Leave the hijab alone

On World Hijab Day, activist Siema Iqbal gives 10 reasons why educationalists are wrong to try and ban the hijab in schools.

The obsession around what a Muslim woman wears continues. Today the head of schools watchdog Ofsted has warned that “religious extremists” are perverting education by using schools to narrow children’s horizons. This comes shortly after St Stephens Primary School in London announced that it would ban its pupils under the age of 8 years from wearing the hijab.

But why all the fuss I hear you ask? Surely it’s the right thing to do….well actually it’s not and here are 10 reasons why.

  1. As a parent I have the right to make decisions for my child. Article 8 of the ECHR takes care of that, as does The Equalities Act 2010 and Human Rights Act 1998. So whether it’s a kippah, turban or hijab I get to decide. There have to be some perks to the labour pains and sleepless nights!
  2. If a child wishes to wear a headscarf – as many of them choose to because they wish to imitate their mother/aunt/any female with a headscarf or explore their religious identity – they should be able to do that. Schools should be safe spaces to facilitate this.
  3. The reasons for bans are ridiculous. Where is the evidence the hijab “sexualises” young girls, causes the wearer to be “oppressed,” or that wearing a hijab means you aren’t integrated or British?In fact one could say schools hold misogynistic views of women by suggesting that their choice of hijab is regressive. As for the “reason” that it restricts children from achieving the very best in life, have we forgotten that St Stephens was the State Primary Zchool of the Year in 2017 whilst the children were WEARING the hijab… And if it is a hindrance and can lead to discrimination when it comes to applying for jobs etc, then surely that marginalisation is what should be addressed rather than taking the headscarf off and allowing the discrimination to continue?

    St Stephen’s School headteacher
  4. The Department for Education has clearly stated that uniform policies are a matter for individual schools and specifically mentions the need to observe reasonable accommodation of religion or belief, with a governing body acting reasonably through consultation and dialogue. However, it appears again, as it did with Ofsted, that a few people with a much broader agenda are being invited into closed consultation to make unaccommodating decisions for the many. Not very democratic is it?
  5. Governors and teachers should act in the best interests of the pupils. Yet at St Stephens Primary School we have the head of the governors fulfilling personal “crusades” by enforcing the hijab ban. Perhaps we should draw some parallels with the Trojan Horse schools where governors were accused of mounting personal crusades. How is this any different? Why is the reaction to interference by governors not seen in the same light?
  6. It goes completely against British Values. How can banning the hijab promote “mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs” or “individual liberty”?
  7. Changes to uniform policy need to “take into account the views of parents and pupils” as per DofE guidance. However, what evidence is there that those who want to deny parents and pupils their right to equality consulted appropriately? In fact it appears that parents at St Stephens were finding out about the hijab ban when they first read it in the media…
  8. Politicising, stigmatising and repeatedly harassing young Muslim girls for wearing the hijab at such an early age simply adds to the view that Muslim women are impacted by negative stereotypes for the clothes they wear and marginalises them from society. What about the awesome skills, qualities and talent they have to offer?
  9. The irony is the “campaigners” who are seeking to “liberate” young girls by banning the headscarf are actually doing the opposite by enforcing restrictions on what they can and cannot wear. Yes, really.
  10. It’s plain and simple Islamophobia.

Need I say more?

You can follow Siema Iqbal on Twitter here.

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