Niqab and burka ban petition sparks national debate on the wearing of veils - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 16 September

For some, it is an issue of religious freedom. For some, it is an issue of human rights. And, for others, it is simply a question of school uniform.


Niqab and burka ban petition sparks national debate on the wearing of veils

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 16 September


For some, it is an issue of religious freedom. For some, it is an issue of human rights. And, for others, it is simply a question of school uniform.

A national debate has been ignited after a 17-year-old prospective student at Birmingham Metropolitan College complained to her local newspaper about the fact that she would not be allowed to wear a veil on campus.

The college, which serves a predominantly Asian community, outlawed niqabs and burkas eight years ago, claiming that students should be easily identifiable at all times.

Until recently, the ban had been in place without protest. But opposition sprang up after the girl made her complaint, with 8,000 people signing a petition against the rule. The organisation Muslimah Pride also planned a rally, saying: “Muslim women are marginalised in British public life, education and the workforce.”

The college responded by retracting its ban. But since then, Home Office minister Jeremy Browne has called for the wearing of veils to be prohibited in public places.

The Liberal Democrat MP said: “I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil, when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas, like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.”

Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that schools had the right to set their own uniform policies, while Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was more equivocal. “It is very un-British to start telling people what pieces of clothing they should wear,” the deputy prime minister said.

Current Department for Education guidance recommends that schools accommodate religious requirements at the same time as prioritising safety and security. But this has occasionally been tested. In 2007, a 12-year-old girl lost her court bid to wear a full-face veil at her Buckinghamshire school.

In France, veils were officially banned in state schools in 2004. This law was extended to all public places in 2011. And in Turkey, which is a secular state with a majority Muslim population, a long-standing ban on headscarves in public places was partially lifted last year. Girls are now allowed to wear scarves in religious schools, and in religious classes at secular schools.

But some British politicians argued that the veil had no place at all in schools. Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, said: “How on earth do they promote equality, when they collude with making women invisible?”

Yet, in terms of equality, it was notable that the media coverage of the furore failed to include any comments from veiled women themselves. The sole exception was The Independent newspaper, which quoted four women who had chosen to wear the niqab. Saadiyah, a 22-year-old school cover supervisor, said: “The way you dress should not determine whether you can access education.”


Questions

1.) "For some, it is an issue of religious freedom. For some, it is an issue of human rights. And, for others, it is simply a question of school uniform." How would you define this issue?
2.) What does 'secular' mean? Why might a state or organisation choose to become secular?
3.) What are the arguments for and against a ban on wearing religious symbols in public? Make two lists.
4.) How do you feel about our own school uniform policy?


Related resources


The hijab

  • Raise awareness of the different attitudes to modesty in Islam with this introduction to the hijab, niqab and burka.

Islamic women’s clothing

  • Explore the range of clothing that Islamic women might wear and consider the social and political viewpoints in two case studies.

Challenges faced by Muslims

  • Encourage discussion about the possible prejudices that Muslims might face using this agony-aunt activity.

The burka in France

  • Investigate the arguments for and against the banning of the burka in France with this translation activity.

Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

In the news this week


The Ig Nobel Prizes are a parody of the Nobel prizes, which recognise scientific and cultural advances. In contrast, the aim of the Ig Nobel Prizes is, in the words of the organisers, to “honour achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think”.

A new report has crowned Denmark as the “happiest” nation in the world.

After a cold summer, Arctic sea ice levels are 60 per cent higher than they were at this time last year, according to a United Nations report.

A team of scientists has discovered the world’s largest volcano 2km beneath the Pacific Ocean.



In the news archive index