Aleppo and the Euphrates, Syria
Standing at the 10th century Qinnesrin Gate, one of the most beautiful and intact of Aleppo, I was listening to an old blind man who was being teased by passing schoolboys, roar at them hoping they’d fail every exam in the coming term, when a young and very earnest-looking woman approached me. She was dressed from head to foot in black; long black coat and black hijab. I did not understand what she wanted as she pulled out a book from her bag and showed me pages of Arabic script - it transpired that she wanted me to know that just because she and other Syrian women might wear hijab and dress traditionally, it did not mean they were uneducated. The book she was showing me was her poetry and she had a good and well-paying job in a government ministry. I found her gesture touching but at the same time a bit sad that she felt the need to set me straight as it were, knowing the reputation among ‘Western’ women of Islamic women who wear hijab.