Faith schools should not impose hijab on girls, report says

Posted: Fri, 22nd Sep 2023

Report also recommends government resist 'Islamophobia' definitions that inhibit criticism of religious practices

Faith schools should not impose hijab on girls, report says

The government should ensure schools do not require children to wear hijab, a report into the imposition of Islamic dress codes has said.

The report, The symbolic power of the veil, says the government should ensure its guidance on school uniforms "provides greater clarity on what schools can and cannot do" in their policies regarding religious attire.

The report, published today by think tank Policy Exchange, explores how Islamists have been permitted to dominate debate about religious clothing, including in the UK. This leads to community activists and schools imposing hijab on women and girls, the report said.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) are among the UK-based Islamic organisations named in the report as pushing for the 'normalisation' of hijab as 'correct' attire for Muslim women.

State funded Muslim schools "should not require" hijab

In its policy recommendations, the report says non-statutory guidance for school uniforms in England does not make it "sufficiently clear" that the Human Rights Act permits restrictions on religious clothing in schools on the grounds of "health, safety and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others".

It says under revised guidance, schools "may accommodate" religious clothing such as hijab, but "they should not require it as part of the uniform", even if they are "state-funded Muslim schools".

National Secular Society research in 2017 found that out of 142 Islamic schools in England that accept girls, 59 had uniform policies on their website that suggested a form of hijab was compulsory. This included eleven state-funded schools, three of which were primary schools.

A 2007 guide published by MCB entitled "Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools" said "girls should be covered except for their hands and faces". It also suggested girls can wear headscarves in "potentially hazardous places" such as science laboratories and design and technology workshops, as long as they are "safely tied".

The NSS's concerns were shared by head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman, who was threatened by Islamists for voicing her views.

The report also said there should be "clear and consistent" regulations for dress codes relating to religion across the NHS.

Islamists 'weaponising' Islamophobia accusations to silence criticism

The report also recommends the government "resist any definition of Islamophobia that constrains debate on issues such as women's religious clothing".

It says Islamists are "using weaponised claims of Islamophobia" to restrict criticism of the hijab.

This echoes the findings of a separate report published this week, which found one in seven local authorities have adopted a definition of 'Islamophobia' rejected by the government over free speech concerns.

The definition, formulated in 2018 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, says Islamophobia is "rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness". The definition has now been adopted by all major political parties except the Conservatives.

Policy Exchange says the government should "support and protect" liberal Muslims who question religious orthodoxy.

Government should resist calls to promote hijab

Policy Exchange's report says the government should "refrain from publicly endorsing or promoting specific religious attire".

Some Islamic organisations have lobbied the government to celebrate the hijab. In 2006, the IHRC published a booklet arguing for "mainstreaming" the hijab with a "national policy" to incorporate hijab into education and employment. It said the government "needs to promote" the hijab "as a symbol of education, freedom and integration to counter stereotypes of backwardness, oppression, isolation and extremism".

It cited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's decision in 2018 to celebrate 'world hijab day' by distributing free headscarves.

The report also references the recent announcement that a 16ft sculpture celebrating the hijab is to be erected in Smethwick, Birmingham, in October.

The report says Birmingham City Council has been an "important funder" of the charity which commissioned the sculpture, Legacy West Midlands. The council provided the charity with £69,488 in core funding up to 31st October 2022.

The report recommends the government "take a stronger public stance on events occurring in Iran, Afghanistan, and Yemen", where religious dress codes are "brutally imposed" on women.

NSS: "Galling" to see UK institutions promoting hijab

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "We welcome this timely report, which highlights how Islamists are using the UK's own state institutions, including schools, to promote regressive and misogynistic religious dress codes for women and girls.

"It is galling to see UK institutions promote and celebrate the hijab, while Islamic theocracies around the world are brutally forcing women to wear headscarves and other sexist 'modesty' clothing.

"We fully support this report's recommendations and urge the government to take them forward to uphold the rights of women and girls in all communities, both in the UK and worldwide."

Image: michaeljung, Shutterstock.

Women's rights

We campaign to end religious subordination of women and girls.

Tags: Faith schools, Free speech, Women