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Poppy hijab honors Muslims, sparks controversy

By Atika Shubert, CNN
updated 8:07 AM EDT, Sat November 1, 2014
  • Many in Britain wear paper poppies during November to remember war dead
  • Tradition dates back to WWI with money raised supporting former soldiers, families
  • Now a Poppy Hijab has gone on sale to a mixed reception online

London (CNN) -- November is the season for poppies in Britain: Red paper flowers to remember those fallen in war.

The tradition dates back to World War I; the paper blooms -- reminiscent of those that grew over the battlefields of Flanders -- are sold by thousands of volunteers, at train stations, in shops, and in offices.

Pinned to the lapels of everyone from the man and woman in the street to news anchors and celebrities, the poppies raise money for the Royal British Legion, a charity which supports serving and former soldiers and their families.

Enter the Poppy Hijab: a Muslim head scarf with the iconic poppy print, launched by the Islamic Society of Britain, and sold online by British Future, with the money going to the Poppy Appeal.

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The hijab was launched to commemorate Khudadad Khan, the first Muslim to receive the Victoria Cross 100 years ago.

"Of the 1.2 million soldiers, Indian soldiers that fought in World War I, 400,000 were Muslim," Sughar Ahmed President of the Islamic Society of Britain told CNN. "That really hits home to me. Because that's part of my heritage. That's part of who I am."

But wearing a poppy is a sensitive issue for many British Muslims.

In 2010, an extremist Muslim group set the paper flowers on fire in protest at British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their act angered Britons and polarized opinion among many British Muslims.

Online, the scarf has received a mixed reception, with some taking to Twitter to mock it as a test of British loyalty.

Sughar Ahmed acknowledges the criticism, but reiterates that it's a choice to buy and wear the scarf, not a test.

"One thing that I think is really intrinsic to this whole debate about the poppy is that we do have a choice," she says. "That, for me, is really quite significant -- because that's what people fought for. For our freedoms. So that we could have a democracy. We could have a choice.

In the streets near the East London Mosque, reviews of the poppy hijab were more positive.

Asked if she would consider wearing the poppy hijab, one woman in a headscarf with green flowers told CNN: "Well, I usually wear the poppy. The red one. But a headscarf? Yeah, as long as it goes with my outfit, why not?"

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