Channel 4's alternative Christmas message is still shrouded in secrecyBy ANDY DOLAN
Last updated at 21:10 25 December 2006
The identity of the speaker remains a mystery
A British-born Muslim who delivered Channel 4's alternative Christmas message wearing a full veil was forced to keep her identity a secret yesterday.
The woman replaced Khadija Ravat, a 33-year-old Islamic teacher who pulled out earlier this month following criticism from both inside and outside the Muslim community.
Yesterday a Channel 4 spokesman said the decision not to identify her during the six-minute broadcast was taken to enable viewers to focus on her "words rather than her identity".
The woman - named only as Khadijah - who converted to Islam around ten years ago and spoke with a southern accent, used her five-minute speech to condemn Commons leader Jack Straw for speaking out against the full veil, or niqab, earlier this year. She also told of her worry for a relative in the Army who is set to go to Afghanistan, and told viewers her great-grandmother was a suffragette. Mr Straw triggered a storm of controversy in October when he said he regarded full veils as a "visible statement of separation and difference" which harmed community relations.
Prime Minister Tony Blair went on to describe the veil as a "mark of separation".
Khadijah said: "Jack Straw's comments this year weren't particularly helpful to Muslims trying to live quite peacefully in this society.
"I wonder if Jack Straw would have the same difficulty communicating with a woman who wore revealing clothes as he clearly does with a woman who wears a veil."
Khadijah said she started wearing the niqab around two years after she converted and said she saw the garment as a symbol of liberation.
"To look at me you would never guess that my great-grandmother was actually a suffragette", she said.
"One of the great things about Britain is that it is very, very tolerant and I believe it's the best country to live in if you want to be able to freely practise your religion.
"We are seen as oppressed. "Since I've started covering I feel much more liberated, which I know a lot of people possibly won't be able to understand.
"I don't wear the niqab to separate myself from society. I want to be part of this society - this is where I choose to live. I hope that the society is more accepting of my personal choice. It's not about separation.
"It's like asking a person who's covered in facial pins 'are you doing this because you don't want to be part of society?'
"It's their personal choice and as a society we need to be more tolerant of people's personal choices."
Khadijah says she enjoys spending Christmas with her large, extended family and serves a traditional dinner with mince pies afterwards. Of her worries about her relative in the Army, she says: "I don't want anything to happen to him.
"I also don't want him to be killing any people either in Afghanistan, ie the Muslims in Afghanistan as well. "So it's a very difficult position to be in."
Khadijah was the name of the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, and was the first convert to Islam.
Channel 4's alternative Christmas message is meant to offer a controversial alternative to the Queen's traditional Christmas Day address on the BBC and ITV and is transmitted in the same 3pm time slot.
The station's decision to have a veiled woman delivering this year's message was seen as provocative in the current climate.
Mrs Ravat, a part-time teacher at the Al-Aqsa Primary School in Leicester, had agreed to deliver the speech, but then stepped down, citing "personal reasons", after her identity was revealed.
Yesterday, a Channel 4 spokesman said it was just a coincidence that her replacement was also called Khadijah, albeit with a slightly different spelling.
The spokesman said: "This is a real voice from within the Muslim community. "We are not naming her because we want people to focus on her words rather than her identity. "After what happened with our original speaker, we don't want to put her under too much scrutiny."
He said Khadijah was the name she adopted when she converted to Islam.