Nothing Hateful About Hijab

Jess Gray makes a non-religious plea for religious tolerance.

Hate crimes against Muslims in London rose by 70 per cent between 2014 and 2015, according to Tell MAMA, a national project which monitors anti-Muslim incidents across the UK.

Tell MAMA recently told the BBC that 60 per cent of victims were Muslim women wearing the hijab. I personally find this a shocking and hideous statistic. Although I am not Muslim, I am from a minority ethnic group, and I readily sympathise with the people on the receiving end of these hate crimes.

If these incidents are unsettling for me, how does it feel if you are a Muslim girl my age wearing the hijab?

I spoke to Hannah and Jasmin, who wear the hijab on a regular basis, about how they feel the British public perceives them. The answers I received not only shocked me to my core, but opened my eyes to exactly what hijabis have to face day to day.

I began by asking if they had ever experienced verbal or even physical abuse. Hannah did not hesitate to tell me that she has received racist comments via the social media platform Twitter. Her display photograph is of herself, wearing the hijab. The comments she has received range from ‘towel head’ to ‘rag head’.

To me this was outrageous and shocking, but to the young girl my age sitting opposite me, it was normal every day stuff – nothing out of the ordinary. When I asked Hannah for her reaction to these comments she took a water off a duck’s back attitude, telling me that these people’s opinions don’t matter to her, so it doesn’t bother her. I felt humbled by her mature approach.

Jasmin went on to tell me that although she has never received direct abuse personally, a situation arose with her and her family, years before she began to wear the hijab. She and her brother were waiting to get on a bus with family members wearing the hijab standing behind them in the queue. The bus driver slammed the doors immediately after Jasmin and her brother entered the bus, and refused to let her relatives get on, claiming he was on a ‘tight schedule’. He wouldn’t even let Jasmin and her brother get off, in case the hijabis managed to sneak on while the doors were open!

I found it very difficult to conceal my horror when Jasmin told me this, as I pictured myself at such a young age in this situation.

The difficulties that Hannah and Jasmin have had to face are fairly mild compared to what’s happened to some Muslims in the UK. The girls informed me that at a London Underground station in 2015 a man tried to push a hijabi onto the tracks. Thankfully she did not end up under a train – but she very nearly became the ‘passenger ‘ in one of those terrible announcements.

When I asked the girls how such occurrences make them feel, they said they feel very nervous around tube platforms and will always make sure they stay well away from the yellow line, just in case something similar happens to them.

Their feelings of frustration became more apparent when we discussed media coverage of Muslims. They told me that the majority of popular newspapers in the UK such as the Sun, The Mirror and the Daily Mail, offer a demonised and one dimensional picture of Muslims as terrorists or potential terrorists – very damaging for the vast majority of peaceful and hardworking Muslims who have done absolutely nothing to deserve this description.

Hannah and Jasmin have managed to stay calm and carry on. But why should they have to put up with this pressure when all they want to do is get on with their lives?

I am not religious, but I strongly believe that no one within the British community should be isolated or singled out whether they choose to wear a sign of faith or not.