A SECULAR Muslim woman councillor has been forced to dress more conservatively after receiving death threats and sexually harassing phone calls from members of her own community.
Shiria Khatun, 38, has called in the police over the sinister calls in which threats were made not only against her, but also her four young children.
In one they warned they would dig up parents’ graves and bury her there instead.
The Labour councillor in the controversial borough of Tower Hamlets—named in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary last week as a centre of Islamic fundamentalism—is considered one of the area’s most progressive politicians.
She was elected in 2006, worked for Ken Livingstone as a transport adviser at London’s City Hall and frequently campaigns for more Muslim women to enter politics.
However, over the past year she has been the victim of a “sick” harassment campaign.
She has been bombarded with anonymous calls and even followed home.
At first she was “too embarrassed” to call the police, but when the threats, mostly made in the Bangladeshi dialect Sylheti, targeted her family she decided to act.
She said: “As a councillor I’m meant to be a strong woman and I didn’t want to show that I was bothered, but it’s gone too far.
“They’re really disgusting. They would talk about my Western clothes, my tight jeans and my body parts.
“One man said—and it sounds much nastier in Sylheti—‘I know where you live and I’m going to come and show you and your kids’. I just hung up.
“I really thought it was a pervert, but then it started to get more intense. My parents died when I was young and the callers must know that because they said they would dig up their graves and bury me inside. I think they’re sick.”
Following the calls, she started wearing more loose-fitting traditional Asian clothes and glasses instead of contact lenses to be “taken more seriously”.
She said: “I didn’t even realise that I was giving into them, but my skirts started getting longer and the whole thing left me demoralised.
“Other Muslim women have advised me to dress down because of rumours within the Bengali community, mostly men, criticising me for being too Western looking.
“I don’t like people exploiting religion to tell me I’m not a proper Muslim. We live in a democratic society and I have the right to dress how I like.”
She has so far refused to wear the Muslim hijab headscarf, something she said is a more common sight on the streets of Tower Hamlets—a densely Bangladeshi-populated borough—than in Bangladesh itself.
Many put that down to the growing influence of the strict Saudi Arabian Wahhabi doctrine of Islam in the East End of London.
Cllr Khatun added: “I returned from a visit to Bangladesh not long ago and it’s definitely more conservative here than it is there.
“I used to look at the photos of Bangladeshi women who came here in the Sixties and go ‘Wow!’ and think how amazingly fashionable and liberal they were with their short-sleeved blouses and bouffant hairdos.
“It’s all changed so much now for younger women.”
Police confirmed they were investigating the councillor’s complaint.