Please sign this petition: leave our hijab alone!

A picture of three young girls in long black dresses and headscarves, one in black, one in light pink and another in light blue. One of them is standing on a prayer mat.Petition · Lyn Brown MP: Make Neena Lall remove the hijab and fasting ban at St Stephens in Newham! · Change.org

This is a petition to the local MP in Newham, east London, against a ban on the hijab for younger girls at a primary school, St Stephen’s, in the borough of Newham in east London. (It should also be addressed to the local council as the MP cannot, on her own, force a school to change its policies while a local authority might be able to, if it’s a local authority school rather than an academy.) Although this ban only applies to girls under eight, and thus nobody for whom hijab is mandatory in Islam, it should be opposed because of what it represents: an attempt by a group of agitators, in collaboration with a newspaper with a recent history of hostility to Muslims who have resorted to publishing untrue stories to smear us, to control Muslims and interfere with how we bring up and educate our children. (Update 17th Jan: Sister Hafsah Dabiri, who started the petition, said on Twitter last night that she knows families with children at the school and that they only found out about this through the papers, not from the school. I’m watching this story to see what turns out to be inaccurate about the Times’s story — whether, for example, it had actually been approved by the governing board or just proposed.)

This is essentially the “thin end of a wedge”: once bans on younger girls wearing it become the norm, similar bans against older girls (who are at or just below the age where it does become obligatory), and ultimately women in public-facing workplaces, will follow as the people behind this become ever bolder.

I should add that the reasoning offered in the Times’s article trumpeting the ban (paywalled) is flawed and divisive. For example:

The headmistress, Neena Lall, said the school had made the changes to help pupils integrate into modern British society. “A couple of years ago I asked the children to put their hands up if they thought they were British,” she said. “Very few children put their hands up.”

In a borough with a very large proportion of children born outside the country, it’s not surprising that many children do not identify as British — some will not even have British nationality and these will include non-Muslims such as those from eastern Europe. And for those born here who don’t, the feeling may well have more to do with not being white (and for older people, the recurrent displays of hostility from the national media, much of it represented by people who do not look like them) than with hijab, and banning it will not change that.

It’s been pointed out that the school was the best performing state primary school in the country even when it did allow children to fast and wear hijab, so there is no educational reason to do any of this.

Further reading:

More on how the Times group of newspapers represents and reports on stories involving Muslims:

(And for anyone tempted to complain about Muslim men writing about hijab and women’s obligations to wear it: the person behind the petition, Hafsah Dabiri, is a woman and the school governor interviewed who is calling for the government to ban it in schools everywhere is a man. As ever, these types will not listen to anyone who does not tell them what they want to hear, and insist on viewing things like hijab as what it ‘symbolises’ to them rather than what it means to the people who wear it.)

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