Haniya Aadams wasn’t always a Muslim. She grew up in a Sikh household in central England and converted to Islam a decade ago, at the age of 25.
Since then, she has chosen to wear a niqab. So she knows about what it’s like to be treated differently.
“If I compare my life to what it was before, yes, I think there is a prejudice against Muslims … People are reluctant to speak to women like me, especially (wearing) a niqab, because of the stereotype that maybe we’re extremist, that we’re oppressed, that we can’t speak English,” Aadams told CNN.
Niqabs and burqas were at the center of a controversy that involved the UK’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year when he likened Muslim women who wear veils to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” in his column for the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
When Johnson made that comparison, he had been trying to defend a woman’s right to wear a veil, but his choice of language sparked widespread anger and condemnation, and led many across politics and public life to question Johnson’s character and accuse him of worsening anti-Muslim sentiment.
He has since partially apologized, saying at the launch of his bid to become Prime Minister: “In so far as my words have given offense over the last twenty or thirty years when I’ve been a journalist and people have taken those words out of my articles and escalated them. Of course, I am sorry for the offense they have caused.”
Johnson added, however, that: “I will continue to speak as directly as I can.”
In July, he was confronted with renewed accusations of Islamophobia after a 2007 essay was unearthed in which he claimed Islam left Muslim countries “centuries behind” the Western world.
Johnson is now running a country where life for Muslims has become more hostile in recent years.
Shifting to the right
Aadams is a spokesperson for Green Lane Masjid and Community Center in Birmingham, a city that is home to one of the largest Muslim communities in the UK.
Mosques like Green Lane Masjid often sit at the heart of the community. Parents come to pray while their children play downstairs. Posters on the walls advertise the new football team or the after-school Budding Believers Club. There’s also a food bank, open to all regardless of faith.