• Beyond the Niqab: London correspondent Mark Rice-Oxley admits that he fell into the category of Britons who would be uncomfortable dealing with a fully veiled woman. But that was before reporting today's story on how Britain, Germany, Australia, and France are adjusting policies as their governments attempt to mainstream Muslim minorities.
"This was a case of a story that uncovered my own prejudices and forced me to reconsider them," says Mark. He notes that where he lives and works, he doesn't come into contact with women wearing niqabs – a garment that covers all but the eyes. "My children go to schools that are quite diverse, including children who wear head scarves. But none of the children or teachers wear niqabs," he says.
In the course of his research, he interviewed Rahmanara Chowdhury – a woman born in Britain to Bangladeshi immigrants – by phone. "I couldn't see her, so I wasn't dealing with the niqab. We had a very engaging conversation as I would with any of my peers. I realized we had a lot in common. Culturally, she's crossed over in many ways. Like me, she has curry on Friday nights.
"She told me that her niqab is not a political statement, nor does it make her part of some radical cause. She says it's a constant reminder to be close to God, and that spiritual connection is something you should have at all times, especially when you're outside," says Mark. "Yet, because of her appearance, she's vilified."
As they were speaking via cellphone, she arrived home. "She told me that she was walking in the house, and taking the niqab off now – just as you would your shoes when you enter the house."
David Clark Scott