Hijab-Officer Who Became a Role Model

The police constable, Rukhsana Begum is the woman who has the credit for the hijab now being part of the police uniform in parts of England. But in the whole of the nation, there are only 10 police officers who wear the hijab at work.

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The police constable, Rukhsana Begum is the woman who has the credit for the hijab now being part of the police uniform in parts of England. But in the whole of the nation, there are only 10 police officers who wear the hijab at work.

Rukhsana Begum completed her police training in 2003, but it was not before the end of 2006 that she seriously started to think about wearing the hijab. She aired the idea with her boss. In the little police district of Cambridgeshire, with 2900 employees, a specially-made hijab for police officers was made, authorised and launched.

“That the police force went as far as incorporating the hijab in the standard uniform was quiet touching,” says Rukhsana Begum, two years later. The 24-year old is born and raised in Cambridge, with parents from Bangladesh. She has been a follower of Islam all her life.

In Norway, the Ministry of Police is in the process of deciding their stance on whether the Muslim head-wear would be allowed together with the police uniform. The matter is being considered after Aftenbladet on September 25 wrote about the Muslim woman, Keltoum Hasnaoui Missoum from Sandnes, who wanted to apply to the Police Academy. Missoum wanted to wear the hijab, but was denied. The reason: The police uniform should be one of value-neutrality. Rukhsana Begum does not agree with the argument.

“Neutrality is a good thing, but I don’t think anyone should have to limit themselves when it comes to practising their faith. For many, faith is more important than everything else. So I disagree with that statement. Here in Cambridgeshire, several police officers wear a turban, and that has never been a problem.

The police there say that Cambridgeshire is a country area of England, with many nationalities and few religious conflicts. The proportion of Muslims in the police district is on a par with the national average of 3.3 per cent of the population.

When Begum started to wear the uniform-hijab, she received press coverage. People soon started recognising her. She received words of support, especially from the Muslim community. “I was not prepared for that. The only thing I wanted was to be able to wear the hijab at work, but I was suddenly a role model for others. That was a nice bi-product.

Even so, few have chosen to follow in Begum’s footsteps. Cambridgeshire launched the specially adapted hijab in June 2007. Metropolitan Police in London authorised the use of the hijab 10 years ago, but has not incorporated a special uniform hijab. At present, there are only 10 women police officers who use the hijab at work in the whole of England, according to the Association of Muslim Police (AMP) of the London police. There are no reliable statistics on the number of women police officers in England.

Keltoum Hasnaoui Missoum from Sandnes experienced harassment after she went to the press with her uniform question. Begum has never met anything like that – even as a patrolling police officer. “In general it’s always been a positive experience: The hijab means that you show who you are sooner. No, I haven’t experienced anything verbal, or any kind of expressions that make me feel uncomfortable.”

“Have you experienced positive things as a result of showing who you are?”

“It has happened when patrolling that people talk to me, rather than my colleague. That’s not because I’m better at what I do, but because they feel there is a connection between us.

“People who come to live here may have bad experiences with the police in their homeland. Seeing a Muslim woman as a police officer may help to break barriers. If they are the victims of crime, it might be easier for them to report it, I think,” says Begum.

One argument used in the debate is that the use of the hijab is thought by many to be a demand on women in Islam, and this means that it should be viewed different from the wearing of a cross around the neck.

“The hijab is not like a necklace I can take off. When you first start to wear it, it’s for life,” says Begum. “Should the police refrain from using a garment that many associate with the oppression of women?”

“No, I don’t see that as a problem. I don’t understand how people can say that women are oppressed. With the hijab, I feel respected and dignified, but not in a snobby way. With the hijab, you are protected from evil, and I feel safe and free. If you let people oppress you, you will probably be oppressed.”

Cambridgeshire police district has implemented several measures for Muslim officers. The police station has a quiet room for those who want to pray, offers shift changes during Ramadan so that fasting officers do not need to work evenings, and half an hour extra for lunch on Fridays, for those who want to go to the mosque. Officers of other faiths can also use the quiet room and have longer lunch breaks.

http://www.aftenbla det.no/english/