A school that forces women to wear the niqab is attacking tolerance


by guest
24th October, 2010 at 8:15 pm    

by Tehmina Kazi from British Muslims for Secular Democracy

The website of the Madani Girls School in Tower Hamlets is replete with slogans about “educating for an Islamic life.” Amidst all the glittering reports of a 100% pass rate at GCSE, and a recent OFSTED inspection where inspectors praised the school for the “motivated staff and the enthusiastic and polite nature of the pupils,” one section lies conspicuously blank: school uniform policy.

This school – as well as the Jameah Al Kauthar in Lancaster and Jameah Girls’ Academy in Leicester – came under fire this weekend for insisting that all girls must wear a niqab (face-veil) when travelling to and from school.

The Sunday Telegraph, having captured the Madani Girls School uniform policy before it was removed from their website, confirmed: “The present uniform conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing. Outside the school, this comprises of the black Burka and Niqab.”

Nobody is calling the school’s outstanding results into question; they go some way towards justifying the £1,900-a-year fees that parents have to pay (in cold, hard cash as opposed to cheques, which the school refuses to accept).

It goes without saying that tolerance is a two-way street, which is why an absolute ban on niqab in public spaces was always going to be a bad idea.

However, it is disingenuous for niqab advocates to use the language of choice and empowerment when advocating their religious freedoms, then to deny these same concepts to young girls in the same breath. It is one thing for a mature adult to make a decision about covering her face in public, but quite another to impose a face-covering onto girls as young as eleven.

* * * * *

It entirely obliterates their physical identity from the public sphere at a crucial stage in the development of their personalities and self-esteem; imparts an unnaturally and unnecessarily strong awareness of sexual politics; and creates an exaggerated hierarchy of piety between different girls. And it almost always seems to be girls, and not boys, who assume the bulk of the responsibility in upholding standards of modesty.

What a departure from the words and meaning of the Qu’ran, which addresses men first in Surah 24:30: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.”

The Madani Girls School warns that any pupil who fails to wear the correct uniform will be “appropriately punished.” As far as school uniform misdemeanours go, this is qualitatively different from a shirt that hasn’t been tucked in, or a tie that is too stumpy.

In religious terms, there is a considerable difference of opinion on the niqab. A small minority of scholars deem it to be obligatory, others say it is a recommended sign of modesty, while a large number have decreed that it is not necessary. Others go as far as to say that face-veiling is not Islamic at all.

Some commentators have argued that applying to these schools – and gaining admission – is a de-facto acceptance of their terms and conditions, and that the parents knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. Of course, this doesn’t take into account that schools have a duty to protect children from social pressures to dress in a particular way (whether face-veils or Playboy t-shirts) and this duty should not be discharged just because they do not presently rely on taxpayer’s money.

This is particularly the case for schools that aim to become state-funded ‘free schools’ under the Coalition Government’s education policy.

It is time for faith schools like Madani to reconsider the impact of such uniform policies on their pupils, and how likely these policies are to turn out citizens who will be able to traverse parliamentary receptions, after-work parties and the local mosque with equal ease.

—–
This was first published in the Eastern Eye newspaper


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  1. africana — on 24th October, 2010 at 8:39 pm  

    i do think that, if it wasn’t for the niqab being such a heavily politicisd item that there’d be such a hue and cry over this, in my opinion.
    how many peoole educated in catholic schools and forced to attend mass and read the hail mary of a morning are either lapsed catholics or atheists today? i don’t think rules derived from religious texts being imposed on students necessarily equals compliant followers of that religion in later life. it cannot therefore be argued, as some people do, that this deprives them of the right to opt in or out of that religion in later life.
    as a former catholic myself i am probably a good example of this.

  2. joe90 — on 24th October, 2010 at 9:28 pm  

    i could’nt care less if the students had green punk spiked hair as long as they have the best results in their exams it will be job done!

    Only yesterday a teacher was banned from teaching for being completely incompetent at teaching!

