A Muslim mother-of-four standing for election in the Red Wall next month is hoping to become the first British politician to wear a niqab.
Fajila Patel, 36, says she wants to “inspire” more women to get into politics – including those who adopt the full veil – by seeking election in Blackburn, Lancs.
If successful, she will be the first Conservative councillor to wear the Muslim modesty garment, which covers the whole body except for the area around the eyes.
And she believes she would also be the first of any party in the UK to hold such a position.
She being supported by her husband, Tory councillor Tiger Patel, whose viral video helped him secure an unlikely victory in the Labour heartland last year.
Fajila said she had “no concerns” about Islamophobia in the Tory Party, despite a May 2021 report stating that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” among members.
But she branded comments made by Johnson in comparing women wearing the full veil to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” as “indefensible.
She said: “I do not agree with everything a Conservative Party politician says or does.
“In the same way that not every Labour campaigner agrees with everything a Labour politician says.
“Some comments are indefensible. I am not trying to make a statement I am just trying to show that as a woman I can make a difference.”
Fajila will stand as a councillor in the Bastwell and Daisyfield ward of Blackburn on May 5, where nearly 84 per cent of people are of Muslim faith.
She explained she wanted “break down barriers” and inspire more women in the community to actively pursue politics.
Fajila said: “The main reason [I’m standing for election] is I want to break down barriers.
“I wanted to help inspire other women to come forward and be confident enough a stand as a councillor.
“We all know that local politics in our community continues to be male-dominated.
“There are far too few women involved in local politics and this needs to change as I know women can make a huge contribution.
“It is important for women to have their voices heard.
She added: “This was always my own decision.
“There is also a great misconception about females who wear the full veil in the UK.
“This is based on the media’s portrayal. I know many who are intelligent and completely independent.
“I wanted to help make a difference in my own community and help to bring about change.
“You can only do that by getting involved. It is not easy and people may not always agree with what you say or do but you can only try.”
Julian Arnold, who is chairman of Blackburn Conservative Association and a parish councillor, said Fajila’s candidacy in the upcoming local elections was a “breakthrough”.
He said: “Fajila is a wonderful person, supporting her large family and Tiger, but wants to make a difference to break down boundaries and help her community.
“Fajila chooses to wear the Niqab, which is her right and a right that we would always defend.
“Conversely we would always defend somebody who didn’t wish to wear any other religious insignia.
“It is the right of the individual to show their religious beliefs in the way they are comfortable with, and as Conservatives we support that right.”
“We continue to make groundbreaking moves to advance the Conservative Party in Blackburn.”
Julian, 51, confirmed that after taking over the local association roughly four years ago, he had removed some members following issues with “islamophobia”.
He said: “I will say this as well, we had issues with Islamophobia.
“I took over this party three or four years ago. There is no room for any type of racism in a party that I head up, and I will be quite straight with you, we’ve had to remove people.
But he said that he was enormously “proud” to support Fajila’s election bid – even if it caused “upset” among others in the community.
He said: “It would make us all immensely proud, and it would make me proud as well.
“Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day, it may upset some people. But I will defend to the hilt Fajila’s right to wear the niqab.”
“It’s not a gimmick. It’s what she wears, and it’s what she’s about. She has a niqab. It’s what she feels comfortable in with her faith.”
He added: “The values of helping people, of community, of community involvement chime, obviously, with the Muslim faith that both Tiger and his wife are very committed to.”
“Michael Gove wants to meet Tiger and Fajila when she gets in, fingers crossed. It’s what the Conservative party is about – and we are ground-breaking.”
Tiger Patel, 52, said he believed his wife might be the first sitting councillor of any party to wear the niqab if she is elected on May 5.
He said: “This is the first woman in the UK standing in the Conservative party, in any party, who wears the niqab.”
“The local Conservative Party has been supportive, and she wanted to help break down barriers. I am supporting her much as I can.”
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