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Huzzah! British “Bobby” Gets To Wear Hijab

From those defenders of the faith at the UK’s Cambridge Evening News:

Muslim officer is first on the beat donning hijab

RUKSHANA Begum is, without question, one of a kind. This week, the 23-year-old will become the first police officer ever to wear the Muslim hijab, or headscarf, on duty in Cambridgeshire. And she can’t wait.

“I’ve struggled to get where I am,” she admits. “But I feel that my generation is the one which is going to break barriers. I hope that people will look at me and think, ‘If she can do it, so can I’.” …

Rukshana has just completed a degree in criminology at Anglia Ruskin. And she admits it’s not always been easy to fit in her shifts as a special.

“Once or twice I had to cancel a duty when family came over,” she confesses. “They’d say ‘Is your daughter a police?’, like it was something shameful. It did wind me up. It’s such a respectable thing to do, it’s not like I was dossing in my spare time.”

Since those early days, Rukshana’s family and friends have got used to her being a special. A handful of relations, thinking of signing up themselves have even asked for application forms.

Raised a devout Muslim, who learned how to pray and read the Qur’an at Cambridge’s Abu Bakar Siddiq Mosque on Mawson Road, Rukshana recently came to another big decision: from now on, she’s going to wear hijab – even when she’s on police duty.

“Our parents never forced us to wear it,” explains Rukshana. “But I’m a practising Muslim: I pray, I read the Qur’an, I fast during Ramadan . . . I thought ‘If I can do all that, I want to take the next step forward to show my devotion to my faith’.

“And so I decided to wear a headscarf. You can’t cherry pick when and where to wear it. That would be hypocritical, wouldn’t it?”

Rukshana contacted Cambridgeshire Specials Co-ordinator Shahina Ahmed, herself a Muslim. At the time, last autumn, hijab was not issued as part of standard uniform. So the constabulary set about getting a scarf designed and made specially for Rukshana.

Sourcing various examples, from the few UK forces which provide hijab, they came up with the finished design earlier this year – with safety in mind. While most headscarves are held in place with pins, Rukshana’s is fastened with a strip of poppers.

Should an assailant grab her hijab, while on duty, it will simply pull apart. Made to order by a tailor in Yorkshire, from a special stretchy material, the scarves cost £15 each to buy.

“I think it’s a very positive thing,” says Shahina. “The Chief Constable, Julie Spence, has been supportive from day one. But we did have some resistance from members of the force, asking ‘Do you want to put your officer at risk?’ I don’t see it that way people have to accept you for who you are.”

After four years as a special (the only Muslim in her station), Rukshana has done everything from directing traffic to dealing with public disorder offences. And she’s never encountered any violence or racism.

“People have always looked at me and known I was from an ethnic minority,” she explains.

“Wearing a headscarf will narrow down my identity – people will know I’m a Muslim.

“And I see that as a really positive thing; it feels right for me, and I’m not expecting any negative impact.

“Since 9/11, the whole terrorism thing, people think all Muslims must be members of al Qaeda. But my family is from Bangladesh, which is nowhere near the Middle East.

“Hopefully, when people see me out on the street in my police uniform, it will make them think again.”

RUKSHANA’S move to wear hijab has received the backing of Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s top brass.

“Our staff represent the many communities we serve, and we respect and always try to accommodate any adaptation staff with particular beliefs may want to make to their uniform,” says Deputy Chief Constable John Feavyour.

“Uniform is obviously there to serve a purpose in terms of identity and safety, and all changes to uniform are made in line with guidelines that ensure the officer or staff member is able to conduct their normal policing or other duties safely and effectively.”

Her efforts have also been welcomed by the wider Muslim community in Cambridge. Abdul Arain is coordinator of Cambridge Muslims Online and a leading member of the Abu Bakar Siddiq Mosque on Mawson Road in the city. He says: “Muslims in the UK are active supporters of and instigators in the positive progress of British society.

They should be able to fully integrate with every section of that society, including the armed forces, the police force and all the other institutions which exist. So this is definitely a step in the right direction.” …

Forces gear up for hijab wearers

AT THE moment, Rukshana is very much in the minority – among both regular and special police officers. A spokesman for the national Police Federation says it is almost impossible to quantify the number of Muslims nationwide who elect to wear hijab on duty, because it is very much a personal choice and, as yet, the headscarf isn’t issued as uniform across many forces.

Ibrar Hamed, of the Association of Muslim Police in London, says the Met are currently in the process of introducing hijab as a standard uniform option.

While Rukshana will wear a protective bowler hat on top of her hijab when necessary, to protect her head from potential blows, the Met’s aim is to provide a special skull cap instead, which can slot under the scarf.

“In brief, the policy states there is a need to risk assess the officer’s tasking,” adds Ibrar. “If the risk assessment indicates a bowler hat would normally be required, then the officer can obtain a protective insert for her hijab from clothing stores.

She should not normally be forced to wear a bowler hat over her hijab but has the choice to do so.”

Ah, what a beautiful story.

A true triumph of the human spirit.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, June 18th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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