UNDER THE HIJAB; (1)They've Been Spat on by Children and Sworn at in the Street. So Why Do These White British Women Still Insist They Have Been Liberated by Islam?(2) FEMAIL

By Halliwell, Rachel | Daily Mail (London), October 17, 2002 | Go to article overview

UNDER THE HIJAB; (1)They've Been Spat on by Children and Sworn at in the Street. So Why Do These White British Women Still Insist They Have Been Liberated by Islam?(2) FEMAIL


Halliwell, Rachel, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: RACHEL HALLIWELL

ISLAM is the world's fastest growing religion - in Britain, there are an estimated 15,000 converts, more than half of whom are believed to be white females.

Here, RACHEL HALLIWELL talks to three such women who have become Moslems.

CATHERINE WARD

AGED 39, she converted to Islam nine years ago. She is head of English in an Islamic Girls School, and is separated from her husband, Astley, 47, a decorator. She lives with their sons Creole, ten, and Ashanti, 12, in Dewsbury, W. Yorks.

Catherine says:

MY BEAUTIFUL long red hair has always been my signature. Growing up on a farm, the only girl with three brothers, it was my distinctive emblem of femininity in a very masculine world.

Later, when I saw how it turned heads, it made me feel glamorous and attractive. But now, as a Moslem woman, I must be inconspicuous in my appearance. The Koran teaches that you should be respected as a person, not a sex object, and emphasising your appearance will undermine that.

I still get to wear beautiful clothes - long velvet gowns and pretty jackets - but it is intrinsic to my faith to hide my striking hair.

Call me vain, but with my head covered I look and feel pale and plain - and that's something to which I am still trying to reconcile myself.

I must hide my best asset while living in a society which judges people so readily on their looks. It's a shallow attitude - Moslems look beyond the physical to a person's integrity and honesty.

I grew up in a devoted Christian family. My parents, Barbara and Harry, were farmers near York and would attend church every Sunday without fail.

My father never worked the land on the Sabbath and every night before I went to sleep the last words I heard from Mum were: 'God bless.' But despite being surrounded by such fervent belief, I felt the people I met at church had got their priorities wrong. Even they were taken in by this obsession with the superficial.

At church, no one ever complimented me on being a good person. Instead, I was praised for my singing voice in the choir or my beautiful hair - things I was born with and that said nothing about me as a person.

As the years passed, my dissatisfaction grew, but it was hard to see where else I could go.

I met my husband Astley through my work as a teacher. I fell head over heels in love with him. He was charismatic and spontaneous, happy to go travelling with me round Europe or be a house husband.

We married in church as, even though Astley had been raised a British Moslem, his faith had lapsed and I felt it was right to marry before God.

But by the time our children Creole and Ashanti were born, I felt sufficiently distanced from Christianity to allow them to be raised as Moslems without any argument.

Despite my husband's background, I didn't consider Islam for myself until we'd been married for seven years.

The marriage was in a mess - my husband was volatile and disparaging of me.

Everything I did was wrong in his eyes. I felt downtrodden and cowed by the constant rows and criticism - I didn't have the strength to stand up to him.

WITH two children, I couldn't see a way out. I was breastfeeding and working fulltime so I was exhausted. My selfesteem was so low.

Soon after we'd married, I was teaching English and life skills part-time at a maximum security prison when one day an inmate gave me a copy of the Koran in thanks for the support I had given him. He said it would bring me comfort.

It sat on a shelf untouched until, one particularly miserable day seven years later, I recalled his words and opened it.

I wasn't expecting anything earth- shattering, but it fell open at a chapter talking about how it was a mistake to refer to Jesus as God's son, which was hugely symbolic to me. …

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