A top UK primary school based in Newham, London, ordered the hijab to be banned for all students under the age of eight. The school, St. Stephan’s, also discouraged fasting on school property. School governors and head teacher Neena Lall cited lack of integration with British culture, along with health and safety concerns, as the deciding factors of this change in policy.
Arif Qawi, head of governors, took advice from Muslim clerics on the matter who rightly advised that fasting and observing the hijab is only required from the onset of puberty, and is not required for those younger. Although the school has not completely banned fasting, it has asked for pupils to practice outside of the school premises.
“We are responsible for their health and safety, if they pass out on campus. It is not fair to us,” Qawi explained.
News of the hijab ban was met with nationwide backlash. A petition, started by Hafsah Dibiri, has gained almost 20,000 signatures.
A British child impacted by the hijab ban had some wise words on the situation. Sadiya Rahman, a 10-year-old living in the UK who has chosento wear her hijab, sent Muslim Girl a copy of a letter she addressed to Ofsted (the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills). Her letter reads:
A while back, my dad asked me whether I felt forced to wear my scarf. ‘Was this some sort of dumb dad riddles?’ I looked at him perplexed. Then he told me he was on a Twitter conversation with some peeps that thought that young Muslim girls were being forced to wear the hijab. They also thought it was inappropriate for young girls to wear scarves. Apparently, Dad told them that his daughter wears it by choice. Dad still needed reassurance from me (of course) ‘just to check’ according to him. I told him clearly it was my choice.
Some days later he told me that the same people had persuaded you to ask 5 year old Muslim girls that whether that are forced to wear hijab. As if they can answer properly.
In our R.E. class we learned that some Sikh boys wear turbans and some Jewish kids wear the kippah and some Christian folk wear crosses (necklaces, bracelets etc.). My mum told me Muslim girls wear the hijab when they reach adolescence. Similarly some of the other traditions I mentioned are also used when you start maturing. It would be amazing if we were allowed to practice all of these traditions freely.
For me hijab is just a piece of cloth and my parents always tell me that it shouldn’t stop me from achieving anything in life. There are so many role models who wear hijab such as Malala, the Nobel Peace prize-winner and others. This goes all the way back to Khadijah R.A. The wife of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH who was a businesswoman and also the first Muslim.
Rather than concentrating on a piece of cloth maybe you should look at things such as bullying or loneliness (etc.). Maybe we should look at how to make school more fun which would be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
(10 years old)
Ps: I just heard one school banned scarfs (so terrible!!)”
Last Friday, less than a week after putting the hijab ban in place, the Sunday Times reported that the school had decided to reverse the new policy along with an announcement that the head governor Arif Qawi had decided to step down from his role. This came after another petition, separate from Dibiri’s, called for his resignation and gained over 1,400 signatures.
Muslim women like Dibiri and Rahman illustrate the importance and power of public outcry when issues that affect the Muslim community are up for discussion. Rahman has previously spoken up in protest when Mr. Cameron referred to Muslim women as “traditionally submissive,” penning him a letter that was then published in the Independent, a popular UK newspaper.