Raffia Arshad Becomes First Hijab-Wearing Muslim Judge in UK

Hijab has been for many years frowned upon in several western countries. After 9/11, where media projected Muslims to be as terrorists in the western world, the hijab was also considered Islamophobic by many. Due to this misconception, many western countries banned the hijab and burqa in public as well as some learning and governmental institutes.

Raffia Arshad

There have been numerous stories in the last few years where many Muslim women were tortured and harassed for wearing hijab in public. Although UK has no formal ban on hijab, it has always been looked upon as backward, primitive and unsophisticated by majority.

So today we bring for you such a story of a British Muslim, who broke all stereotypes connected with hijab and is now a renowned Muslim woman of today in the western society.

Meet Raffia Arshad, a 40-year-old zealous British-Pakistani Muslim, who was appointed as the first ever hijab-wearing deputy district judge in the United Kingdom. She is a mother of three and has a vast experience of 17-years in law. Raffia’s husband is a doctor and an Islamic scholar who completed a diploma in Islamic Jurisprudence and coaching while working as a barrister.

She received early education from Grammar School in West Yorkshire. She was the first from her family to study at a university. After gaining her law degree from Oxford Brookes University, Raffia worked as a barrister. In 2004, she joined St Mary’s Family Law Chambers.

Judge Arshad is also the author of a book titled Family Islamic Law as her expertise lies in family law. However, she has practiced in other fields including private law children, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and cases with Islamic law issues.

“It’s definitely bigger than me, I know this is not about me.” She said her success is important for all women, not just Muslim women. “But it is particularly important for Muslim women,” said Raffia Arshad.
The joint heads of St Mary’s Family Law Chambers praised her appointment. They called her appointment ‘richly deserved’ and ‘entirely on merit’.

The mother of three said: “I am a court-appointed expert on matters of Islamic Family Law and have authored many publications including a textbook which is used by other judges worldwide. I have been invited to Germany and America to speak on Islamic Family Law.”

She said she took time, but finally overcame her apprehension of discrimination. She feared her ethnic minority background and working-class upbringing would cloud her progress in the field of law. But with unwavering tenacity, she continued to work in her field.

Raffia is grateful for her parents and mentions how the prayers of her parents played the most integral role in her success. She felt proud of being counted as an outstanding Pakistani in the West.

Judge Arshad went on to say that, “It took a while to get here but I’m so pleased. It’s not just a personal achievement. It’s a huge achievement for anyone from a diverse background.”

Judge Arshad in her interviews with several British media outlets says she is overwhelmed by the messages of appreciation and encouragement from various men and women which is the real reward.

For Raffia, prejudice and discrimination is a real predicament, And she still has to encounter discrimination despite her long career and vast experience.

The judge says people often misjudge her as an interpreter for a client in the courtroom. She referred to the latest incident when a court usher misjudged her as an interpreter. Raffia had turned up at the court to appear as a barrister in the case. But the court usher misinterpreted her and said to her, “You must be the interpreter?”

Judge Arshad replied that she was not an interpreter. Then the usher asked her again if she was there on work experience, to which she responded that she was the barrister. “I have nothing against the usher who said that but it reflects that as a society, even for somebody who works in the courts, there is still this prejudicial view that professionals at the top end don’t look like me,” she said.

Judge Arshad thinks that often the Imposter syndrome in women holds women back. Referring to her experience, she said she often wonders if she is good enough when appearing for cases in courts.

She said a defining moment once came in her life in 2001 when a family relative asked her not to wear a headscarf for an interview for the scholarship at the Inns of Court School of Law. The relative believed her headscarf would affect her interview.

She said she decided to wear the headscarf anyway because for her it was important that people accept her the way she is. “If I need to become a different person to pursue my profession, it’s not something I wanted,” she said.

She said in an interview to one of the news media page “My appointment is a celebration for all Muslim women. I am delighted that I have broken the glass ceiling for many more capable Muslim women. At a time when everyone is facing uncertainty and unprecedented challenges, I urge everyone to rekindle their dreams and pursue them.”

Breaking stereotypes, Raffia highlighted how women could practice their religion and also succeed at the same time.

Raffia Arshad hopes to be the trailblazer for other Muslim women. She believes her success would be tantamount to the success of women. There are hardly any hijab-wearing judges in the entire western world. Her example has further motivated various other hijab-wearing Muslim women to excel in their respective fields and not let their religious identity constrain their career prospects.

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