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A muslim woman who was due to deliver Channel 4’s alternative Christmas message wearing a full veil backed out yesterday after criticism from inside and outside her community.
Earlier this month, Khadija Ravat agreed to front the six-minute slot that is broadcast as the Queen delivers her own thoughts on Christmas Day. She said she wanted to argue that women should have the right to cover their faces if they choose.
Yesterday, however, after talks with the producers, the part-time primary school teacher from Leicester told Channel 4 that she could not go through with the project.
In a statement, she said that it was the unexpected publicity around her decision that made her change her mind.
But a source close to the programme makers said one of the reasons was that she had been pressurised by senior members of the community who felt it was not her place to talk about Islam. It has also been said that she had received threatening letters from
non-Muslims accusing her of trying to upstage the Queen.
In a statement released through the television channel, she said: “My initial thoughts about the programme were that it would be a fantastic opportunity to do something positive and to convey a warm message for everyone to share.
“However, after careful consideration, I have decided not to appear on the programme.
“I have no doubt that Channel 4 will continue with its inquiring and sensitive approach on issues relating to Muslims in Britain.” Last night she refused to elaborate on her decision at her home.
But the head of the Muslim school where she worked said that she had “erred on the side of caution” after receiving a number of letters, some abusive.
Ibrahim Hewitt, 50, head of the al-Aqsa Primary School, which is near Mrs Ravat’s Leicester home, said: “There has been a mixed reaction.
“I have known her for a long time, and she is a very sincere person. Nobody at the school has raised any objections – indeed, parents have come to me and said they were very happy she was going to do it.
“But some people think she is trying to upstage the Queen, which is certainly not the case. But I think she feels it would rub people up the wrong way.”
Channel 4’s message, which has in the past been fronted by the likes of Sharon Osborne and Quentin Crisp, is meant to offer a controversial alternative to the Queen’s traditional Christmas Day address on the BBC and ITV. It is thought Channel 4 researchers may have tracked her down after she made a public comment at the height of the controversy when Commons leader Jack Straw said he regarded full veils as a “visible statement of separation and difference”.
Last night Channel vowed to continue its search for a Muslim woman to front the show.
A spokesman said: “We remain committed to having a Muslim woman deliver the alternative Christmas message. Part of Channel 4’s remit is to provide space for voices that would otherwise not receive airtime.”