Dawn breaks bright but cold. After breakfast and still in my pyjamas, I spend the morning at home reviewing the manuscript of a book that Equal and Free has commissioned. The sun streams in through the window as, highlighter in hand, I work my way through a chapter about Muslim women across Europe.
As I read, I learn that wearing the niqab or full-face veil in public is now illegal not only in France but also in Belgium and in the Swiss canton of Ticino. Further, it has been banned in schools, hospitals and on public transport in The Netherlands and in the Italian region of Lombardy.
In January last year, then-prime minister David Cameron announced his support for the removal of face veils in the UK’s schools, courts and at border controls. This seems sensible to me. But a colleague who works in the Royal Courts of Justice in London reckons that the niqab is worn in court frequently by Muslim women, with no objection by judges or officials.
So I reckon we ought to bring the Dutch partial ban on face veils into UK law, and also include courts and all public buildings.
After three hours working through the manuscript, I swap my pyjamas for jeans and a sweater and venture out to purchase stationery supplies from local shops. Forest Gate in east London, where I live, is a Muslim-majority neighbourhood; in fact the 2011 national census indicates that not only have White Brits like me declined to just 5% of the population, but also that this is the most-Muslim area in the whole of greater London. White flight here is now almost complete.
There are four mosques in the vicinity and as I pass the nearest, men – no women of course – are walking there to participate in zuhr (midday) prayer. I know some of them by sight so we nod in recognition.
After lunch and now in the necessary suit and tie, I travel to Westminster to interview a young British-born Bangladeshi woman. I pass the gate into Parliament where, the next day, PC Keith Palmer would be stabbed and killed by Islamic convert Khalid Masood during his frenzied terror attack.
In an office opposite Parliament I listen to the woman’s story. She comes from a strict Muslim family and, when she fell in love with and became pregnant by an English man, she was frozen out of her family and left to fend for herself. Even though the man converted to Islam and the woman reverted too, her family still will not accept her back. The family’s honour has been compromised and forgiveness is not part of their Islam.
I can’t of course, but I long to explain to her family Jesus’ teaching about the prodigal son who was forgiven and welcomed back by his father.
I leave Westminster, grab a sandwich and make my way to north London. It’s Tuesday evening and I have choir rehearsal for our upcoming Easter concert. As Bob the conductor cracks jokes and we start to sing Getty and Townsend’s ‘The Power of the Cross’ followed by the Rutter rendition of Psalm 27, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation’, the cares of the day drop away and I find myself refreshed and renewed.
Just before midnight I get back to a home in darkness; the family are all in bed. I open a bottle of London Pride and flip through the late night news channels.
Nothing there grabs my attention but, strangely, I have a sense of satisfaction about the day. There’s been some progress and overall it’s been quiet but rewarding.
Alan is a director of Equal and Free, an organisation concerned with the suffering of women in the UK who experience religiously-sanctioned gender discrimination, especially under Sharia law and in Sharia councils. www.equalandfree.org