The Shabina Begum case (part 2)

I posted here earlier (below insha Allah) about the ruling this morning that the school in Luton, England, which excluded Shabina Begum for insisting on wearing the Islamic jilbab to school violated her human rights. Since then a whole load of discussion has taken place on Muslim blogs (here, here and here) about this discussion, not all of it supportive of sister Shabina. There was a picture of Shabina Begum pre-jilbab printed in today’s Evening Standard, which for me clinches the issue of whether the shalwar-kameez is Islamically acceptable. In this case, it wasn’t. The tunic tightens around the waist, and is not a traditional shalwar at all. It’s got open shoulders, relying on a white shirt underneath, and the sleeves end slightly below the elbows. There’s no doubt that Shabina was correct about this being Islamically unacceptable.

DP says she prefers to wear shalwar because the jilbab raises the possibility of filth (like dog excrement) getting on the bottom of a jilbab. I’m not denying that shalwar kameez can match the standard, but the “Islamic” dress prescribed by the school doesn’t. She also raises the point of how much better Muslim girls have the situation here compared to in France. I hardly think that’s the point, however. First of all, we pay for these schools in our taxes, which are considerable (albeit lower than in some European countries). They are not run as a favour to us, and we have the right to make certain demands. And just because women are more oppressed in a neighbouring country, it doesn’t mean they should accept it here.

Besides, the history of the UK is vastly different from that of France or Germany. France has a long history of hostility to Muslims, including a recent war with a Muslim country, which has supplied a large proportion of the country’s present Muslim population. It also has an exaggerated view of itself as a civilised country. As for Germany, its history of excluding minorities is well-known; it was Jews before World War II, and now it’s Turks and other Muslims. The UK did have laws discriminating against Catholics until the mid-19th century, which it repealed (against great popular protest). We don’t have a big quasi-fascist or communist constituency, unlike France. Perhaps more importantly, Muslims in the UK are more likely to support hijab-wearers than in France. Perhaps the best way of increasing acceptance of hijab in France is to encourage more women to wear it, until it gets to a critical mass where it can be seen as the dress of a community rather than of a relative few “strict” Muslim girls. I’d also suggest that this policy be ridiculed, and for much to be made of the fact that France is the only country in the developed world which does this to schoolgirls. If you use a French product and it doesn’t work, say “what more do you expect of a country that’s afraid of schoolgirls?”.

DP also calls this a “frivolous lawsuit” and claims that much better things could be done to help the Ummah. But this has helped the Ummah, or at least, Muslims in this country, because it’s worked. It’s also been suggested that the exposure this girl has received through this lawsuit (everyone knows her face) has defeated the object of bringing the case. But what people have seen of our sister in the TV or the papers, until today (and I’m not sure where the Standard got the picture of Shabina in the “correct” uniform), is not her awrah. She didn’t want half of Luton seeing her awrah every day, and now she may well have won for other girls the right to wear proper Islamic dress. I wouldn’t call that frivolous or counter-productive.

My own take on this is that any blow against the tyranny of school uniforms is a good thing. Most schools in this country have uniforms, which are almost always a cheap knock-off of business dress or “public school” (ie posh English private school) uniform. They are also uncomfortable (such as requiring ties and top buttons) and sometimes unhealthy (such as the nylons which some schools still require girls to wear, which are known to exacerbate vaginal infections). I can remember numerous arguments with teachers and prefects over my refusal to do my top button due to the discomfort it causes. They also can cause fights, clearly marking children from one school out to members of others. These days, schools are known to permit girls to wear inappropriately short skirts (I have seen this for myself in New Malden), and one school (Kesgrave High, near Ipswich) actually banned girls from wearing skirts at all, because of girls who wore skirts too short, often while cycling. (More on that here and here.) I don’t object to schools requiring certain standards of dress, but uniforms are almost always uncomfortable and obnoxious.

And something I said in my last post was misunderstood by one of the commentators. What I said was that in between something that is prefectly lawful (not wearing uniform) and a serious crime (bringing dope into school), both of which can get you excluded, are a multitude of violent offences which can’t. Bullying, violence and “happy slapping” (attacking a fellow pupil while recording the incident on a mobile phone camera, and then distributing the picture or pictures) are rife in some schools; I heard a 14-year-old boy on the Jon Gaunt show yesterday morning claim that at his school, gangs enter the classroom and cause various types of trouble, and get away with it. My experience bears this out; at my school, we were theoretically not allowed into other dormitories, but staff would not remove boys if they came into your dorm and caused trouble. Meanwhile, if you have something unusual done to your hair, you can be suspended. It’s utterly ridiculous that schools cannot exclude pupils who make their peers’ (and teachers’) lives a misery, but they can, and do, exclude well-behaved pupils because they insist on following what their religion demands in regard to clothing. We shouldn’t be criticising our sister Shabina, but saying “may Allah reward her for what she has helped to do for the Muslims”.

