I am the only adult woman in my family who does not wear the Islamic headscarf, the hijab. And 20 years ago, that statement would have caused people — Muslim and non- Muslim — to ask why the rest were covered rather than why I was not, which is the case now. Times have changed, and the conversation about the hijab — which should be honest — has moved in the wrong direction.
This can be seen in the reaction of some Muslims to the initiative of the head of St Stephen’s School in Newham, Neena Lall, in banning girls under the age of eight from wearing the hijab. She also discouraged children from fasting at Ramadan.
Some of the families at the school protested; local councillors and Muslim organisations criticised her; she apparently had death threats issued against her. She backed down and the chair of governors who had supported her resigned.
St Stephen’s is one of the most successful primary schools in the UK. This is a backward step for the young girls who are pupils there.
This should be a straightforward issue. The hijab is meant to be worn to cover women in order to avoid tempting men. Don’t get me started on the issues I have with that as a feminist and as a Muslim woman. But putting children in a hijab is akin to dressing them in high heels and make-up.
It is sexualised clothing. By covering up young girls, the implication is that they are sexual beings. In our attempt not to offend those who believe this, we are limiting girls’ rights and freedom.
In the current climate of hyper- political correctness, with strident liberals on one side and ill- informed knuckleheads on the other, we have lost the ability to think straight. The hostility towards Muslims, of which I have been a victim, is being exploited by conservative men within communities such as mine to shut down legitimate concerns.
It is not Islamophobic to ban the headscarf in primary schools — or any school, for that matter. Indeed, it would help if the Department for Education were to issue guidelines for head teachers on this.
Children need to be protected from the idea that their bodies are sexual and that if they don’t cover up they will become victims. This should not be unsayable — or even controversial — just because it involves disagreeing with some people from minority ethnic groups.
Schools should be a place for children to express themselves, not where they are boxed in. Lall is being depicted as anti-Muslim. Not so. Those who send their children to the school do so because she knows how to get the best from pupils.
She should be left to do her job and I hope the Department of Education is brave enough to come to her defence.
Source: – Evening Standard