Muslim women in the West usually have two options when it comes to their religious headwear; the hijab, and the niqab. Many women opt for the hijab, as it is less restrictive, and yet fulfills the religious obligation. However, some women still don the more restrictive niqab, which only leaves an opening for the eyes.
Women who wear niqabs either do it by choice, or they are compelled to. Either way, this level of covering up has brought about a great deal of contention and discussion. The wear toes a thin line between the rights of an individual and public safety.
A bus driver watched a young woman in a niqab board his bus. The young woman boarded First Bus 24 in Bristol, carrying a young child. The driver decided to voice his concern about her choice of attire. He asked the woman, “How I can see your face? You can see my face. We should see our faces.” The driver seemingly had a foreign accent.
His question prompted backlash from some of the passengers. One woman retorted, “She doesn’t want you to see her face. That’s her choice then.”
However, the driver maintains that he is concerned about his safety and the safety of the passengers. He states; “I care because this world is dangerous. If you don’t see someone’s face, that’s not good in this time we live in.” His remarks led the passengers to call him a racist, although the driver never mentioned the faith or race of the passenger.
In response to the comment made by the passenger, he said, “It’s not about her choice here.” The passenger immediately shot back, “It’s a choice, actually. It’s not any of your business just how she is dressed. You are a member of the public.”
The frustrated driver then went outside to consult with his supervisor, and he was overheard stating that his concerns were “nothing about racism.” However, the Muslim woman maintained that the driver accused her of plotting a terror attack, and also made offensive remarks about the niqab.
“He continued to insult me, and he made me out to be a terrorist, and kept saying everyone should see each other’s faces. He asked why I was wearing a balaclava.”
The driver was subsequently accused of a hate crime, and is under investigation on hate crime charges. If he is found guilty, he may face a lengthy prison sentence.
The driver was disciplined by the company, which then apologized to the Muslim woman. The company’s spokesman stated; “We would like to fully and unreservedly apologize to the customer for the distress caused when one of our drivers expressed his personal opinion. The driver behaved in an offensive fashion that in no way reflects our deeply held values as an inclusive company which welcomes all people, irrespective of background, race, nationality, or religion as customers or employees.”