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  • As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    You can find the Evening Standard article here:

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/articles/PA_NEWCOURTSDresswe16muslimunif?source=&ct=5

  • Salaam Yusuf, I feel ignorant. I hadn’t heard of this case before your post, but it’s piqued my interest. I think it hasn’t been given publicity here in Canada. I can’t comment on this right now - I have a number of assignments due this week - but would you do me a favour and send me the article with the photo of the shalwar khameez Shabina used to wear? My email address is listed here. Take care, Safiyyah

  • “Perhaps the best way of increasing acceptance of hijab in France is to encourage more women to wear it, until it gets to a critical mass where it can be seen as the dress of a community rather than of a relative few “strict” Muslim girls. I’d also suggest that this policy be ridiculed, and for much to be made of the fact that France is the only country in the developed world which does this to schoolgirls.”

    Muslim women simply do not exist in France’s public space, unless they take their hijabs off and have bacon and wine three times a day. I don’t know how much encouraging can be done to an invisible minority. They can’t work or go to school unless they “act French”, and as such, the positive “exposure” of Muslim women is very limited, which explains why the French are so ignorant of the day-to-day routine of normal Muslims. Their imposed lack of political and economic clout also goes a long way in explaining why such a law got passed and no one else in the world seems upset about France’s headscarf law.

  • Ou est la photo?!

  • Thanks, both of you. I got the pic. First impression: aside from the slightly shorter sleeves, I see nothing un-Islamic about it. But there’s more to it than that. Will write more later. Gotta get back to work:(

  • “I hardly think that’s the point, however. First of all, we pay for these schools in our taxes, which are considerable (albeit lower than in some European countries). They are not run as a favour to us, and we have the right to make certain demands. And just because women are more oppressed in a neighbouring country, it doesn’t mean they should accept it here.”

    Rereading what you wrote this morning, I think I took specific pains in both posts to explain why I was against sounding like an apologist for the school. I definitely never said we should jump up and down because a school threw us a bone by allowing some short kameez. Any school where the majority of its students are Muslim and the money going into it is paid by Muslim taxpayers should obviously cater to us, without us acting like it’s a special favor. As far as the “I don’t think we should accept oppression here just because people are more oppressed elsewhere” is a rather veiled nativist argument when our resources could be better served helping women in Iraq, or Chechnya, or anywhere where people have it worse than us. The ummah is the ummah, and its transnational. last I checked. Why split hairs at home?

  • I’m sure there are Muslim organisations working in Chechenia or the surrounding area, but we can only do so much for Muslims in Chechenia when they are hundreds of miles away and the Russians pretty much have it pinned down now. We can do something about the situation here; we can do much less about Chechenia.

  • Tony Blake

    The biggest problem I have with this ruling is that we, as Muslims, don’t extend the same courtesy. That (rightly) is not the point in British Law, but it may be of concern to British people, and should be remembered by Muslims.

    These rights that we’re asking for in this country, we would not extend those same rights in Muslim countries. We would not allow Catholic schools in Saudi Arabic. We would not allow a church to be built, or women to walk around bare-headed, with a crucifix on a keychain. Someone could believe that wearing a crucifix enhances and reinforces her beliefs - does not matter. We would not allow her to wear it.

    That’s the main issue I have - I wonder what others think. Can we really be so bold to ask for all these rights, when we would never give those same rights to non-Muslims?

  • I think when we talk about “our countries” it is important to define exactly what we mean. If we mean countries that have majority Muslim populations, well then what rights we accord people of other religions varies widely. KSA is really not the best (nor a representative) example. Also, there are some particular considerations for Mecca and Medina, but that is not, in itself, dispositive. Most “Muslim countries” would allow the things you mentioned with no hesitation. There are exceptions, but they are (for the msot part) perfectly reasonable. (If one were to visit the Vatican, for instance, certain rules have to be followed (no headgear for men, etc).

    As for “we expect rights from this country that we would not extend…” I have to say that I don’t see myself as anything other than an American with every single right that every other American has and being Muslim has no bearing on that. I think the mentality that some Muslims have, that we are ‘guests’ in our respective Western countries is fairly wide of the mark. I didn’t come here from anywhere and I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere either. The U.S/Great Britain is “our country’ as much as any other. There is no need to act polite to our “hosts” when our rights are at stake. And Allah knows best. Sorry for the long response. Wasalam ‘alaikum

  • DrM

    Guess who’s upset over this ? Some hack from MWU. What a shock.

  • George Carty

    For anyone wondering what the Denbigh High uniform looked like, I think this page on the Sun’s website has a picture. It certainly isn’t my idea of a shalwar kameez…