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 The UK did have laws discriminating against Catholics until the mid-19th century, which it repealed (against great popular protest).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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