A secondary school in Leeds has confirmed that it has banned the jilbab after a parent who wanted to send her daughter there made an official complaint about the uniform policy, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
Allerton Grange School in Moortown, which has a significant Muslim intake, informed Rabia Begum on April 25 that changing the current uniform policy would create “a lack of sense of identity” and “potential safeguarding concerns as students may not be easily identifiable.”
The school, which had initially told Mrs Begum that the jilbab was not allowed for health and safety reasons, said that it already incorporates the “needs of children” into its uniform policy by allowing the shalwar kameez and headscarf.
Mrs Begum had wanted to send her 14 year old daughter to the school last September but says she was told the jilbab (which is a garment that conceals the shape of the body as Islam mandates) would not be allowed because of health and safety concerns.
She told 5Pillars that the jilbab was worn by students at Allerton Grange for many years but the uniform policy had recently changed. As a result of the school’s decision, she said, she had to send her daughter to another school some distance away and this had separated her from her brother who attends Allerton Grange.
“This is part of our religious identity; it’s an obligation and without it we can’t follow our religion completely,” she told 5Pillars. “We couldn’t understand why the school was saying it was a health and safety issue but now they’ve changed their tune and are saying that the main reason was because they wanted to create a sense of communal identity.”
She added: “This has been really stressful for the whole family; it’s been really alienating for us. I feel the school are ignoring their own uniform policy which says they must meet the needs of the children. Now my daughter goes to a different school outside of the city which means that I have to travel a lot of every day and she has to get up very early and comes home late. But we’re definitely not going to compromise our faith.”
In her complaint letter on March 2, Mrs Begum said that parents at the school had not been consulted when the uniform policy was changed and disputed the school’s initial assertion that the jilbab would present a health and safety issue.
She quoted guidelines by the National Union of Teachers which state that: “In most lessons, the wearing of the hijab or jilbab would not present a health and safety hazard to either the wearer of the garment or other pupils.”
The letter added that the kameez with uniform trousers underneath “is not religious dress code for Muslim women, this is rather a dress of Pakistani culture and this is well known.”
The letter concluded that the governing body had “indirectly discriminated against Muslims.”
Her complaint was supported by Masjid Quba in Leeds which said it was shocked at the school’s decision and couldn’t understand how a jilbab would contravene health and safety guidelines. The mosque chairman, Mr Mir, said the decision had had an impact on the local community.
Allerton Grange response
However, in a letter on April 25 confirming the decision of an appeals hearing, Allerton Grange, which describes itself as a thriving, all-ability, multi-cultural school, confirmed that it had decided not to change the uniform policy.
The letter said that “the main rationale behind the creation of the Uniform Policy was to promote a positive sense of communal identity. There was not a strong concern that the Jilbab poses a health and safety risk.”
It went onto say that the school has to be respectful and make adaptions to promote inclusion but “creating adaptions to the policy would create a lack of sense of identity and create potential safeguarding concerns as students may not be easily identifiable.”
The letter added that the school had widely consulted including with school staff and students, parents, religious leaders and mosques. It said the school had incorporated the needs of children into its uniform policy by allowing the shalwar kameez and a headscarf.
Yusuf Patel from SREIslamic, an organisation that supports Muslim parents in state schools, told 5Pillars that Allerton Grange had unnecessarily caused problems for itself.
“When Muslims find out about this they won’t want to send their kids to this school,” he said. “Unfortunately, this kind of thing has happened in quite a few places in this Prevent-inspired environment that we are living in where things like the jilbab could be considered as an ‘indicator of extremism.’
“Schools are just creating new problems for themselves and alienating Muslims by stopping them from practising some basic Islamic values.
“When you decide to change a policy which effectively restricts a child practising his or her religion there must be wide consultation and schools shouldn’t just take arbitrary decisions which lack transparency. This sort of thing pits communities against schools whereas they should be working together.”