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The Aspiring Vicar Who Found Islam

Updated: Jul 30, 2021

"I was brought up with a fairly dim view of what it was to be Muslim."

Anita Nayyar, 31, is a social psychologist and gender equalities activist in London. Here is the story of how she went from opposing Islam to cherishing it.


(Credit : The Guardian)

"As an Anglo-Indian with Hindu grandparents who lived through the partition of India and Pakistan, and saw family shot by a Muslim gang, I was brought up with a fairly dim view of what it was to be Muslim.

I was a very religious Christian, involved in the church, and wanted to become a vicar. At 16, I opted for a secular college, which is where I made friends with Muslims. I was shocked by how normal they were, and how much I liked them. I started debates, initially to let them know what a terrible religion they followed, and I started to learn that it wasn't too different from Christianity. In fact, it seemed to make more sense.

It took a year and a half before I got to the point of conversion, and I became a Muslim in 2000, aged 18. My mother was disappointed and my father quietly accepting. Other members of my family felt betrayed.

I used to wear a scarf, which can mean many things. It can be a signifier of one's faith, which is helpful when you don't wish to be chatted up or invited to drink. It can attract negative attention from people who stereotype "visibly" Muslim women as oppressed or terrorist. It can also get positive reactions from the Muslim community.

But people expect certain behaviors from a woman in a headscarf, and I started to wonder whether I was doing it for God or to fulfil the role of "the pious woman". In the end, not wearing the scarf has helped make my faith invisible again and allowed me to revisit my personal relationship with God.

One of the biggest challenges I face is the prohibition of women from the mosque. It's sad to go somewhere, ready to connect with a higher being, only to be asked to leave because women are not allowed. In the past, I have prayed in car parks, my office corridor and in a fried chicken shop. The irony is that while my workplace would feel it discriminatory to stop me praying, some mosques do not."


Sadly, there are still many places in the world where women are not welcome in mosques, or are persecuted for wearing/not wearing the hijab. Anita's hope, and the hope of all Muslim women, is to one day build a world where they can live and practice religion without barriers.


Source : The Guardian, article by Veronique Mistiaen

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