Pressure was mounting yesterday for national rules on Muslim dress in schools to be drawn up after a local authority chose Ramadan to enforce a ban on the jilbab, leading to protests from parents and pupils.
Schools in Tower Hamlets, the London borough with the highest concentration of Muslims in Britain, were accused of insensitivity after letters were sent during the holiest month of the Muslim year restating the dress code. The letters, which made clear that wearing the jilbab – an ankle-length dress which covers the body except for face and hands – was not permitted, led to three girls at one school being withdrawn. Others pupils are understood to have protested about the letters with some requesting to be moved to different schools.
Muslim leaders called last night for national guidelines to be drawn up on appropriate dress for Muslims after a series of clashes between pupils and governors across the country. This summer, a 15-year-old student from Luton lost a High Court action after she argued her human rights were infringed when she was excluded from lessons for wearing the jilbab.
Under current rules, dress codes are decided by the headteacher and governors of each school in accordance with guidelines provided by local authorities and central government. Inyat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “The current situation is causing chaos. Islam is a diverse faith and some people feel their faith requires them to wear the jilbab.
“We feel that those who wish to wear jilbab should be able to do so. It seems the Government needs to set out precisely what is and is not acceptable.”
Rifat Akhtar, 13, a pupil at the Central Foundation school, said she was considering a move. She said: “The jilbab is part of my religious belief. It makes me confident and gives me an identity as a Muslim.”