witnessed our civil marriage at a register office two years later. We didn't feel the need for a civil ceremony but I was pregnant and we did it to make my parents feel better.

People assume Muslim women are downtrodden. In fact, we are treated like queens by our men.

My husband makes me feel so special and protected, and helps me with everything from the housework to bringing up our children. The Koran teaches men that if they are good to their wives they will go to heaven. A true man of Islam will do everything in his power to honour that.

Now that my parents have Muslim grandchildren, they are more understanding of my faith. They love the children and feel they need to understand Islam so that they can be involved in every aspect of their lives.

They have read the Koran and they are as intrigued by its values as I was. It is no longer a taboo subject.

Despite the abuse I have experienced, I believe more British women are turning to Islam. Every time I visit the mosque I see a new white face and it gives me hope that more people will find the religion that has given such meaning to my life - meaning that was missing from it for so long. I feel I belong at last.

Karen Allen, 31, converted to Islam in June 2001. A TV scheduler, she recently married a Muslim man and lives in East London. She says: Given how much faith I now place in my religion, it's ironic that before I converted I wasn't at all religious.

I grew up in London, and my mother Jill, a school assistant, and father Les, who works in the clothing trade, both had a Church of England background, but religion had never appealed to them, so I grew up without believing in anything.

But when I was 26 a close friend was killed in a car crash and I began to question my life. I had a fulfilling career in television and a loving family, but still something seemed to be missing.

Near my home is an Islamic bookshop, which I walked past most days. I had never been inside, but one morning, when I was feeling particularly low, I felt myself inexplicably drawn through the door.

I began flicking through the books, including the Koran, and as I read I was instantly struck by how Islam emphasised the need to lead a respectable life seven days a week, rather than just one hour in a church on a Sunday.

More fundamentally, I had always had a problem with Christianity in that I could not believe God could have a mortal son. And in the Koran, which said Jesus was a prophet, I found beliefs that I felt really made sense to me, about the values of sobriety and respect, which the religion taught.

I became a regular visitor to the shop, always absorbing new information. Two months later, I told the owner I wanted to become a Muslim but didn't know Arabic or how to pray. He explained the shahadah, and explained that the important thing was to have faith and believe in Islam - I could learn the rest as I went along. A week later, I took shahadah in the shop.

The first time I wore a hijab to work my colleagues were visibly shocked - it was only three months after September 11, which made my decision even more poignant.

One misconception that really got to me - and still does - was when people expressed surprise that someone as fiercely independent as me could choose a faith that suppresses women so much.

But that is such an erroneous belief. Just because I cover myself doesn't mean I am dominated. I do it through choice, because I want to be judged for my words and actions, not for what I look like.

My self- esteem as a Muslim woman is far higher than it ever was before I found Islam. I am in control of how I am perceived and I find that empowering.

Before I converted, I was tired of men leering at women in the street - this country promotes a culture in which looks have become more important than character, especially in women. That's why, every time I leave my flat, my head covered with the hijab, I feel a great sense of pride that I am instantly identifiable as a Muslim woman.

It wasn't always that way. For the first six months I couldn't bring myself to wear the headscarf. I am fiery and independent, and I just couldn't grasp why it was so important for me to hide myself.

Also, at that time, I wanted to keep the fact that I was now a Muslim very close to me. I had told only my parents and dearest friends about my conversion - they were supportive and intrigued - but I didn't want to have to deal with questions from people who might have been less accepting.

But as I settled into my new faith, it started to feel churlish to continue to fight against that aspect of being a Muslim woman. I began to see the hijab as only an extension of what I believe: there is no need to flaunt your body when you're happy with who you really are.

I've had the odd comment from ignorant strangers who've called me a terrorist or asked if I am a member of the Taliban, but luckily that's as far as it's gone.

I certainly haven't lost any friends because of my conversion. I was never one for going out to clubs or drinking, so the basics of my life are no different. But since finding Islam, I feel happier and more at ease with myself than I can ever remember being before.

When I met a Muslim man and fell in love, I didn't think twice about marrying him. He has every respect for women and treats me better than any man I've known.

Islam has given me a new-found self-respect. I feel now that the only person who judges me is myself, and as long as I'm true to my Muslim beliefs, my life as a woman will be richer than ever.


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05-14-2005, 06:26 PM
such a great article
its interesting in it :)

Ibn Syed
05-14-2005, 06:27 PM
Good read

05-14-2005, 08:48 PM
assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

man these women are cool masha'Allah. :thumbs_up

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05-15-2005, 02:09 PM

yeah i know we are :applaud:

05-15-2005, 03:34 PM

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