As a young Muslim woman I feel that living in the West has allowed me to have a more liberal stance when it comes to the practicing of my religion. I’ve been able to decide how I want to do that, without certain practices being forced on me as they are in some parts of the world.
But as someone who wears a hijab (headscarf), I really wish I had started wearing it when I was a lot younger. I did not wear a hijab at primary or secondary school, and not even at college, because I didn’t understand the purpose of it. I felt like it was restricting me.
But now, as a 22-year-old practicing Muslim, I finally understand its purpose. It’s a symbol of modesty, and it’s a symbol of my religion. I don’t expect many to understand how I feel, but I do expect them to respect my decision.
Some eight-year-olds decide to wear the hijab, because they feel proud to be a Muslim, and they want to start practising their beliefs from an early age, and I respect that. Others are forced to wear it by their parents. But I think a parent has every right to decide what they want a young child to wear, because they are still young enough for their parents to make decisions for them. When they’re older they can decide for themselves.
Now I understand that schools should be able decide what students should wear when it comes to the school uniform, but the hijab is far more than just a piece of cloth that you wrap around your head. It’s a symbol of modesty. Just as Jewish people wear the yamaka, and Sikhs wear turbans, Muslim women wear the hijab. It is a symbol of our religion, and yet for some reason it’s the hijab that gets flagged up.
The headteacher, Neena Lall, believed that banning the hijab for children under eight would help them integrate into British society. But this reason shocks me, because for a person to have to give up a part of their identity, either cultural or religious, for society to accept them, would be wrong, and to be honest who would even want to be a part of a society like that?
Furthermore, given that part of what defines British society is its tolerance, then by banning the hijab it is Neena Lall who is failing to integrate into her own society and its values! So I am glad that 19,000 people signed a petition demanding that Lall reverse her decision.