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Wearing The Hijab In Britain

For Muslim women in the United Kingdom, the decision to wear a head scarf, or hijab, reflects a complex range of personal beliefs and competing social pressures. Reuters photographer Olivia Harris took portraits of Muslim women and girls in London and asked them why they chose to wear the hijab. She found that their reasons go beyond simple religious observance, and include modesty, fitting in with classmates, and defying the racist attitudes of some non-Muslims.

Sanaa, 10, puts on her hijab as she gets ready for Islamic Saturday school in Leyton, east London. She occasionally wears the hijab on regular school days. Dalila, Sanaa's mother, says: "she may start to wear the head scarf every day next year. Sanaa will decide for herself when she's ready to wear it every day."
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Sanaa, 10, puts on her hijab as she gets ready for Islamic Saturday school in Leyton, east London. She occasionally wears the hijab on regular school days. Dalila, Sanaa's mother, says: "she may start to wear the head scarf every day next year. Sanaa will decide for herself when she's ready to wear it every day."

Sanaa, 10, and her sister, Israa, 7, get ready for Islamic Saturday school in Leyton.
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Sanaa, 10, and her sister, Israa, 7, get ready for Islamic Saturday school in Leyton.

Sanaa and her sister Israa
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Sanaa and her sister Israa

Ameera, 12, waits to go ice skating in east London. Ameera first wore the hijab as part of her primary school uniform. She started to wear it full time at age 9 because most of her friends did. Her mother told her: "You don't have to wear it. You're still young!" Ameera says she loves to wear the hijab and has as many as 60 or 70 different scarves.
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Ameera, 12, waits to go ice skating in east London. Ameera first wore the hijab as part of her primary school uniform. She started to wear it full time at age 9 because most of her friends did. Her mother told her: "You don't have to wear it. You're still young!" Ameera says she loves to wear the hijab and has as many as 60 or 70 different scarves.

Ameera ice skates in east London.
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Ameera ice skates in east London.

Madiha, 12, and Afsha, 11, pose outside London Mosque in west London. Both girls started to wear the hijab around the age of 8. They wear the hijab for religious observance, modesty, and to protect themselves.
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Madiha, 12, and Afsha, 11, pose outside London Mosque in west London. Both girls started to wear the hijab around the age of 8. They wear the hijab for religious observance, modesty, and to protect themselves.

Brenda gets her eyes tested in east London. Brenda, who is originally from Mexico, converted to Islam from Catholicism when she came to London. She has always lived a strictly religious life. She thought about becoming a nun before she realized she wanted children.
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Brenda gets her eyes tested in east London. Brenda, who is originally from Mexico, converted to Islam from Catholicism when she came to London. She has always lived a strictly religious life. She thought about becoming a nun before she realized she wanted children.

Brenda talks while her daughters eat ice cream. "I know I'm in a non-Muslim country and so I try to respect the rules," Brenda says. "Sometimes people say nice things about my children or they smile at me and I try to smile back at them. I know they can't see my face but I hope they know I'm smiling with my eyes."
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Brenda talks while her daughters eat ice cream. "I know I'm in a non-Muslim country and so I try to respect the rules," Brenda says. "Sometimes people say nice things about my children or they smile at me and I try to smile back at them. I know they can't see my face but I hope they know I'm smiling with my eyes."

Youth worker Sumreen, 18, teaches children a religious song at an Islamic youth center in Leyton. Sumreen first decided to wear the hijab after a driver shouted racist abuse at her. She recalls thinking: "I'm going to stand out whatever I do, so I might as well wear the head scarf."
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Youth worker Sumreen, 18, teaches children a religious song at an Islamic youth center in Leyton. Sumreen first decided to wear the hijab after a driver shouted racist abuse at her. She recalls thinking: "I'm going to stand out whatever I do, so I might as well wear the head scarf."

Sundas (left), her mother, Naheed (center), and her sister, Shanza, at their home in Walthamstow, east London. Sundas and Shanza started wearing the hijab in opposition to their parents' wishes. Their mother doesn't cover her head and didn't approve of her daughters' strict interpretation of Islam.
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Sundas (left), her mother, Naheed (center), and her sister, Shanza, at their home in Walthamstow, east London. Sundas and Shanza started wearing the hijab in opposition to their parents' wishes. Their mother doesn't cover her head and didn't approve of her daughters' strict interpretation of Islam.

Sundas wears a Pakistani wedding veil ahead of her traditional Islamic wedding blessing. Sundas started wearing a head scarf at age 18 despite her parents' opposition. Sundas says: "I was determined to wear it nonetheless as I had a conviction in my heart that I wanted to please God instead of people. I don't have such a strict interpretation of covering now; instead I focus more on modesty and moderate covering."
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Sundas wears a Pakistani wedding veil ahead of her traditional Islamic wedding blessing. Sundas started wearing a head scarf at age 18 despite her parents' opposition. Sundas says: "I was determined to wear it nonetheless as I had a conviction in my heart that I wanted to please God instead of people. I don't have such a strict interpretation of covering now; instead I focus more on modesty and moderate covering."

Yasmin (left), 16, pushes Hana, 16, on a swing after finishing their school exams in Hackney, east London. Hana started wearing a head scarf full-time at the age of 12. She already wore it at school and her family supported her choice. She says she felt that nothing changed with the decision -- except her relationship with God.
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Yasmin (left), 16, pushes Hana, 16, on a swing after finishing their school exams in Hackney, east London. Hana started wearing a head scarf full-time at the age of 12. She already wore it at school and her family supported her choice. She says she felt that nothing changed with the decision -- except her relationship with God.

Yasmin, Hana, and their friends walk in the park after finishing their school exams.
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Yasmin, Hana, and their friends walk in the park after finishing their school exams.

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