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Dad defiant in scarf row

A MUSLIM father is fighting the decision of a Catholic primary school to ban his daughter from wearing a headscarf.

Two girls from another Muslim family were forced to leave St Martin de Porres school in Moseley, Birmingham, last year after their parents failed to win permission for them to wear the headscarf (or hijab). One now attends a neighbouring Church of England primary school, the other a secondary school. Both schools allow headscarves.

Ali Naqzi, 38, told The TES that 30 to 40 per cent of the children at St Martin de Porres were from Muslim families. Despite this, he said he had spent over a year failing to persuade the school to allow his nine-year-old daughter Zainab to wear a headscarf.

"I'm not giving up," Mr Naqzi said. "But what can I do? They say it is a Catholic school and they don't want to give the wrong impression to the public. But this is a diverse community. Why should we not be allowed freedom of religion?"

Mr Naqzi praised St Martin de Porres for providing a good education and said he did not want his daughter to leave, particularly as he has a seven-year-old boy at the school and a daughter in the nursery.

Mr Naqzi's family, like many others in the area, are Shia Muslims of Indian origin, who migrated to Britain from east Africa. Mr Naqzi teaches Arabic language and philosophy at the Islamic institute attached to the local Clifton mosque.

Dr Julia Burton, head of Moseley Church of England primary school, said the parents of two Muslim girls had come to her last year claiming a neighbouring Catholic school had banned them from wearing headscarves and asking if she would allow them.

"I was surprised by the school's attitude," Dr Burton said, "and that the parents did not take it further. Birmingham is such a multicultural place I think any school banning headscarves would be on a really sticky wicket."

Dr Burton said she knew of no other school in Birmingham where headscarves were banned. "It has not been a problem for us," she said. "I'm proud of the way our children have accepted the girls."

The parents of the two girls did not want to talk to the press, but a family friend said the older girl in particular still missed the friends she made at St Martin de Porres.

"It's quite crazy," the friend said. "The parents have been to hell and back. It's only a scarf. Why is it an issue?"

Jackie Tomlinson, head of the Catholic primary school said: "St Martin de Porres, has a long-standing and successful uniform policy, which does not allow any items to be worn on pupils' heads. We will continue to review the policy on an annual basis."

Vincent Nichols, Catholic archbishop of Birmingham, led last month's revolt against plans by Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education, to make state-funded faith schools reserve places for children from non-faith backgrounds.

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