A woman who wears the niqab has accused UK politicians of whipping up public hysteria against the Islamic face veil.
Sahar al Faifi says comments such as those by Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, Liberal Democrat MP Jeremy Browne and Labour MP Jack Straw are irresponsible and make women who cover their face a target of anti-Muslim sentiment.
The 28-year-old said: “We are the victims in the street because of these politicians who made it so normal and so ok to be anti-Muslim.”
When asked about the kind of abuse she had received, Ms al Faifi said: “They will call me funny stuff like ninja or even Batman, or say go back to your country. Sometimes it’s physical and they’ll try to take it off.”
Ms al Faifi works as a molecular geneticist in Cardiff and is a community activist. She has worn the niqab for 14 years and doesn’t fit the stereotype of a woman oppressed by her full veil.
She said: “Negative prejudices are promoted as facts among the wider British society … and it’s not true. Have you ever interacted or talked to a woman in niqab rather than talking on her behalf?”
While she gets on with her life, she can’t understand why others view the niqab as a threat.
“It’s an action that Muslim women believe in as an act of modesty to get closer to God. It’s a religious symbol, it is not an oppressive symbol, it’s not a barrier, it’s an act of worship,” she said.
“Most of the women here in Britain wear it out of their personal choice and deep beliefs, there’s no one who can force them and if so there are certain laws and policies that prevents that.”
According to Ms al Faifi, it’s a fear of the unknown, rather than the face veil, that creates divisions.
“The niqab is different. I’m not trying to say I look like other people, but we are here in Britain. Multifaith and multiculture is part of civil society, yes I’m different but what’s wrong with being different?”