Boris Johnson’s comments about the burqa are an example of misogyny, says a Muslim woman from the UK’s Ahmadiyya community.
Ayesha Malik, a lawyer and writer based in Surrey, told talkRADIO that Johnson’s comments that the burqa makes women look like “letter boxes” or “bank robbers” were “unfortunate and irresponsible”.
“As with any reasonable person’s reaction, I think the use of language was unfortunate and irresponsible. It doesn’t behold a statesman in his position,” says Ms Malik, 36.
“The choice of words belittles women, that was my initial reaction when I hadn’t read it in full and I’d just heard the uproar.
“The two punches were splashed across social media, the ‘letter box’ and ‘bank robbers’. On many levels it was offensive.”
'I believe in a woman's freedom to cover her face'
Muslim women wearing the hijab (background) and niqab
Ms Malik herself covers her hair, and says that she knows women in her community who choose to cover their face.
“The head of the community in London on many occasions has given guidance that women are not required to cover their faces, only their heads and their hair,” she says.
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“Personally, while I don’t cover my face, I only cover my head, I do believe in a woman’s freedom to choose to cover her face if she so desired.
“I think the only caveat is a situation, for example, going through airport security or in a courtroom, you have to comply and remove your face covering in those situations, that’s absolutely fine and justified.
“I don’t believe we need to ban the burqa outright, I believe women should be able to choose to dress in a way they feel comfortable.”
'Muslim women are shouting, but no one's listening'
Ms Malik believes condemning or ridiculing the burqa and niqab is a form of misogyny.
“You have certain Muslim countries where men force their women to dress a certain way but they [people who criticise the burqa in the UK] fail to realise that by policing what women wear in this country, they’re doing [the same] moral policing,” she says. “It’s an internalised misogyny we live in.”
She also said that Muslim women’s views are lacking in the media.
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“We tried to get our voices out there. I always find that Muslim women are always there, they’re shouting but no one’s listening,” she says.
“It’s not that Muslim women aren’t there trying to get their voice heard, but we have to become better listeners. It’s very hard to get our voices into the mainstream media.”
The ongoing publicity around Johnson’s comments could also fuel divisions, she thinks.
“The flipside is, the more publicity things like Boris Johnson’s comments get, it gives oxygen to divisiveness in society. How much importance do we give these arguments? I think there are other things to focus on in this country than women’s sartorial choices.”
What is Ahmadiyya Islam?
The Ahmadiyya mosque in Morden
Ms Malik is one of the UK’s approximately 30,000 Ahmadiyya Muslims, a minority sect that originated in the Punjab, who believe their founder is the Messiah.
She says some of the principles of Ahmadiyya Islam are to reject terrorism in all its forms, uphold the separation of church and state, and support the empowerment of women.
However some more mainstream forms of Islam do not believe the Ahmadis to be ‘real’ Muslims, due to their reverence of their own founder rather than the Prophet Muhammad, and the Muslim Council of Britain - while it has condemned bigotry directed at the Ahmadiyya community - says they are not eligible for representation.