Fatima Laiba Aftab wrote a most eloquent and persuasive letter in the Evening Standard recently defending girls’ freedom to wear the hijab:
Girls should be free to wear the hijab
I wear the headscarf when I go to the mosque but I know my religion does not teach me to wear one yet. I feel sorry for my friends who want to wear a scarf but aren’t allowed.
At school we are taught not to force our views or opinions onto others, so why are they doing this? It is so confusing and distressing.
School should be a happy place where we can learn, make new friends and respect each other. It looks like this is not true for religious people, especially Muslims, who keep getting targeted.
My friends and I do our best at school, help our teachers, raise money for charity and are good to people. This is what our religion, Islam, teaches us. Believing in a religion or wearing a scarf does mean that I am an extremist.
She’s quite right, it should not be banned – what kind of a society would we be if we started to legislate on the clothing that people were permitted to wear? – but there is nothing wrong with encouraging young girls to question the appropriateness of the garb. I have seen a number of letters and articles in various publications claiming that children under eleven years of age should not be encouraged to defy their parents’ beliefs, but the truth of the matter is that this is precisely when it is most crucial to reach out to children: while they still have questioning minds and before social conditioning can be indoctrinated into them.
[Incidentally, this latter-day insistence that parents always know best and that we shouldn’t suggest otherwise for fear of causing offence is quite simply, and entirely demonstrably, wrong. The primary focus of teachers and of society as a whole ought to be protecting the interests and wellbeing of children, not tiptoeing around their parents’ sensitivities. Teaching is a skill and a calling; anybody can have kids – hell, Fred West had five.]
The wearing of the hijab, or of any kind of covering, is not a symbol of devotion or of modesty but one of oppression. The idea that women ought to hide themselves away from the world has nothing whatsoever to do with religion – it is not mentioned in the Koran or in any holy book anywhere – and, unless we are to presume that God is ashamed of half of creation, there can be no justification for it.
Resenting women taking pleasure in their appearance is the start of a road that leads to indignant disapproval of them enjoying sex, and it’s a path that is abundantly adorned with the victims of acid attacks and of female genital mutilation. Dressing for “modesty” has nothing to do with god or divinity and everything to do with men suffering feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.
The wearing of a veil is solely symptomatic of the engrained societal subjugation of women. Allowing young girls to be made to feel ashamed of their appearance is wholly wrong, and their covering themselves up is a retrograde step that is pressed upon them – a step that should be resisted most strongly. The imposition of inequality should never be regarded as a cultural issue: equality is a fundamental right and anyone who believes differently is, quite simply, wrong.
So did we ought to question primary schoolgirls about their wearing of headscarves? I’d say absolutely we should! Education is about teaching our offspring to question and challenge boundaries, not wrapping them in the ignorance of ages. Our children are our future – we need to let them choose their own paths and we need to impress upon them that they go on their way in the world as equals.