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You know your chances of a reasonable and civilised debate aren’t good when most of the people arguing their point can’t even use the correct terms. This is why my heart sank a few days ago and has stayed fairly submerged: it seems few people know the difference between a hijab and a burka or a modest woman and a terrorist.

Most of my readers will have deduced that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Islam. So you may be taken aback by what I am about to say. But please hear me out.

The hijab is a beautiful garment. Head scarves are a wonderful expression of individuality, modesty, and aesthetic taste. I would love to see more women choose to cover their heads. Think of a world with more wide brimmed sun hats like the one Amal Alamuddin wore in Venice last week, cloche hats from the 1920s, bonnets reminiscent of Jane Austen novels, headscarves like that of the ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, bandanas tied like Rosie the Riveter, medieval head dresses that the Society for Creative Anachronism recreate for their events, et cetera, et cetera. It would be so refreshing to see what women would come up with if the ‘norm’ weren’t the current fashion of badly-cut hair worn either out or in a messy ponytail or bun.

The hijab is just one version of a head covering. It’s true it sets the women wearing them apart, but no more so than a Catholic nun’s veil and wimple, an Orthodox Jewish tichel, an African head dress, or a Protestant kerchief. They look different. Or, I should say, we look different (because I love to cover my head). And there is nothing wrong with being different. The world would be very boring indeed if we were all the same.

So next time you see a woman wearing a hijab or something like it, try to exercise your curiosity and think outside the box. If you can’t help thinking about the Islamic State and the atrocities it is perpetrating overseas, at least keep in mind that the woman in front of you may be wearing a hijab because she fled a country in which she would have been forced to wear a niqab or burka… and that glaring at her isn’t the best way to communicate that Christianity is all about love or that the West is founded upon democracy and tolerance. The hijab is not a symbol of oppression or male domination. It’s just a head covering, something which Western women have worn throughout history. Perhaps Muslim women are inadvertently reminding us of our own rich heritage, which we are in grave danger of losing altogether….

P.S. I’m not going to add a photo of me in a hijab as I’m not Muslim, but here’s one of me in a head scarf.  Not particularly “confronting”, is it?!

20140921 meg tichel