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This Muslim Woman Just Became UK’s First Hijab-Wearing Judge

Raffia Arshad

Raffia Arshad. Courtesy of St Mary’s FLC

In a proud moment for Muslim women everywhere, UK has appointed its first hijab-wearing judge. Raffia Arshad, 40, was appointed a Deputy District Judge on the Midlands circuit after having pursued a career in law for 17 years.

It all started at the age of 11 for the barrister who dreamt of the career but questioned whether “people who looked like me” could be a welcomed part of the world. Thirty years later, the mother-of-three recognizes her appointment as a win for not just Muslim women, but for all women. “‘It’s definitely bigger than me, I know this is not about me. It’s important for all women, not just Muslim women, but it is particularly important for Muslim women,” she shared with Metro.

She continued: “I was happy, but the happiness I’ve had from other people sharing this is far greater. I’ve had so many emails from people, men, and women. It’s the ones from women that stand out, saying that they wear a hijab and they thought they wouldn’t even be able to become a barrister, let alone a judge.”

Arshad has been practicing private law for more than 15 years now, dealing with children, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and other cases involving Islamic law. Even with a successful career, Arshad is no stranger to discrimination and prejudice in her field of work. The judge went through one of the most life-changing moments when she was advised by her own family member to not wear her hijab to an interview for a scholarship at the Inns of Court School of Law in 2001.

Speaking of her decision she said, “I decided that I was going to wear my headscarf because for me it’s so important to accept the person for who they are and if I had to become a different person to pursue my profession, it’s not something I wanted. So I did, and I succeeded in the interview. I was given a considerable scholarship. I think that was probably one of the most profound first steps in my career. It was a solid ‘yes, you can do this.’”

Other instances in the courtroom when she is mistaken for a client or interpreter have not dampened the judge’s spirits but only made her want to inspire more Muslim women. She believes that young Muslims will be inspired to pursue their goals if they see themselves represented in every profession. Arshad said, “The judicial office are doing their utmost to promote diversity and at the time they appointed me they didn’t know I was going to be the first hijab-wearing judge. I’ve been appointed on merit, not because I wear a hijab.

Adding: “But now it’s up to me to be that voice for them, to make sure the sound of diversity is heard loud and clear and that it gets to the appropriate places.”

Read Next: Ilhan Omar: “To Me, the Hijab Means Power, Liberation, Beauty, and Resistance”

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