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For Muslim Policeman, London's a Tough Beat

Officer Saeed Hajjaj, 25, a British Muslim of Moroccan background, greets produce vendor Surman Miah from Bangladesh while on his beat in East London.
Officer Saeed Hajjaj, 25, a British Muslim of Moroccan background, greets produce vendor Surman Miah from Bangladesh while on his beat in East London. (Mary Jordan - Twp)

He ducked into Shoe World, where he greeted a young clerk from Bangladesh, Parvin Begum, 26, who was wearing an aqua-colored head scarf. She told Hajjaj she was having no problems but that it was still comforting to see his friendly face.

"He is someone like us," she said. "We can talk to him more than the others."

Elsewhere on the market street, Surman Miah, 49, a Bangladeshi, chatted with Hajjaj as he sold bags of small potatoes and red onions from his produce stand. Miah said that sometimes "bad people come and want my money" and that he was grateful for the more-visible foot patrols undertaken by officers such as Hajjaj.

As Hajjaj continued walking around Shadwell, Hassan Ahmed, the 22-year-old son of Bangladeshi immigrants, stopped him and said he was eager to leave his restaurant management work.

"How do you become a police officer?" he asked.

Hajjaj explained the procedure and talked up the job, but later he was more circumspect.

There are rewarding days, he said. While some officers have caused offense when questioning Muslim women whose faces and bodies are covered, Hajjaj said he knows not to make obvious eye contact with a woman unless she does so first and "not to shake her hand unless she extends it first." Such basic gestures of courtesy go a long way toward creating goodwill, he said.

But other days are a hassle. "Don't speak to him. He is not a Muslim," a husband recently snapped at his wife, who was returning a greeting from Hajjaj.

He said it's a tiring predicament: Some people can't get beyond the fact that he is a Muslim, others seem to deny that he is one.

"Before, I really wanted to be a police officer," he said. "Now I am doubtful. It takes a lot out of you."


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