A Roman Catholic School has found itself at the centre of a social media storm after telling parents of a four-year-old Muslim girl she should not wear the hijab to school.
The row has now divided senior councillors and women’s rights activists who have been locked in a row over Facebook and Twitter.
But her father called on Birmingham City Council’s Labour cabinet member for equalities Waseem Zaffar to intervene causing the row to erupt.
Coun Zaffar (Lozells and East Handsworth) wrote that he had met with the head teacher and told her the ban on the scarf was against the equalities act. He added: I’m insisting this matter is addressed asap with a change of policy.
But his cabinet colleague Coun Majid Mahmood (Hodge Hill) countered that as a faith school St Clare’s is maybe within its rights to insist upon a particular dress code, just as a Muslim faith school may require girls to wear headscarves.
Dr Mashuq Ally, a former head of equalities for Birmingham City Council, agreed saying there is no religious requirement for girls of infant school age to wear the hijab.
He also pointed out that a faith school is allowed to set its own uniform policy and exempt from discrimination legislation.
Where there are demographic changes which lead to a significant number of Muslim children attending a Christian school, then the parents should ask the school governors to consider changing the uniform policy he explained.
He added: I also would have thought a Muslim parent would have thought very carefully about sending their child to a Roman Catholic school and considered the uniform policy.
This should have all been discussed between school and parent, not been dragged into the public and political arena.
Campaigner Gina Khan attacked Coun Zaffar on Twitter, accusing him of backing male parents who enforce the hijab on little girls as a means of control.
She said: Hijab isn’t compulsory for a child in Islam, but patriarchal biraadari power used to control Muslim school girls.
Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children, families and schools, said: Each school’s governing body is responsible for the creation and implementation of its own uniform policy.
However, the local authority is supporting the school to ensure its policy is appropriate, in line with legal requirements, and we are engaging with all schools to remind them of their responsibilities when it comes to setting school uniform policies.