Birmingham Metropolitan College, which banned its students from wearing the niqab earlier this week for supposed security reasons, has overturned the ban in the face of public pressure.
The humiliating U-turn came after a sustained campaign from organisations like Muslimahpride and the National Union of Students which argued the ban discriminated against Muslims. Local and national politicians, such as deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, also spoke out against the ban. It also came after a protest petition attracted a staggering 8,000 signatures in just 48 hours.
Education bosses had introduced a ban on all face coverings, including the niqab, for “security’ reasons,” along with hoodies and caps.
“Birmingham Metropolitan College is committed to high quality education for all of our learners,” the college said in a statement. “We are concerned that recent media attention is detracting from our core mission of providing high quality learning. As a consequence, we will modify our policies to allow individuals to wear specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values.
“The College will still need to be able to confirm an individual’s identity in order to maintain safeguarding and security. The necessity to comply with national regulations, examination board requirements and applicable legislation will remain an overriding priority in all circumstances, as will the need to ensure that effective teaching and learning methodologies are applied.
“We have listened to the views of our students and we are confident that this modification to our policies will meet the needs of all of our learners and stakeholders. We remain committed to ensuring that students are provided with a safe and welcoming environment and the best education and training opportunities available.”
Following the U-turn Muslimahpride welcomed the decision.
“It is clear from the public outcry against this decision, that such a ban in a public institution is not acceptable. The ban went against the basic human rights of self-expression and the freedom to practise religion. The college was categorically wrong to administer such a ban in the first place.
“In light of the today’s statement by Birmingham Metropolitan College we have decided to cancel the protest that we had organised for Friday. Our aim was always to uphold the rights and maintain the welfare of the students, and we would not like to disrupt their studies any further.
“There have been calls for a ‘celebratory gathering’ of some sort for the people who have made time to attend the demonstration. Now is not the time to celebrate. We are under-represented in the media, public life and education. We are under attack from the far right in the streets with physical violence occurring at an unprecedented level. We are increasingly coming under attack in the media and by politicians who see us as easy targets in their bid to gain publicity and political points.
“We see today’s decision as a small victory in the bigger fight for the rights of Muslim women in this country. We have a long way to go. We would like to thank all the supporters that joined our campaign and were willing to give up their time to stand up for the rights of Muslim women. Today’s results are a direct result of all the support we have received.
“This campaign highlights the importance of grassroots mobilisation against the alarming rise in Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims. We also ask for our supporters to keep up to date with our activities and continue to support Muslim women in their struggle to be heard.
Meanwhile, journalist Assed Baig, who hails from Birmingham, said: “The victory of the U-turn on the veil ban belongs to Muslimahpride. They have shown the ability to mobilise grassroots Muslims. They have managed to challenge on all levels the actions of the college.
“Without the threat of a demonstration outside the college the college would never had taken a U-turn. Many tonight will claim that the victory is their’s, but the victory belongs to the sisters of Muslimahpride. Sisters I salute you, you have achieved what many brothers and others could not.”