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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|School girl wins right to wear jilbab in UK|
|03/03/05 at 10:36:04|
'I could scream with happiness. I've given hope and strength to Muslim women'
Schoolgirl tells Guardian of her battle to wear Islamic dress
Thursday March 3, 2005
A schoolgirl who yesterday won the right to wear the Islamic shoulder-to-toe dress in school said the landmark ruling would "give hope and strength to other Muslim women".
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Shabina Begum, 16, described the court of appeal verdict against Denbigh high school in Luton as a victory for all Muslims "who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry".
After a two-year campaign by Shabina, Lord Justice Brooke found her former school had acted against her right to express her religion by excluding her because she insisted on wearing the jilbab. The ruling, overturning a high court decision which dismissed her application for a judicial review last year, will affect every school in the country.
Almost a year after the French government banned "conspicuous" religious symbols, including the hijab, in schools, the judge called on the Department for Education to give British schools more guidance on how to comply with their obligations under the Human Rights Act. "I really feel like screaming out of happiness," said Shabina, who was represented at the court of appeal by Cherie Booth QC.
"I don't regret wearing the jilbab at all. I'm happy that I did this. I feel that I have given hope and strength to other Muslim women.
"I also feel a bit sad when I think why couldn't this judgment have been made two years ago? In the end it's my loss. No one else has lost anything."
Shabina had worn the shalwar kameez [trousers and tunic] from when she entered the school at the age of 12 until September 2002, when she decided it was against the tenets of her religion. When Denbigh refused her request to wear the jilbab, she was excluded, becoming the reluctant poster girl of a campaign that has been reported in 137 countries.
"I thought it would be acceptable to wear because most people at the school are Muslim," she said. "Then when I was refused I thought a month maximum. Then it just carried on. I get recognised when I go out and other people point to me. They say, 'Are you that girl?'"
Denbigh high school, which has a 79% Muslim intake, said it had lost on a technicality and the school was proud of its multi-faith policy. It said in a statement that it takes into account the cultural and religious sensitivities of pupils.
Girls at the school were permitted to wear skirt, trousers or a shalwar kameez and headscarves, which complied with school uniform requirements. The statement said: "The policy was agreed by the governing body following wide consultation with the DfES, pupils, parents, schools and leading Muslim organisations."
The local education authority, Luton borough council, said all schools would now be advised to take pupils' religion into account when imposing dress rules.
Shabina, who was forced to switch to a school that did not prevent Muslim girls from wearing the jilbab, said her campaign had taken its toll.
"I can't be normal with friends if I do not go to school with them. I feel like my social skills have really been lacking. I do not really have many friends at my new school."
At times, even some of her peers cast doubt on her case. "Some of my friends said to me, 'It's not an obligation, why are you going to get yourself excluded because of it?' I said that it is - look at verse number 3.59," she said referring to the Qur'anic passage which she believes obliges Muslim women to cover their bodies bar their hands and face.
In April last year Shabina's mother died, a month before she lost her case at the high court. Excluded from school and fighting a daunting legal battle, she said the 12 months leading up to her mother's death were the worst of her life.
Her initial defeat did not come as a complete surprise. "Our solicitors told us we only had a 5% chance of winning the case because it's a radical judgment. They would prefer the court of appeal to do that. After I heard that I felt like I had nothing else to lose."
In a statement after the judgment, Shabina added: "Today's decision is a victory for all Muslims who wish to preserve their identity and values despite prejudice and bigotry."
She said the school's decision has been "a consequence of an atmosphere that has been created in western societies post-9/11, an atmosphere in which Islam has been made a target for vilification in the name of the 'war on terror'."
She told the Guardian: "I hope in years to come policy-makers will take note of a growing number of young Muslims who, like me, have turned back to our faith after years of being taught that we needed to be liberated from it.
"Our belief in our faith is the one thing that makes sense of a world gone mad, a world where Muslim women, from Uzbekistan to Turkey, are feeling the brunt of policies guided by western governments. I feel I've made people question the jilbab issue again.
"Both France and Britain are calling for freedom and democracy, but something as simple as the jilbab still takes two years to get okayed."
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