1. ITV Report

Haifa Shamsan: Why I chose to remove my hijab

"I felt I was wearing it for the wrong reasons"

In May last year, Haifa Shamsan made a personal choice to remove her hijab after wearing it for 19 years.

Haifa had been wearing the hijab since she was 10 Credit: Instagram/@haifaa_jks

Originally from Yemen, Haifa started wearing the headscarf from the age of 10.

Haifa said she hasn't turned her back on the hijab completely Credit: Instagram/@haifaa_jks
  • "It was like trying to find out where you fit in"

"Growing up in a Yemeni household was great fun", Haifa said.

"We went back and visited family every two years. It was a bit of a battle growing up with two cultures, but I was very proud to have a different background."

But she said high school for her was "difficult at times".

"It was so difficult for me being a) a Muslim girl and b) a brown Muslim girl. I was one of five Muslims in my high school."

Haifa was only one of two girls in her school who wore the headscarf.

"I felt like I was always having to prove myself - having to prove my culture, having to prove my religion".

A mother-of-two, Haifa said she will leave it up to her daughters to decide if they want to wear a hijab Credit: Haifa Shamsan

Haifa wore her headscarf every single day.

"I wouldn't sneak behind my parents' back to take it off if I'd go to a party. I wouldn't take it off if I left the country or take it off even if I was by myself. I did it because I believed in it."

But following her divorce in 2018, Haifa decided to take it off.

Haifa took her hijab off in May last year Credit: Haifa Shamsan
  • "People were focusing on a woman's dress more than they were focusing on bigger issues"

I was definitely afraid. It's a huge decision.

Imagine wearing something - being such a big part of your life for nineteen years.

But I felt people were focusing on hijab and modesty and a woman's dress more than they were focusing on bigger issues in the world like rape, domestic violence, wars, famine.

I think it hit me. I realised I wasn't doing it for the right reason.

– Haifa Shamsan

Haifa, lives in Butetown, near the centre of Cardiff, where more than 20% of residents are Muslim.

There has been a strong presence of the Somali and Yemeni Islamic community in Cardiff since the mid-1800s, founded by seafarers to the Docklands.

  • "You know you're sinning so bad right now?"

She told ITV News her decision was frowned upon by people in her community and received more positive comments from people on social media.

"People would tell me I am much more beautiful in a hijab and would tell me I'm 'sinning so bad' - it was ridiculous. Nothing can change my relationship with God."

Haifa said she prefers to wear turbans and other forms of modest clothing.

She uses her social media platforms to raise awareness of domestic violence.

While Haifa said she feels more liberated without her hijab, some women choose to wear it as a form of empowerment.

Ilhan Omar became the first woman to wear the hijab in Congress in the United States Credit: PA Images

Somali-American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar became the first member of the American Congress to wear a hijab after rules were changed to allow a religious head covering to be worn on the floor of the House.

She tweeted to say it was "my choice" and "no one puts a scarf on my head but me".

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  • What is a hijab?

Millions of women around the world choose to wear various forms of Muslim headdresses.

The hijab is the most common style worn by women in the UK and Europe.

It is seen as a religious piece of clothing but women wear it for a variety of reasons.

It covers the head and part of the neck leaving the face exposed.

Other similar garments include the niqab and the burka - which cover up more of a woman's body including the face.

At the end of last year, former foreign secretary Boris Johnson was cleared of breaking the Conservative Party’s code of conduct over his comments about veiled Muslim women.