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UK’s first hijab-wearing judge hopes to inspire

24th Jul 2020
UK’s first hijab-wearing judge hopes to inspire

(Photo credit: St. Mary’s Chambers)

Harun Nasrullah

In 2001, 21-year-old law student Raffia Arshad was advised not wear her hijab to a scholarship interview. She refused to change to pursue her dream, earlier last month she became the UK’s first hijab-wearing judge.

Now aged 40, she hopes her appointment as a Deputy District Judge to the Midland Circuit will inspire Muslims to achieve their aspirations.

The mum-of-three says she now wants “to make sure the sound of diversity is heard loud and clear”. She said, “It’s definitely bigger than me, I know this is not about me. It’s important for all women, not just Muslim women, but it is particularly important for Muslim women.

According to the latest figures (as of April 1, 2019) from the Judicial Office, of 3,210 in courts across England and Wales, only 205 (6 per cent) are from a BAME background. Only 1,013 (31 per cent) are women.

The Midlands-based judge experienced one of the most profound moments of her working life when she was advised by her family member not to wear her hijab to an interview for a scholarship in 2001.

Her chances of success would dramatically decrease if she wore it, her relative warned her — but Arshad did not succumb to pressure.

Arshad, from Burton-upon-Trent said, “I decided that I was going to wear my headscarf because for me it’s so important to accept the person for who they are and if I had to become a different person to pursue my profession, it’s not something I wanted.

So I did, and I succeeded in the interview. I was given a considerable scholarship. I think that was probably one of the most profound first steps in my career. It was a solid ‘yes, you can do this.”

After training in London, Arshad received pupilage in Nottingham in 2002, 2 years later she joined St Mary’s Family Law Chambers.

For the past 15 years, she has practised in private family law and any cases with Islamic law issues and has become the author of a leading text in Islamic Family Law.

She says, “I think one of the things that hold women back is ‘imposter syndrome’. There are many times I’ve been in a courtroom and I suddenly think, ‘Am I good enough?’”

With discrimination rife in some parts of society, Arshad believes that young Muslims will be inspired to follow their dreams if they see more people who look like them in every profession.

She said, “The judicial office are doing their utmost to promote diversity and at the time they appointed me they didn’t know I was going to be one of the few hijab-wearing judges out there. I’ve been appointed on merit, not because I wear a hijab.”

Raffia now wants to inspire other Muslim women to follow their dreams.
Vickie Hodges and Judy Claxton, joint heads of St Mary’s Chambers, said they were delighted about the appointment, which was “richly deserved” and “entirely on merit”.

One Response to “UK’s first hijab-wearing judge hopes to inspire”

Cathie McEwingJuly 28, 2020

Assalam Alakum.

Wow! Well done. A tiny beacon of light in this male dominated world. I wish you well and every success.
A good role model for younger women and also women of faith.
Your family & community must be so proud of you.
May Allah’s blessings be upon you and yours


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