In 2017, St Stephen’s School in Newham banned the wearing of the Hijab for girls under 8. The Head Teacher, Neena Lall, did so because she hoped the ban would help pupils better integrate into society.
However, following a backlash from parents and Muslim community leaders,she reversed the decision last week. She apparently received a ‘barrage of abuse’ and was accused by some of being Islamophobic.
Writing in The Guardian, Iman Amrani says that she use to hate being made to wear the headscarf by her parents at weekends when she studied at Saturday Madrasa, and would tear it off as soon as she left because she didn’t want any kids from her regular school seeing her in it and asking questions, however she also says she understood that her parents made her wear it to instill in her a sense of her identity, and can understand why Muslim parents would feel affronted by a headscarf ban.
Possibly the strongest arguments against the Muslim critics of Neena Lall is that Islam doesn’t require women to wear the hijab until they reach puberty, and there are plenty of Muslims themselves who campaign against girls being ‘forced’ to wear the headscarf, so why avoid creating unnecessary divisions at a young age and just girls be free from this dress code until then?
It may be (following labelling theory to an extent here) that what the backlash against Neena Lall was really about was against OFSTED’s divisive words recently when Amanda Spielman gave a speech defending Lall’s decision in which she warned of people using schools to ‘narrow young people’s horizons… and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology.’