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Principal calls for guidelines on wearing of hijab in schools

May 19, 2008 

THE PRINCIPAL of one of the largest secondary schools in the State has called on the Minister for Education to issue guidelines on the wearing of the hijab in State schools. RUADHÁN Mac CORMAIC , Migration Correspondent reports

This follows the department's refusal to offer advice to the school when a Muslim couple asked last September that their daughter be allowed to wear the headscarf in class.

Nicholas Sweetman, principal of Gorey Community School in Co Wexford, said official direction would bring an end to the practice of schools imposing divergent policies and would clarify the issue for schools and Muslim parents.

Correspondence released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the school wrote to then minister for education Mary Hanafin last October, when a Muslim couple asked that their child wear the hijab in class.

Though this contravened the school's rules on uniform, the principal agreed to the request pending approval by the board of management.

"Our board of management met . . . and after a very extensive discussion of the issues, it was felt that the board should be entitled to guidance from the department," Mr Sweetman wrote to the minister, adding that this needed to be addressed "with some urgency".

When no response was received, the school again wrote to the minister in December. In reply, her private secretary advised that it was a matter for the board of management to decide on a school policy, "and it would not be appropriate for the department to direct or advise a school in relation to any aspect of its policy on dress code".

The minister's representative pointed to two sections of the Education Act 1998.

The first charges boards of management with a duty to uphold the "characteristic spirit of the school" as determined by the cultural, educational, moral, religious, social, linguistic and spiritual values which inform and characterise it. The second balances this with the requirement to have regard to the principles of a democratic society and "have respect and promote respect for the diversity of values, beliefs, traditions, languages and ways of life in society".

Source: Irish Times

A Response:

A community by definition is a set of people with some shared element — in particular a group of people who live in the same area is a community. The substance of shared element varies widely, from a situation to interest to lives and values. A school that terms itself a 'community school' is therefore an establishment that reflects the area it provides for. The diverse make-up of the community that is now Gorey is in a very real sense a melting pot of various cultures and creeds, this is the 'community' that Gorey Community School must now provide for.

Article 44 of the Irish constitution guarantees one the right to practice without discrimination his/her religion, article 9 documented in the Human Rights convention declares an individuals right to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, …this right ensures her/his right to manifest his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance. As observant Muslims we do not ask for any more than these basic entitlements.

The hijab (head covering) is a religious requirement for all Muslim ladies who have reached the age of puberty (Surah 24 Al-Nur ayat 31 (part of) And say to the believing women......that they should draw their head-coverings over the neck opening (of their dresses) , and not display their ornaments except to their husbands, their fathers.....(etc)). It is a sign not of degradation but of willing subordination to the rules and laws outlined in the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book. The head covering is not unique to Islam, devout Catholics and other Christian groups wear it in accordance with Paul's injunction in 1 Corinthians 11, strict adherents of the Jewish faith wear it too as do other religious denominations.

Some Muslim women choose not to wear the head covering either out of fear of not being accepted, ignorance regarding the rulings or disobedience to the precepts. With reference to fear, the resurgence of Islamaphobia, and all that it entails initially caused many Muslim women to abandon the hijab. Alongside the current trend of Islamaphobia there has however arisen a renewal, a restoration if you will, and many Muslims now refuse to submit to this cultural and religious pogrom. In fact many believe that if a tiny piece of cloth will cause others to act differently toward them, that the problem doesn't lay with them but rather with the bigots.

Ignorance or a lack of knowledge can also be a reason for a Muslim woman not to wear the hijab. The remedy for ignorance is of course knowledge and once a Muslim woman becomes aware of the requirement, she is obliged to wear it. Should she, once she has knowledge, decide not to wear it, she now becomes disobedient. This disobedience is first and foremost to her Lord and it is to Him that she must ultimately answer. As a teacher would never hold a disobedient pupil up as an example for others to follow, as Muslim parents we do not encourage our children to emulate disobedient Muslims.

Posted at 03:30 AM in National / Local News 

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