When you wear a hijab you feel closer to God
Raneem Saleh (21), medical student, Dublin
The fourth-year medicine student at University College Dublin knew practically nothing of Ireland growing up in Saudi Arabia. But when her older sister was accepted into Dublin's Royal College of Surgeons' medical school and her entire family decided to relocate here, she was pleasantly surprised.
"I moved here at 14 and thought Ireland was a place of mountains and sheep but of course the reality, in Dublin anyway, is very different and I've come to really like living here. It feels like home now."
Saleh believes Ireland is "one of the most accepting countries in which to be Muslim" and is heartened to see the Muslim population grow significantly in the seven years that she has lived here.
"I'm very involved with the Islamic Society in UCD and, this year, we have 450 members, some of whom are non-Muslim but want to reach out and connect with us." Saleh did not wear a veil in secondary school, but opted to wear the hijab midway through her first year in college. "The command to wear a hijab is from our holy book, the Koran," she says. "It's not an order from men."
She says most of her fellow students treated her no differently than before, but notes that some started to keep their distance. "There's a lot of misunderstanding out there," she says, noting that some non-Muslim men, wrongly, think it is not permissible to speak to a woman wearing a veil. She does not wear a burka and says it's unlikely she ever will.
"It's not for me," she says. "When you wear a hijab you feel you are closer to God, so sometimes women feel that wearing a burka will bring them even closer. But it's up to the individual woman to decide.
"I consider myself to be a feminist, but a feminist who believes that men and women are equal, not that women are superior."