Wearing a veil in Britain

Wearing a veil in Britain


Young and old, many Muslim women living in Britain choose to wear a veil or headscarf as a sign of their faith. Despite a common view that women who follow Islam face strong social pressure to wear a headscarf, many explain that they themselves want to cover up.

Reuters photographer Olivia Harris took portraits of Muslim women and girls in London who wear a veil, and they shared their opinions about it.

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

When youth worker Sumreen Farooq was racially abused in a London street, the 18-year-old decided it was time to take a stand - and she started to wear a headscarf, or hijab.

"I'm going to stand out whatever I do, so I might as well wear the headscarf," she said.

Farooq, who volunteers at an Islamic youth centre in east London, is shown here teaching children a nasheed or Islamic religious song.

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Ten-year-old Sanaa (pictured right, next to her sister) wears a hijab when she attends Islamic Saturday school. She occasionally wears a veil to go to school during the week as well.

Dalila, Sanaa's mother, said: “She may start to wear the headscarf every day next year. Sanaa will decide for herself when she's ready to wear it every day.”

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Sundas Ali (left) poses for a picture with her mother Naheed and her sister Shanza.

Sundas said her husband, whom she married after an introduction between their families, made it clear to her from the outset that wearing the veil was her decision.

"There is a misconception that it is the men telling the women what they should wear but for me and all my friends this is just not the case," Sundas, an Oxford university graduate with a PhD in sociology, told Reuters.

"My husband left it up to me as he doesn't practise ritualistic religion. We both have a mixed identity, our religious, ethnic, and national identities are all important to us.”

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Sundas’ sister Shanza Ali, shown here taking pictures at Sundas’ wedding, is a Masters graduate who works for a Muslim-led non-profit organisation in London.

She was born in Pakistan and her Pakistani mother had never worn the veil but both she and Sundas chose to do so aged about 20.

"I decided to make a commitment as a Muslim and I have never stopped since," Shanza told Reuters.

"It makes it easier for Muslim women to keep away from things that you don't want to do that would impact your value system. If you don't want to go clubbing, drink, or have relations outside marriage, it can help, but it can also just be a reminder to be a good person and treat others well."

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Brenda, originally from Mexico, converted from Catholicism to Islam when she came to London.

She has always lived a strictly religious life and thought about becoming a nun before she realised she wanted children.

“I know I'm in a non-Muslim country and so I try to respect the rules,” she said.

“Sometimes people say nice things about my children or they smile at me and I try to smile back at them. I know they can't see my face but I hope they know I'm smiling with my eyes.”

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Ameera, 12, first wore the hijab as part of her primary school uniform.

She said she started to wear it full-time age nine because most of her friends wore a headscarf.

Her mother would tell her: ‘You don't have to wear it. You're still young!’ but she loves to wear it and has as many as 60 or 70 different scarves.

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Hana (centre) sits on a swing after finishing a GCSE exam near her school in Hackney, east London.

Hana started wearing her headscarf full-time aged 12. She said she was already wearing it at school and her family supported her so it was easy for her to make the decision.

She said it felt like nothing had changed except her relationship with God.

. London, United Kingdom. REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Madiha, 12, and Afsha, 11, both started to wear the hijab around the age of eight.

They wear a headscarf for religious observance, modesty and to protect themselves.