Friday, October 13, 2006

Taking The Veil In British Schools

Should a teacher who practices Islam be permitted to wear her veil in the classroom? A teacher has been suspended in the United Kingdom for refusing to remove hers:
A Muslim teacher who insisted on wearing a veil in class has been suspended after the children complained they could not understand what she was saying.

Aishah Azmi, 24, was told she could wear the veil in the corridors and the staf froom, but had to remove it while teaching. She refused, saying it was part of her cultural and religious identity.

But children at the junior school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, said they found English lessons hard to follow because they could not see Miss Azmi's lips move.

The Muslim Council of Britain criticised the teacher for insisting she had to keep her face covered. Dr Reefat Drabu said under Islamic law Muslim women were not required to wear a headscarf, let alone a veil, in the presence of young children.

Miss Azmi is now taking her employer, Kirklees council, to an employment tribunal. It will rule on her case later this month.

A council source said: "it is ridiculous. How can you teach English to young children with a veil over your face?

"The children themselves were complaining. It is about what's best for the children."

Many of the 529 boys and girls aged seven to 11 at Headfield Church of England Junior School are from ethnic minorities and English is not their first language, reinforcing the need for clear English teaching.

Council education spokesman Jim Dodds said: "This is nothing to do with religion. We accepted the veil could be worn anywhere else in school, but not in the classroom."

An Evening Standard survey has, meanwhile, found that the Cabinet is deeply divided over whether Muslim women should wear the veil.

Senior ministers cannot agree a common position on whether full veils such as the burka should be discouraged or not.

Most ministers say it should be a matter of choice for women - and some say privately that Commons leader Jack Straw has damaged the party's standing in the Muslim community by raising the issue at all.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has defended the right of Muslim women to wear a veil and suggested banning it would fuel prejudice.

But other ministers have condemned the practice.

Constitutional Affairs minister Harriet Harman, formerly in the Cabinet, called for a campaign to abolish the veil because it kept women down and "hid" them from society.

Some MPs suggested the row was contrived to raise the profile of contenders for the deputy leadership, but Mr Straw dismissed this as "nonsense".

He stood by his remarks, saying: "These were my views. Maybe my concerns were misplaced but I thought there was an issue here."

The Muslim community seems equally divided over the issue, with some claiming his comments were insulting and others welcoming open debate.

In 2004, France banned overt religious symbols, including headscarves, from schools, citing the need to protect the secularity of the nation.
The difficulty, as I see it, wasn't that Ms. Azmi is a devout Muslim, but that her students couldn't seem to understand what she was trying to say through the veil.

When we sign-on as teachers, we don't give-up our right to practice our religious beliefs. Having said that, a teacher's religious practices should not interfere with doing the job
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