The National Secular Society found that 59 out of the 142 Islamic schools that accept girls have a compulsory hijab policy. Hijab refers to Islamic standards of modesty, but is being used in the articles summarised below specifically to refer to the hair-covering practice of girls. Three of the schools which require hijab receive state funding. The National Secular Society opposed these school polices and say it is duty of the British government to protect the liberty of these students.
The organisation wrote a letter raising concerns about this issue. The letter is co-signed by feminists from “Muslim backgrounds, ” including activist Sara Khan and journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
The Bradford Council for Mosques responded to this finding saying that wearing the hijab should not be compulsory for school uniforms. Spokesman Ishriaq Ahmed said, “People should have choices without the fear of being criticised…No child should be forced to do anything.”
The controversy over required hijab in dress codes follows closely after a controversy over allowing girls to wear hijab. The Sunday Times surveyed primary schools in England and found that 20% of primary schools “allow the hijab” in their uniform policies.
Gina Khan, a Birmingham children’s rights advocate, criticised the policy, saying, “Schools…need to support Muslim girls to have free choices, not to be set apart from other children.”
On the other side, Toby Howard, the Bishop of Bradford and an inter-faith leader, said, “this is a matter of religious identity not sexualisation.” The concern about sexualisation arises from the practice of starting to wear a headscarf post-puberty. But Howard noted that is not necessarily the case, as girls may choose to where the headscarf to “look like their mums.”