From the Sunday Times:
Pupils ordered to wear hijab out of school
A STATE-FUNDED school in Blackburn has become the first to force its pupils to wear a hijab both in and out of class.
Rules at Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School require its 800 pupils “to wear the hijab [Muslim headscarf] outside the school and home”, “recite the Koran at least once a week” and “not bring stationery to school that contains un-Islamic images”, such as pictures of pop stars.
The ST begins by describing the school as being the first to “force its pupils”; the authors could have chosen to begin with “require its pupils” (as in second sentence), or even to refer to “the first school that only accepts pupils who wear a hijab at home”; I suspect that the word “force”, which has a connotation of coercion and violence, has been chosen deliberately for polemical reasons.
The school’s rules are available on a pdf that has been uploaded to the TES website, and include the following:
Spiritual Conduct Outside of School
In their normal life, students are expected to:
1. Perform 5-times Salaah punctually at home.
2. Wear the Hijaab outside of the school and home.
3. Recite the Qur’aan at least once a week.
4. Desist from listening to any form of music or nasheeds that are not compliant with the Deobandi Hanafi Tablighi School of Thought.
5. Desist from unislamic communication and relationships.
But here’s the odd thing: the url for this includes the element “A1%20posters%20Aug%2009″ – which strongly implies that the ST‘s scoop is based on information that has been in the public domain for at least four years. That doesn’t mean that the rules are not of interest or uncontroversial – number 5 may just mean “avoid bad company”, but it may also suggest separatism. That would make it more significant than the ST‘s sensationalising hijab hook, which is clearly an attempt to bandwagon on a story from last week about a non-Muslim teacher reportedly being told to wear a hijab at a Muslim school.
The article was co-authored by Richard Kerbaj, who specialises in stories about Islamic extremists (not without controversy), along with education editor Sian Griffiths and Georgia Graham. I asked Griffiths via Twitter whether the story was based on the pdf; she responded:
Er, no, I hadn’t even seen that pdf until now. Multiple sources including rules displayed in school last week
Fair enough, and it’s reassuring to know that there’s more to the story than “journalists find something on internet”; but the existence of “multiple sources” does not change the fact that the story is not about a new development.
The article continues:
…Concerns were raised about the Tauheedul charitable trust in a dossier given to the Department for Education by Haras Rafiq, a former government adviser on the prevention of extremism, in 2011. Despite it, the trust was granted approval to set up three free schools
In his dossier, Rafiq said Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, a Saudi cleric who is alleged to have referred to Jews as “pigs” and the “scum of the human race”, had made a visit to the school. “I raised concerns in June 2011 with the Department for Education,” said Rafiq. “Despite presenting them with my findings, they decided to brush them to one side and go ahead and reward them with not just one school but three free schools.”
Of course, without access to the “dossier”, it’s impossible to assess properly the significance of al-Sudais’ visit to the school, or Rafiq’s implication that extremism has been unduly dismissed by the Department of Education. It is valid to raise concerns; but it’s frustrating not to be given sufficient information so that we can make our own informed assessment about what’s been going on.*
The Sunday Times also has another story in the same edition, also co-authored by Griffith and Kerbaj (this time with Isabel Oakeshott):
…Michael Gove, the education secretary, has warned that “potentially extremist parents” could be flooding the governing bodies of some schools that have large numbers of Muslim pupils.
He has set up a “counterextremism” unit in his department to weed out educational institutions and practices that do not conform with British values. The unit includes two former intelligence officers with expertise in counterterrorism, two academic experts and senior civil servants.
So the story about Tauheedul also just happens to complement a government talking point. Very handy.
The the presence of “two former intelligence officers” in the unit was used to justify a sensationalist headline about “Ex-MI5 agents target school Islamists”.**
*UPDATE: The National Secular Society has a quote from the school headmaster that Terry Sanderson seems to have acquired himself:
Patel confirmed that Sudais had been asked to address the school three years ago. “The girls wanted to see this guy with 5m followers. They had seen him on YouTube. He stayed 20 minutes.”
**UPDATE 2: There’s also something odd about the “counterextremism unit” aspect of the story, given the well-publicised existence of just such a unit within the Department of Education for several years; the Telegraph noted in June 2011 that:
…A “preventing extremism unit,” which will include experts in counter-terrorism, has been established at the Department of Education to stop unsuitable providers setting up Free Schools – a key part of the government’s new education strategy.
Applicants will need to demonstrate that they would support UK democratic values including support for individual liberties within the law, equality, mutual tolerance and respect.
More recently, the TES further reported in July this year:
School inspectors in England have been ordered by the government to carry out emergency inspections of private schools amid fears that they are fostering religious extremism, TES has learned.
…A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “There is no place for extremism in any school. Our Due Diligence and Counter Extremism Division, established in 2010 under the government’s Prevent strategy, works to ensure that children and young people are safeguarded from extremist views in or out of school hours…”
So why is the Sunday Times reporting the existence of the unit as if it’s something new? And where has the specific detail about “ex-MI5 agents”, rather than just “experts in counter-terrorism”, come from?
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