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/banned-britains-worst-teacher-2114239.html

  3. damon — on 24th October, 2010 at 11:31 pm  

    I completely agree with the concerns in the opening post. I’m guessing that the young veiled teenage girls at this school are meant to stay away from all other students from the other schools in east London, on buses and trains after school. The black and white boys from Hackney and Tower Hamlets for example.
    And all those loud girls at the bus stops, laughing and shrieking as kids do. Eating their after school KFC and chucking the litter all over the place.

    Though on looking up the Tower Hamlets school on google, I see it’s by New Road, which could be considered as the heart of ”the ghetto” and so niqabed girls won’t have to walk far to school and won’t need to get on any buses out in that big nasty wider world.

    http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&q=Madani+Girls+School+Tower+Hamlets&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

  4. Doc — on 25th October, 2010 at 6:36 am  

    completly disagree here

    school uniform is school uniform

    it is up to the school to enforce whatever dress code they see fit.

    they want their students to wear a niqaab thats fine i personally always absolutely hated wearing ties but i still had to wear one going to school during school and coming home.

    i know its not the same as a niqaab but these girls have the option of leaving the school if they see the dress code as a problem. Noones forcing people to send their girls there.

    if and when this school becomes state funded then they maybe a debate here of whether or not they should enforce the niqaab as a private school they can do what they like don’t like it then its simple don’t send your kids there! (and enforcing a niqaab dress code to my understanding is not illeagal in the UK so we cant really step in there and stop them unless they break the law)

  5. boyo — on 25th October, 2010 at 7:33 am  

    “I personally hated wearing ties”.

    And doesn’t that sum up the idiocy of some so-called “progressives”.

    Requiring young girls to cover their faces in this manner is simply child abuse. It perverts their identity of themselves in a highly sexual manner – what is supposedly sexy about an 11 year old girl?!

    The face veil literally de-faces its wearer. It removes their identity as a person. If adults choose to do this to themselves that is one thing, but for an institution (which presumably has charitable status?) to impose this on their pupils (and parents on their children) should be a crime in any civilised society, let alone a Western one.

    It is plain racism that it isn’t – Islamaphobia (a term we hear less and less, thankfully) is regularly deemed racist. But surely it is racist to allow child abuse on cultural grounds. If one believes in universal values of actual equality (not cultural equality – if so, head-hunting would be acceptable) then one can only condemn this.

  6. africana — on 25th October, 2010 at 7:53 am  

    the religious justification for niqab is as a means of identifying the wearer as muslim. that’s the point of it, not to objectify the wearer or because she is too much of a provocation. whilst it may have the effect of reducing male interest in the wearer, it is a misunderstanding that this is the principal reason for which it is worn. the means by which societal modesty is principally to be achieved, according to the quran, is through the lowering of the gaze, which is a commandment addressed to men in the first instance and then to women.

  7. Sarah AB — on 25th October, 2010 at 8:04 am  

    africana – surely that’s not the whole story? I assume in Saudi it’s a safe assumption that a woman is a Muslim but don’t they have to wear the niqab? And a hijab also immediately identifies you, almost certainly, as a Muslim – which makes anything else superfluous.

  8. africana — on 25th October, 2010 at 9:38 am  

    @Sarah AB,
    in saudi, there is a requirement that all women (including non-muslims wear an abaya in public). AFAIK, saudi women have the additional requirement of a headcovering. niqab is more common in the more religiously conservative najd region of saudi than in the more liberal, multi-cultural hijaz region (which includes mecca and medina.so, in a sense, when a woman sports niqab in the hijaz region(where niqab is less common and headscarf is the norm even for saudi women who are not at all religious)it would still convey a certain message about the wearer.
    And since niqab is not mandated, even in the najd region (which includes riyadh, i think)the less religiously inclined/secular women will be most likely be in headscarves.
    afghanistan, with the mandatory burqa at one point,would have been a more suitable example.in this case,since it’s a mode of dress for which there is a scriptual basis,it is seen as an inherently valuable mode of dress even if it is not fulfilling its principal purpose of identifying and distinguishing.in the case of afghanistan, a blanket imposition of one way of dressing on both sunni and shia women (who each belong to different ethnicities), would (at a time of much turmoil)have rendered them unrecognisable and thus afforded them a degree of protection. in the early days of islam, face covering was the norm for the women of the jewish community who lived amongst the early muslims. as the wives of the prophet muhammed were at considerable risk of being harassed by those who opposeed islam, they were asked to veil themselves in order that they could go about their business untroubled and unrecognised in the manner of the jewish women.

