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Muslim woman becomes UK's first hijab-wearing judge

Raffia Arshad, 40 was practicing law as a barrister before her promotion [St Mary's FLC]

Date of publication: 27 May, 2020

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Raffia Arshad, 40, who grew up in Yorkshire, north England, was practicing law as a barrister before her promotion.
A Muslim woman has become the first judge in the UK to wear the hijab, after she was appointed as a deputy district judge on the Midlands circuit last week, British media reported on Tuesday. 

Raffia Arshad, 40, who grew up in Yorkshire, north England, had been practicing law as a barrister while wearing the Islamic headscarf prior to her promotion.

As an ethnic minority woman from a working-class background, Arshad shared that she always thought "people who looked like me" were held back from making it far in her profession, but her promotion proved the opposite. 

The mum-of-three said she now wants "to make sure the sound of diversity is heard loud and clear", according to comments she made to Metro newspaper.

"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," she said.

"It's odd because it's something I've been working towards for a number of years and I always imagined I'd be absolutely ecstatic when I found out.

"I was happy, but the happiness I've had from other people sharing this is far greater.

"I've had so many emails from people, men and women. It's the ones from women that stand out, saying that they wear a hijab and they thought they wouldn't even be able to become a barrister, let alone a judge."

As a solicitor, Arshad had practiced in private law children, forced marriages, female genital mutilation and cases related to issues of Islamic law. She also authored a leading text in Islamic family law.

Read also: A record number of British-Muslim MPs were elected to parliament in 2019

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

"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 the first hijab-wearing judge," she said.

"I've been appointed on merit, not because I wear a hijab."

On her appointment, the Joint Heads of St Mary's Family Law Chambers said they were "delighted to hear of Raffia's appointment", which was "richly deserved and entirely on merit", according to the Metro.

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