Canberra Muslim woman stopped wearing hijab for fear of being attacked

Canberra Muslim woman Nurcan Baran says she has stopped wearing her hijab for fear of being attacked.

On Thursday Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry approved new interim rules to force Muslim women who cover their faces to sit in a separate glass-enclosed public gallery in Federal Parliament.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott stepped in and asked Ms Bishop to reconsider the ruling.

Mrs Baran said the increasingly strident debate has stirred unease with Canberra’s Muslim community.

The 22-year-old mother and part-time law student at the University of Canberra began thinking about wearing a hijab at 13, but did not start wearing one until she was overseas in 2012 aged 19.

The self-proclaimed “proud Muslim feminist” emphasised she chose to wear the hijab and was not forced.

“They say it is meant to stop men looking for you. It is not,” she said.

“It is for that woman’s own modesty and I think instead of being viewed as a tool of oppression it needs to be viewed as a woman’s choice.”

But Mrs Baran said she chose to stop wearing the hijab in December 2013 because of negative treatment she was receiving in Canberra.



Nurcan Baran said she stopped wearing her hijab after she was treated negatively in Canberra.

1 reply

  1. When youth worker Sumreen Farooq was abused in a London street, the 18-year-old decided it was time to take a stand – and she started to wear a headscarf.

    Farooq is one of many young Muslim women living in Britain who have, for various reasons, chosen to adopt the headscarf to declare their faith to all around them, despite figures showing rising violence against visibly identifiable Muslims.

    For despite a common view that young Muslim women are forced to wear veils by men or their families, studies and interviews point to the opposite in Muslim minority countries where it is often the case that the women themselves choose to cover up.

    “I’m going to stand out whatever I do, so I might as well wear the headscarf,” said Farooq, a shop assistant who also volunteers at an Islamic youth centre in Leyton, east London.

    While just under 5 percent of Britain’s 63 million population are Muslim, there are no official numbers on how many women wear a hijab, or the full-face veil, the niqab, which covers all the face except the eyes. The niqab is usually worn with a head-to-toe robe or abaya.

    But anecdotally it seems in recent years that more young women are choosing to wear a headscarf to assert a Muslim identity they feel is under attack and to publicly display their beliefs.

    Shanza Ali, 25, a Masters graduate who works for a Muslim-led non-profit organization in London, said she was born in Pakistan and her Pakistani mother had never worn the veil but both she and her sister Sundas chose to do so aged about 20.

    “I decided to make a commitment as a Muslim and I have never stopped since,” Shanza told Reuters in her family home in Walthamstow, east London where prayer mats hang from the walls alongside modern, family portraits.

    “Sometimes you forget that you’re covering your hair but you never forget why you’re covering. You remember, that to you, your character should be more important than your appearance.

    “It makes it easier for Muslim women to keep away from things that you don’t want to do that would impact your value system. If you don’t want to go clubbing, drink, or have relations outside marriage, it can help, but it can also just be a reminder to be a good person and treat others well.”

    Shaista Gohir, chairman of the Muslim Women’s Network U.K., said more women had adopted headscarves after the attacks in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and in London on July 7, 2005, put them under greater political and public scrutiny.

    “For some young women it is a way of showing they are different and … Muslim although it is not a Muslim obligation,” she told Reuters.

    Women who publicly display their religion by wearing a scarf of any kind have found they can be targeted for doing so.

    Figures released recently from the campaign group Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) showed the number of attacks against Muslims in Britain was on the rise.

    During its first year of monitoring, Tell MAMA recorded 584 anti-Muslim incidents between April 1, 2012, and April 30, 2013, with about 74 percent of these taking place online.

    Of the physical incidents, six in 10, or 58 percent, were against Muslim women and 80 percent of women targeted were visually identifiable by wearing a hijab or niqab.

    The number rose to 734 incidents over the 10 months from May 2013 to February 2014 with 54 percent of these against women and a total of 599 online.

    There was a spike in reports in the weeks following the murder of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in south London in May last year by two British Muslim converts.

    “Attacks against visibly dressed Muslim females may not accurately explain away the trend of hate crimes being opportunistic and situational. The data suggests that the alleged perpetrators of anti-Muslim hate crimes at a street-based level, are young white males targeting Muslim women, and that is a cause for concern,” Tell MAMA said.

    Matthew Feldman, co-founder of the Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies at Teesside University who analyses Tell MAMA data, said that the rise in the numbers of attacks could be partly due to more awareness of the reporting process.

    “But there is a slight bump in the occurrence of people wearing more visible dress and of victims being women rather than men,” Feldman told Reuters.

    “We are seeing an unacceptable rise in the level of anti-Muslim attacks but it does seem there is a pretty small number of violent, hard core far-right people responsible for a high number of these.”

    The conclusion of a study last year by the University of Birmingham found that over 15 years Muslim women had repeatedly been shown to be disproportionately targeted in relation to anti-Muslim hatred as they were identifiable.

    None of the women attacked, however, had stopped wearing a veil as a result.

    Yasmin Navsa, 17, a student from Hackney in east London, said wearing a hijab made her stand out and made her different.

    “In Islam it doesn’t say anywhere you have to wear a veil but it’s a choice. It’s more fashionable now with different colours and styles which makes it more attractive to wear,” Navsa told Reuters in a break from exams.

    An international study in 2012, conducted in Austria, India, Indonesia and Britain, looked at Muslim women’s views on wearing a headscarf in Indonesia which is a Muslim majority society, compared to India that is a Muslim minority.

    It found that in a majority, women talked about convenience, fashion, and modesty as reasons for veiling.

    However, in minority communities, the responses from women were more diverse, ranging from religious arguments and convenience to opposition against stereotypes and discrimination.

    “For women in minorities the veil was a way to affirm their cultural identity and a political and resistant way to address negativity about Muslim communities,” said researcher Caroline Howarth, from the London School of Economics.

    “This does contradict the view dominant in non-Muslim countries in the West that the female scarf is a symbol of religious fundamentalism and patriarchal oppression.”

    Sundas Ali, 29, said her husband, whom she married last year after an introduction between their families, made it clear to her from the outset that wearing the hijab was her decision. “There is a misconception that it is the men telling the women what they should wear but for me and all my friends this is just not the case,” Sundas, an Oxford university graduate with a doctorate in sociology, told Reuters.

    “My husband left it up to me as he doesn’t practice ritualistic religion. We both have a mixed identity, our religious, ethnic, and national identities are all important to us. His eastern side really appealed to me but also the fact that he is quite liberal, in an open-minded way. We really are the modern Muslim generation,” she said.

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