  9. platinum786 — on 25th October, 2010 at 9:59 am  

    you could argue that school uniform is just, that uniform. I’ve personally always disagreed with that. Schools have been (and rightfully so), made to make exceptions to uniform for students of particular religions (Muslim hijabs/salwar Kameez, Sikh Turbans/ kara’s etc).

    What I think we’ve all missed is that the “uniform” is being enforced outside the school, apparently you have to wear it to and from school. Surely no school has jurisdiction there?!

  10. Boyo — on 25th October, 2010 at 10:19 am  

    The niqab has nothing to do with Islamic practice – i agree with those who say, like FMG, it is a cultural thing. And just like FMG (and head-hunting) it should be universally reviled.

    Look – Islam the religion, if embraced with maturity, is certainly no bad nor silly nor threatening than Christianity. All these things – including head scalves incidentally, you don’t see Warsi or the Queen of Jordan in one – are not Islamic. Islam is simply used as an excuse to enforce actually or symbolically inequality, which is cultural thing.

  11. africana — on 25th October, 2010 at 11:13 am  

    @boyo,

    i agree that islam poses no threat to society.
    however,i think a fair few scholars of some repute might disagree with you on your assertion that there is no dress code for women.even a layperson will find references to female dress code in both the quran and hadith literature.

    regardless of whether you consider an aspect of practise as islamic or not, i think it should be for the individual to practise their religion as they see fit.

  12. Jane — on 25th October, 2010 at 12:27 pm  

    Whether a woman chooses to wear the niqab voluntarily or not, to me it will always be a symbol of female oppression and segregation. How can I possibly be a friend to someone who has the option of walking past me without acknowledging me? Not long ago 3 ex students came to chat to me: the two young men I knew but the young woman had taken to wearing the niqab and, until she introduced herself, I had no clue who she was.

    On the larger point of faith based schools: it was obvious that, once faiths other than the Catholics and Church of England tried to get Government funding for schools under the Academies Act 2010, comments would start. The Church of England was one of the main beneficiaries of the “new labour” academies – I cannot blame other religious for trying to get their share of the money pot. However, I believe that religious teachings should be the preserve of religious institutions and not the state education system.

  13. Kismet Hardy — on 25th October, 2010 at 1:00 pm  

    Children should not be forced to wear any kind of uniform. Try making adults conform all you like, this sick habit of trying to stop kids at their shot at being individuals is bang out of order

  14. damon — on 25th October, 2010 at 2:14 pm  

    To send girls in niqabs out into the morning rush hour to catch buses, tubes and overground trains to school, I think is cruel. And then doing the same thing on the way home in the evening. Have people not been upstairs on a bus when the noisy kids come piling on from school in the afternoon? It can be complete pandemonium. What does the niqab mean as far as normal teenage interaction and flirting and teasing between pupils from different schools for example? When the niqabed girls are getting the same bus every day with children from other schools?
    Is some boy in his best Ali G accent even allowed to ask one of the girls ”Who is you? Is you Aaeesha? … Or is you Sfiyah?” And should he even know who these girls are?

    I remember going home from school on the bus from my boys school in the 70s, and when the bus stopped outside the nearby girls school, every boy was peering down to see who was getting on. There were some you knew a bit, and some you wished you knew but were too shy to talk to. If they’d all been wearing niqabs we wouldn’t have even known what they looked like and who was who.

