In January, a primary school in East London made the decision to enact a hijab ban amongst students, aged eight and under. This ban caused an outrage amongst many as ultimately it removed the freedom of choice amongst these pupils who fall under this ban. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman stated that “Under the pretext of religious belief, they [Muslims] use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology.” With 20% of the female students at this school wearing the hijab, the headmistress put the ban in effect which was subsequently supported by Spielman, to promote integration amongst the pupils at the school. But can such a harsh move really encourage integration?
According to Ofsted, the wearing of the headscarf is not promoting British values. And what are British values you may ask? British values, as defined by the government department, are democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. Banning the hijab, therefore, is not promoting British values as it further isolates these young girls and sends a message of intolerance.
This isn’t the first time that Ofsted has been involved in a controversial ban either. At the end of 2017, it was revealed that Spielman wanted Ofsted to be able to question any young Muslim girl wearing the headscarf when they visited schools. She declared the move as a way to tackle occurrences where wearing the headscarf “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of young girls seeing as girls in Islam are not required to cover their hair until they reach the age of puberty.
Ultimately it all comes down to a lack of understanding of the true meaning of the hijab. It doesn’t help that when you Google the word hijab, most of the images and meanings that come up are talking about the head covering or veil worn by some Muslim women. The Arabic word, hijab, means “barrier”, however, within the Islamic context, the meaning is much broader. Hijab is more the principle of modesty, so not just the way in which we dress, but also remaining modest in our behaviour too. In fact, when it comes to the hijab, Islam places a responsibility on men too, to observe the hijab. Just like women, men are also required to observe modesty in their dressing, with Muslim women using the headscarf as one way of doing so.
In an age where we talk about women’s rights and feminism, is this really an act of supporting women, if ultimately you are removing their freedom of choice to dress how they want? I find it ridiculous that a simple piece of material covering a woman’s hair can cause such outrage and offence, particularly if it’s her choice to cover. I can’t say whether a young girl should or should not wear the headscarf – it’s simply not my place – but this constant need that a Muslim girl or woman must justify why she is wearing it is what I find frustrating. There are many reasons a young Muslim girl may decide to wear the headscarf. For myself, although older when I started wearing one, it was to get closer to God and my religion. For other girls, it may be that they want to look like their mother. And some may have no reason at all.
Celebrities are applauded when they decide to own how they truly look and choose to go against societal norms of makeup and Photoshop, yet a Muslim woman cannot stand proudly in her decision to wear the hijab without someone calling her oppressed or viewing her as a victim of her religion. No matter what your opinion on the wearing of the headscarf is, surely, we can agree on the fact that there should be no law in place determining the way any woman should dress. But it’s so exhausting that something that is an important and beautiful part of my religion faces such criticism and inspection, especially under the false pretence that there is a concern for girls’ safety and well-being. All these bans and decisions are just laced with the underlying theme of Islamophobia. We promote tolerance of all people, no matter what their faith, race, sexual orientation and the list continues. But it’s high time as a society, we start to practice what we preach in the name of Muslim women.
Written by Aisha Rimi