The head of Ofsted in the UK has said that inspectors will question young Muslim girls in Primary school on why they wear the Hijab. What are the thoughts of the Muslim community on this proposal?
All praises belong to Allāh, the Creator Most Sublime Who is Uncreated, the One Who loves modesty and privacy. Peace and blessings of Allāh be upon the final Prophet, Our Master, Muhammad Mustafa ﷺ, upon his purified family, his esteemed companions, and whomsoever follows in his blessed footsteps until the last day.
With the Renaissance in Europe, “humanism” reduced religion to a negligible, dated, belief system in need of reform. Europe’s foremost theologians such as the sixteenth-century thinker, Martin Luther (d. 1546) presented reforms to the Church in line with the humanist ideology. These very reforms were the pretext for the massacre of Catholic clergy under the English monarchs Henry VIII (d. 1547) and Elizabeth I (d.1605) who broke with the Papacy and established the Church of England. It was similar reform named “positive Christianity” by the Nazis which rejected the fundamental Christian doctrine and subsequently became the precursor to the massacre of over six million European Jews in World War II.
This humanist ideology further evolved into a secular humanist belief system that subsequently presented religion as an oppressive and irrational affront to the progress of humankind. Out of fear of state-supported religion being discriminatory, non-humanist and primitive, the French Revolution in 1789 overthrew Roman Catholicism as the state religion and a law was brought in in 1905 to formally separate the church and the state. The modern socialist government of France, after separating church and state, took a step further by actively prohibiting religious expression in the public sphere and banning pupils in state schools from wearing any “ostentatious religious symbols”. The “secularism charter” was imposed in every French school whereby banning Christianity from the educational system and further attempting to eliminate any claim of identity. The Jewish yarmulke, the Christian cross and the Islamic veil were all treated the same way and banned.
In England, the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, announced “(Ofsted) inspectors will question (Muslim) girls who wear (the) hijab in primary schools to find out why they do so”. Her decision came after she had met campaigners from the Social Action and Research Foundation think tank.
The foundation’s head, Amina Lone, stated: “this (the hijab) is an affront to the historical fight for gender equality in our secular democracy and is creating a two-tiered form of non-equality for young Muslim girls”.
Ms Lone’s words are coherent with the French government’s Laïcité, but she forgets one fundamental point, this is the UK, and not France, the head of state is also the head of the Church – the Queen. England is a heterogeneous and multi-religious society that stands proudly upon its vast diversity and tolerance — her insistence on it being a secularist democracy after much struggle is misplaced and incoherent, an ex-local government candidate should know better.
If by secular, she is alluding to the freedom of expression, then she forgets freedom of religion is also encompassed within the freedom of expression. Although she is presenting views, as an outspoken ex-Labour candidate, in line with secular humanists, she naturally will object when religious people attempt to impose their rituals and prayers in public places and institutions. However, she needs to understand the clarity between imposing religious or traditional practices upon oneself within such environments and imposing it upon other individuals within the same environment. There is a clear difference which she fails to comprehend in her bid to be heard as a leftist.
The individuals adorning hijabs in public places and institutions do so through their own free will, all within the confines of freedom of religion, a basic human right. At no point do they impose such rituals or prayers upon secular humanists within such public places and institutions. One is left perplexed seeing the secular humanists attempting to enforce injunction upon people of faith with the aim to marginalise or abandon their religion… all under the name of equality and freedom.
As for the head of Ofsted in England, Amanda Spielman, for Ms Spielman to make an announcement that directly concerns the Muslims, post meeting with “secular democrats”, without involving the diverse set of groups and bodies representing mainstream Muslims, is extremely worrying. For her to comment, “creating an environment where Muslim children are expected to wear the headscarf “could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls”” has the smell of being the recycled rhetoric of Ms Lone; ill-informed, subjective and damaging. Instead of enhancing social harmony, tolerance and diversity, it may actually be exacerbating religious and racial tensions.
Primarily we ask, what is the fundamental reason the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, intends to question girls as young as five, as to why they adorn the headscarf? Has this policy been drafted under the guise of safeguarding through the absurd attempt to ascertain how many girls are sexualised by their parents as a result of covering their heads? Such policies will alienate Muslims, specifically those Muslims who are attempting to integrate their children into mainstream schools. Recent history already shows that the attempt to assimilate minorities by stamping out religious expression can isolate them further. The laïcité in France has had the effect of increasing the demand for private Muslim schools.
If the Ofsted is legitimately concerned and attempting to “ascertain” reasons for children wearing the Hijab, then it is only sensible to question the schools concerned who permit it or question the parents who instruct it but not the individual Muslim children who are oblivious to the greater debate. Furthermore, with the Ofsted opening the Pandora’s box what is next – questioning young girls why they have been sexualised to grow longer hair counter to the equality which is being presented? Are we to next question why certain boys are circumcised yet attending mainstream schools?
We call upon Ms Spielman to reverse her decision immediately, whilst acknowledging toleration, not suppression, of difference is the only policy that’s really compatible with a heterogeneous society. As Western societies become more diverse, they also need to become more tolerant of different beliefs and perspectives, not more wary of them.
And Allāh knows best
Ustadh Asid Shafait