“I’m a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Brit and when I wear a headbag (hijab) in the street, I get spat at and verbally abused. When I go to the mosque, people who think I don’t take the religion seriously or wear my hijab enough, start whispering behind my back.”
UK SUN The young Muslim woman in the hijab hardly noticed the man she passed in the street – until he stopped, spat and swore at her. But then as a white-skinned blonde in Islamic garb, religious convert Amy Sall is used to attracting attention. What has shocked her since she became a Muslim has been the level of hostility she has attracted from complete strangers.
The 29-year-old mum of three, who converted when she wed her Muslim husband Amadou in April 2010, says: “That incident happened soon after we got married. “I was walking down the street wearing my hijab. I’m very conscious that I stand out and I’m sensitive to how people regard me. “A white man walked past, stopped, spat at me then shouted, ‘F***ing Muslims!’ “I was really shocked but I have come to expect this kind of abuse.
“Since 9/11 so many people in this country think all Muslims are fundamentalists and terrorists. I have been really surprised how much abuse I have had to face, primarily from strangers. “They just see the hijab and they start shouting abuse. It’s reached the stage now when I only wear my hijab to the mosque, because of the abuse I get in the street.”
Though nowadays a mosque-going believer, Amy — who works in customer services at clothes store TK Maxx — admits she was a party animal in days gone by. She says: “The irony is, I used to be a real wild child, and to this day I still occasionally go out clubbing with my girlfriends, let my hair down and have too much to drink.
“But when I get home Amadou is furious with me and it causes lots of fights. He doesn’t mind if I go out and drink sensibly but if I get drunk and out of control he says, ‘Don’t you dare come back here in that state. I’d rather you didn’t come back at all’.
“He doesn’t drink or smoke and prays five times a day, wherever we are. I try to pray five times too but I have to be honest and admit I don’t always manage it. “It makes me feel guilty, and I am conscious of not being the best Muslim I could possibly be.
“When I go to the mosque, I am aware of the whispering about me. It doesn’t come from Amadou’s close friends, who are lovely to me, but from the older people who are strictly traditional and think I don’t take the religion seriously enough or wear my hijab all the time.”
Amy is friends with Donna, a fellow British convert to Islam, and says: “She is much more dedicated than I am and I take advice from her if I think I am upsetting people. “Nobody has said anything to my face, but I know I am seen as an outsider by the Muslim community.”
Just as the sight of women clad head-to-toe in black can prompt hostility on the street, Amy has found some parts of Muslim society frown on her dress sense and attitude. She says: “After all, I’m blonde, blue-eyed, love a drink and have tattoos — hardly your average Muslim woman.
“When I wrap the hijab around my head, I feel as if I am losing a part of me, as if part of my personality is being lost. It also puts the spotlight on me, and people stare. “I’m still trying to understand the role of women in Muslim society, and I don’t know if I will ever properly fit in. It is like living between two worlds.”
Although becoming Muslim has presented its challenges, Amy remains devoted to her more devout husband, with whom she has a very happy marriage. He works as a warehouseman for Tesco and the couple live in Middlesbrough with children Alfred, seven, Aminata, six, and three-year-old Kade. Amy says: “A lot of my friends think it is hilarious that I am a good Muslim wife now.
“Amadou and I have been together for nearly six years — Alfred is my son from a previous relationship, and Aminata is Amadou’s daughter.
“I converted on the day we got married in the mosque, and I had to read the shahada, the pledge of faith, in front of the imam. “I found it intimidating and I hadn’t read the Koran when we got married. But since then I am doing my best — I am reading about it on the Internet and I have joined a few Facebook Muslim women’s groups.
“I tend to avoid the groups at the mosque though, as they are quite strict and I think they look down on me because of the way I look and dress.” Amy is not surprised that an increasing number of white British women are choosing to follow the Muslim faith.
She says: “More women are converting to Islam for love because they don’t really have a choice. “A Muslim husband is not going to give up his faith, and most of us Christians are not that religious or really bothered. I welcome the fact our children are being brought up in a strong faith, with boundaries and a strict moral code.