By DIANA APPLEYARD
THE young Muslim woman in the hijab hardly noticed the man she passed in the street – until he stopped, spat and swore at her.
But then as a white-skinned blonde in Islamic garb, religious convert Amy Sall is used to attracting attention.
What has shocked her since she became a Muslim has been the level of hostility she has attracted from complete strangers.
The 29-year-old mum of three, who converted when she wed her Muslim husband Amadou in April 2010, says: "That incident happened soon after we got married.
"I was walking down the street wearing my hijab. I'm very conscious that I stand out and I'm sensitive to how people regard me.
"A white man walked past, stopped, spat at me then shouted, 'F***ing Muslims!'
"I was really shocked but I have come to expect this kind of abuse.
"Since 9/11 so many people in this country think all Muslims are fundamentalists and terrorists. I have been really surprised how much abuse I have had to face, primarily from strangers.
"They just see the hijab and they start shouting abuse. It's reached the stage now when I only wear my hijab to the mosque, because of the abuse I get in the street."
Though nowadays a mosque-going believer, Amy — who works in customer services at clothes store TK Maxx — admits she was a party animal in days gone by.
She says: "The irony is, I used to be a real wild child, and to this day I still occasionally go out clubbing with my girlfriends, let my hair down and have too much to drink.
"But when I get home Amadou is furious with me and it causes lots of rows. He doesn't mind if I go out and drink sensibly but if I get drunk and out of control he says, 'Don't you dare come back here in that state. I'd rather you didn't come back at all'.
"He doesn't drink or smoke and prays five times a day, wherever we are. I try to pray five times too but I have to be honest and admit I don't always manage it.
"It makes me feel guilty, and I am conscious of not being the best Muslim I could possibly be.
"When I go to the mosque, I am aware of the whispering about me. It doesn't come from Amadou's close friends, who are lovely to me, but from the older people who are strictly traditional and think I don't take the religion seriously enough or wear my hijab all the time."
Amy with pals
Wild child ... before meeting Amadou, Amy would spend most nights drinking with pals
Amy is friends with Donna, a fellow British convert to Islam, and says: "She is much more dedicated than I am and I take advice from her if I think I am upsetting people.
"Nobody has said anything to my face, but I know I am seen as an outsider by the Muslim community."
Just as the sight of women clad head-to-toe in black can prompt hostility on the street, Amy has found some parts of Muslim society frown on her dress sense and attitude.
She says: "After all, I'm blonde, blue-eyed, love a drink and have tattoos — hardly your average Muslim woman.
"When I wrap the hijab around my head, I feel as if I am losing a part of me, as if part of my personality is being lost. It also puts the spotlight on me, and people stare.
"I'm still trying to understand the role of women in Muslim society, and I don't know if I will ever properly fit in. It is like living between two worlds."
Although becoming Muslim has presented its challenges, Amy remains devoted to her more devout husband, with whom she has a very happy marriage.
He works as a warehouseman for Tesco and the couple live in Middlesbrough with children Alfred, seven, Aminata, six, and three-year-old Kade. Amy says: "A lot of my friends think it is hilarious that I am a good Muslim wife now.
"Amadou and I have been together for nearly six years — Alfred is my son from a previous relationship, and Aminata is Amadou's daughter.
'It is like living between two worlds' ... Amy wears western clothes as well as the hijab
"We met, funnily enough, in a nightclub. Though Amadou doesn't drink or smoke, he likes to dance, and I spotted him straight away.
"At the time I was with someone else and so was he, but I thought he was absolutely gorgeous. I knew a friend of his, and she offered to introduce us. Until I had Alfred I was very wild. I used to go out partying and clubbing nearly every night, and I'd spend my nights in a haze of vodka shots and other spirits.
"To say I was a party animal is an understatement. I did quite a few things I'm not proud of, and I think that is why my parents welcomed Amadou into our family — they thought he would calm me down and stop the worst of my excesses. Amadou is quite a serious person, yet somehow we just clicked."
If Amy had been ignorant about Islam before, 37-year-old Amadou — who is originally from Guinea in West Africa — soon taught her the most important aspects of the faith.
She says: "He won't eat non-halal meat, and I've had to adapt to this. I still eat chicken but we can't have pork in the house.
"We were married within six months, and it was obvious to me early on I would need to convert to Islam if I wanted to be with him.
"Amadou wouldn't live with me outside marriage, as that isn't allowed, and the Muslim festival of Ramadan was coming up and if we weren't married he couldn't see me for the whole month. I was so in love with him, I really wanted us to be together so I said I would become a Muslim. My party friends thought it was pretty funny but I was quite serious about it.
"I converted on the day we got married in the mosque, and I had to read the shahada, the pledge of faith, in front of the imam.
"I found it intimidating and I hadn't read the Koran when we got married. But since then I am doing my best — I am reading about it on the Internet and I have joined a few Facebook Muslim women's groups.
"I tend to avoid the groups at the mosque though, as they are quite strict and I think they look down on me because of the way I look and dress." Amy is not surprised that an increasing number of white British women are choosing to follow the Muslim faith.
She says: "More women are converting to Islam for love because they don't really have a choice.
"A Muslim husband is not going to give up his faith, and most of us Christians are not that religious or really bothered.
"I would never have insisted that Amadou become a Christian to marry me — that would never have occurred to me. But for him to marry me, I had to convert. We had two weddings, one in the mosque and a western wedding.
"As a family, we are quite relaxed but the children will be brought up in the Muslim faith and Amadou wants them to start Islamic classes at the mosque. But I insist we still celebrate Christmas, as a tradition rather than as a religious festival.
"They wear western kids' clothes and I don't put the girls in a hijab — they can choose if they want to wear it when they are older."
She adds: "Fortunately my family are very open-minded and they have welcomed Amadou — my dad takes him to football matches.
"I think their view is that I've done far worse things in my life, and they've seen me in some right states. They think this will keep me much more on the straight and narrow.
"I like the fact that family is very important to Muslims, and I welcome the fact our children are being brought up in a strong faith, with boundaries and a strict moral code.
"I just need the odd crazy night out to reassure myself I am still me."
Women top of swaps
MORE young white British women than ever are converting to Islam. Of last year's 5,200 Muslim converts, 75 per cent were white females, and the average age was 27, according to the Faith Matters organisation.
In the past six years, the number of UK Muslims has surged 37 per cent to 2.6million compared to 41million Christians, and there are now an estimated 1,500 mosques.
Socialite Jemima Khan converted to Islam when she married Pakistani cricketer- turned-politician Imran Khan in 1995. They divorced in 2004.
'White Widow' ... Samantha Lewthwaite, widow of 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay, is on the most wanted list
One of the most notorious converts is Samantha Lewthwaite, 28, of Aylesbury, Bucks, widow of 7/7 bomber Jermaine Lindsay, who killed 26 people in 2005.
Known as the "White Widow", she vanished in December and is on the world's most wanted list, accused of planning a grenade attack in Mombasa, Kenya, last Christmas.
High-profile Muslims in the UK include Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who was the first female Muslim to serve in the Cabinet, boxer Amir Khan and Olympic double gold medallist Mo Farah.
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