EAST Lancashire Muslim women who wear the veil have revealed attitudes towards them have changed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With face masks now mandatory in many public places, several Blackburn Muslim women said they were no longer seen as ‘outcasts’ or a ‘security threat’.

They also described being called names such as ‘ninjas’ or ‘letterboxes’ on an almost daily basis before the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2006 the wearing of face veils and the full body burka came into the spotlight following former Blackburn MP Jack Straw’s comments.

In an article in the Lancashire Telegraph he revealed he had asked women wearing the niqab (full veil) at constituency surgeries to remove the facial garment because face-to-face conversations were of ‘greater value’.

Five years later France became the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places.

In 2018 Boris Johnson wrote that he found it ‘absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes’.

Farhana Patel, 40, of Blackburn said comments such as ‘Hey ninja’ and ‘can I post my letter through the letterbox?’ were commonplace before the virus struck.

She said: “Now I’m no longer a ninja and I’m no longer a letterbox. Funnily everyone is masked as a character and we now see people in colourful and expensive coverings.

“Everyone is getting used to the face covering and no-one seems to stare at anyone.

“Before, no-one could understand what was being said and some almost acted deaf.

“Strange that not a single person now says I can’t hear you.”

A 28-year-old Blackburn woman, who asked just to be named as Hafiza, admitted she didn’t think that attitudes towards her would change so much.

She said: “Whenever I went shopping I used to get the odd comment from someone who would make out I was an outcast.

“Now, no one says a word. In fact it is the other way round. We are looking at people without a face covering!

“I just think all those things people used to say about face coverings were simply another way of criticising Muslim women and Islam. At the time I felt very alone and a little frustrated how the issue would be in the news whenever someone wanted to disparage Muslims.

“All that has changed in a short space of time.”

Farzana, 38, said the past few months had been completely different to what she had been used to.

“I used to get taunted about the veil when I went out. It was not easy at times. I now feel empowered.

“When my family went to the restaurant I was singled out at first but now they have to wear a mask.

“There was also a huge issue made about face veils being a threat to our security. What has happened to that irrational fear?”

“People used to call us bank robbers.

“One of the most common gripes people had was when they said they couldn’t see my expression. Now, everyone is wearing a mask what happened to that issue?

“No one cares anymore. I do hope that when we come out of this pandemic people can be a little more understanding.”

Maryam, 34, said she was surprised the abusive comments have been replaced with pleasantries.

“I regularly walk along Preston New Road in Blackburn with my daughter. The other day a guy wound his window down and said ‘hello’ and in a friendly way.

“It made me feel better and we started to laugh and it made me feel a lot safer.

“Usually, I would get people sticking fingers up or making abusive comments. A kind of panic grips you when this happens and I would look around for support, and most of the time there wasn’t any,” she said.

Maryam said she has felt a lot of more comfortable visiting places. “If you wore a niqab people would look at you twice.

“I was in the superstore and my daughter’s mask slipped and the security guard immediately told her she needed to put it over her face.

“I also recollect the first time I went to town I had another mask just in case they wanted me to cover my face underneath my veil.

“It has not made any difference about how I am going about life but I have noticed a change in attitudes," she added.