Maleeha Mansur, London
In medicine, we are always taught that in making decisions about a patient, they should be involved and consulted with the ultimate choice lying with them, for all patients have capacity unless proven otherwise. So when I read about the Prime Minister’s recent intention of imposing English lessons on Muslim women, abolishing gender segregation and potentially banning the Muslim veil as means of tackling extremism I wished he would ask us – British Muslim women. The answer I assure you will be incredibly loud and clear.
I could not agree more about the importance of knowledge of the wonderful English language for someone living in Britain. Certainly, there is no objection to the introduction of, for example, compulsory language courses for immigrants. This would certainly facilitate their integration into our wonderful British society. However, to single out only Muslim women for such laws is absurd and contrary to the principles of equality in the treatment of citizens. As a born and bred Londoner, such a principle comes as a shock to the British values that I have grown up with and treasure with the depths of my heart. All of the Muslim women that surround me, and I talk in hundreds, are heavily integrated into our society. We are British, we are women, we are Muslim and we are teachers, doctors, nurses, scientists, opticians and pretty much every other profession. The other gigantic elephant in the proposed English language policy that our dear Prime Minister seems to have ignored is the violation of an innocent child’s human right to free access to its parents by, for example, non-extension of spousal visas. To help and encourage all immigrants to learn the English language can only be welcomed, applauded and supported. However, to apply this only to Muslim women and potentially separate families deserves nothing but condemnation.
Now, there remain two other horrendous ideas that have this supposed means of tackling extremism have suggested. The argument put forward is that the Islamic principle of gender segregation is facilitating abhorrent practices such as forced marriages and female genital mutilation. These practices are certainly most repugnant and cannot be abolished fast enough. However, quite frankly, I cannot see how gender segregation, a principle that encourages purity in society, can be deemed causative of such practices. There is simply no justification for equating the two. One may ask, what are we to make of gender segregation? First and foremost I would ask the Government to ask us – its Muslim women citizens who it falsely believes are being forced into segregation. We treasure and enjoy this segregation as a matter of something to celebrate. Indeed when we invite our non-Muslim friends to our segregated events, they are truly surprised at how comfortable they are in such an environment and repeatedly affirm on how free and relaxed they feel. For us, gender segregation is in fact something that we embed in our daily lives. As a doctor I understand that my work in serving humanity requires me to interact with male colleagues and patients. However, in personal matters, I am a free person to make choices in which I feel most comfortable. This is true of even seemingly small things such as avoiding having lunch with male colleagues in the hospital canteen. I am a free person with capacity and it is my choice to segregate. What does the Government hope to achieve with such laws? It certainly won’t enable integration by imposing uncomfortable environments on Muslim women.
Lastly, we have the issue of our headline grabbing hijaab. I have to this day held my head high with the knowing that my country has not fallen prey to the false anti-hijab ideology of its neighbouring countries; where I must say that, unfortunately, my Muslim sisters now have to face a daily battle to observe their basic human right. When I moved to Cambridge University I took great pride in being able to attend Newnham, an all-female college. As I saw portraits of the first female students of Cambridge on the walls of our wonderful college I would think of the sacrifices and hardships they endured in order to pave the way for women to enjoy the luxury of education. However, if I had to choose between observing my hijaab and obtaining this world-class education, it would rip my heart to pieces to not go to university but to be separated from my hijaab would be akin to being burnt alive. I cannot even perceive such a life. So really and truly as a Muslim woman, fearful of the future such a policy would impose on children, I would ask the Government to analyse what their neighbouring countries have achieved from such policies. Have they halted or inflamed extremism? Is there greater satisfaction amongst their Muslim women? Certainly not. Truly, such a policy is likely to force Muslim women out of society and the cradles of education that is the real answer to extremism and into the depths of isolation.