Raffia Arshad, a Muslim woman who has become the first hijab-wearing judge in the UK, affirmed that she wants young Muslims to know they can achieve anything they work hard to do and that nothing is impossible
Arshad, 40, started dreaming of a career in law when she was only 11 years old but grew up questioning if there would be ‘people who looked like me’ and if a working-class woman from an ethnic minority background could one day become a high ranking figure in a western society.
Nearly 30 years later, she was appointed a Deputy District Judge on the Midlands circuit last week. The latest figures from judges who declared their information to the Judicial Office show that, of 3,210 in courts across England and Wales, only 205 (6%) are from a BAME background (Ethnic minority group). Only 1,013 (31%) are women, as of April 1, 2019.
Speaking to British website Metro UK, Arshad affirmed that 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.
‘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.’ She added to Metro UK,” the Midlands-based judge said.
Although she is a law veteran with a 17-year career behind her, she says she still encounters discrimination and prejudice ‘sometimes on a daily basis.
The Midlands-based judge, who grew up in West Yorkshire, experienced one of the most profound moments of her working life when she was advised by her own family member to not wear her hijab in an interview for a scholarship at the Inns of Court School of Law in 200.
Her family though that chances of success would dramatically decrease if she wore it, her relative warned her – but she refused to take their advice.
She 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.”
The Midlands-based judge added: ‘So, I did, and 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 was called in 2002 and received pupilage in Nottingham, joining St Mary’s Family Law Chambers in 2004.
For the past 15 years, she was practicing in private law children, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and any cases with Islamic law issues, and has become the author of a leading text in Islamic Family Law.