A top British state school has reportedly banned a 16-year-old student from attending classes because she wears a niqab which covers her hair and face.
London’s Camden School for Girls is reportedly stopping the Muslim teenager from beginning her A-levels unless she removes the covering, The Independent reported this week.
The girl has, according to the newspaper, been enrolled in the school for the past five years and was supposed to start her A-levels this month.
Her 18-year-old sister told the newspaper that the decision was “very upsetting” for the family and added: “My sister just wants to wear the niqab for her own reasons and attend a school. I don’t feel like her education should be compromised or the way she dresses should affect the way anyone looks at her.”
The decision has led more than 700 people to sign a “Stop the Islamophobia” petition protesting the move. The online petition was started by an anonymous user and states: “This school is renowned for its ‘individuality’ and ‘strong feminist views’. However, this poorly thought out decision made by the school contradicts this. What happened to ‘freedom of expression’?”
A signatory to the petition, Farhana Khanom, commented on the website: “I went to Camden school for girls and many girls wore veils and were allowed to do so. This school had a reputation. And now discriminating [against] people that made their own choice to wear what they feel is utterly disgusting.”
Another commenter, Cabrini Cotter-Boston, wrote: “This decision has set them back decades. It’s disgusting that Camden teaches us as young women to empower ourselves, and to push the boundaries set by society, yet they themselves are taking away a young girl’s education because of her choice in clothing.”
The school was previously named as one of the top 100 best performing schools in the country by Schools Minister David Laws in 2013. Previous pupils include actresses Emma Thompson and Tamsin Greig and Sarah Brown, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s wife.
In a released statement, the governing body of the school cited “an appearance policy” as the reason for the move.
“Inappropriate dress which offends public decency or which does not allow teacher student interactions will be challenged.” According to the statement, the policy was instated “several years ago” and “written at a time when a girl wished to wear a niqab, and teachers found that this made teaching difficult.”
The decision was “very much an educational one,” the statement said, before adding: “teachers need to see a student’s whole face in order to read the visual cues it provides. In addition, it is important for the safety and security of the school community to know who is on site, and to be able to see and identify individuals.”
According to The Independent, Department for Education guidelines state that schools can set their own uniform policy and enforce bans on the grounds of security, safety or learning.
Earlier this year, Muslim groups across the UK hit out against a campaign to ban burkas, saying the “dangerous” move would fuel Islamophobia at a time of increasing racial tensions in Britain.
In July, Dr. Taj Hargey, an imam and head of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford on Thursday launched a campaign to ban full face coverings, including the niqab, from being worn in public.
“We want to make a burka-free Britain,” he told Al Arabiya News. “We should follow what France and Belgium have done.”
Groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) – and even the UK’s Secular Society –criticized Hargey’s call for a ban in Britain at the time.
“Firstly, he is a man. He should not really be articulating a view on what women should or should not do,” said Talha Ahmad, chair of the membership committee at the MCB.
“If I went around telling people to put their veil on, that would be equally wrong,” he added. “Positions like his are very dangerous. He clearly doesn’t understand the British values of freedom… His arguments feed into the whole Islamophobic narrative.”
With additional reporting by Ben FlanaganSHOW MORE