Debenhams Will Become First Major UK Retailer to Sell Islamic Headscarves

MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

High street department store Debenhams will become the first major outlet in the United Kingdom to sell the hijab, a traditional Islamic head covering.

The headscarves will be rolled out in Birmingham, Leicester, Shepherd’s Bush, and a slew of international stores, reports the Daily Mail. They will be launched alongside a selection of dresses, jumpsuits, kimono-style wraps, and other garments marketed for their supposed “modesty”.

The hijab is a less conservative form of head covering relative to the niqab, a face veil which leaves only a narrow slit for the eyes, or the burqa, which conceals even the eyes beneath a mesh of fabric.

The niqab and the burqa have both been banned by a number of European governments, and Norway’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Carl Schiøtz Wibye, recently recommended a similar ban in his own country.

“The niqab is not part of Islam,” the diplomat claimed. “It is an interpretation that emerged in recent years … to keep women in their place.”

Polling indicates that a majority in the United Kingdom also favour action against the garments. Fifty-seven per cent of respondents to a YouGov survey supported banning the veil in public places, compared with 25 per cent opposed – a margin of more than two-to-one.

In countries where the less divisive hijab becomes common or even mandatory, such as Iran, significant pressure to adopt more conservative forms of head covering often develops. Women wearing more form-fitting or revealing garments are sexually harassed, while women thought to be wearing “bad hijab” – pushing their headscarves too far back, for example – have been targeted by Islamic vigilantes in acid attacks.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Muslim and human rights campaigner who now lives under a fatwa, has criticised the characterisation of the hijab as “modest” in the past.

“[T]he hijab is anything but modest”, she wrote in December 2015. “All it does is reduce a woman to her genitalia!

“Worse, the hijab as a symbol justifies the rape of women who refuse to wear it. It is time to discard it like the chastity belt.”

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