  15. Soso — on 25th October, 2010 at 4:20 pm  

    It is an extreme form of child abuse being done in the name of a so-called religion.

    These girls, if not placed into foster homes, won’t have a chance.

    If some wacked out christian sect was forcing youg girls to dress like this, child protection serviceds would move in and placce them with foster families where they could enjoy a safe and nurturing enviroment..

    the propagation of Islam is entirely predicated on the erasure of anything female. All one is left with are a bunch of submissive, restricted sub-males for whom ‘choice’ will always mean less.

    What’s more, the school should be shut down, and its administrators placed under arrest.

  16. boyo — on 25th October, 2010 at 4:26 pm  

    @11 But that’s exactly my point – the religion has much to offer, however so many of the people attracted to it use it as an excuse to project their own weaknesses, whether that be fear of women (therefore obliging little girls to know their place), not feeling powerful enough in their own lives (and therefore wishing to inflict harm upon others), and so on. Islam is very powerful, but it seems often the most powerless are attracted to it for the wrong reasons. For those born in to it, it can often also create distorted expectations – given its promise of power, why are they so powerless?

    Islam has a lot to give, but too often people take the wrong things from it and use them to magnify their own weaknesses.

  17. Mariann — on 25th October, 2010 at 9:13 pm  

    “This school – as well as the Jameah Al Kauthar in Lancaster and Jameah Girls’ Academy in Leicester – came under fire this weekend for insisting that all girls must wear a niqab (face-veil) when travelling to and from school. ”

    Did I read this right? The girls are not required by the school to wear a niqab in the school but outside of it?

    Forcing it in the school is bad enough but this is absolutely outrageous! Teenage girls being used for fundamentalist propaganda. What is happening to the UK?

  18. africana — on 25th October, 2010 at 10:04 pm  

    @17,
    the thinking behind it is that,the niqab is worn in front of unrelated males, in order that they be recognised as religiously committed individuals and not troubled.

    if the school is exclsively female, including teachers etc,then there’s no point in wearing it indoors.

  19. Mariann — on 26th October, 2010 at 6:58 am  

    @18
    I understand perfectly what the point is. The point is to paint males as people who trouble teenage girls unless they hide their faces. My point is that forcing girls to erase their identity is fascist and should not be tolerated in a free country.

  20. damon — on 26th October, 2010 at 10:23 am  

    africana @18

    the thinking behind it is that,the niqab is worn in front of unrelated males, in order that they be recognised as religiously committed individuals and not troubled.

    And everyone is meant to know this? Women wearing niqabs and burkas are not to be even spoken to?

    I thought that’s what it meant – like it does in Afghanistan, but no one has ever really spelled it out before. That’s why I find the wearing of them in the UK insulting to the wider population, and selfish of the wearer too, because it’s meaning is not completely understood. Maybe it should be, and kids at school should be told that women with their faces covered do not want you to talk to them.

    Personally I don’t think the niquab has a place in a ‘civilised’ society. But people are free to wear what they like and bans are out of the question.

    I agree with this guy yesterday.

    ”Don’t ban the burqa – but don’t celebrate it, either”
    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/9814/

  21. joe90 — on 26th October, 2010 at 11:38 am  

    post #15

    is clearly on drugs!

  22. Kismet Hardy — on 26th October, 2010 at 11:40 am  

    Talking of drugs, how easy would it be to be a successful dealer in a niqab? I missed a trick there

  23. Doc — on 28th October, 2010 at 3:21 am  

    @13 kismat hardy i sort of agree i never have been a fan of school uniforms but then again school uniform still has a place in general schools it does ensure that students wear appropriate clothing secondly maintance of your uniform (cleaning your blazer to polishing your shoes) helps improve personal discipline thirdly it can help reduce differences amongst students which you may see as a bad thing for individualism but is a great thing for equality.

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