A London school is reviewing its dress-code policy after previously banning the niqab from being worn on its premises.
In April, King Solomon Academy in Marylebone enforced a ban on their sixth-form students, disallowing them from wearing religious clothing, including the niqab.
They have now made a temporary exemption to their face covering rule while a review is undertaken.
Yasmin Ahad, a Year 13 student at this school, was affected by the ban.
She said: “I wasn’t expecting this to happen, even my head of sixth-form seemed genuinely interested.
“The next day, out of nowhere, he took me out of my lesson – I thought he was going to tell me off for wearing the wrong shoes.
“He told me that they [the school] don’t accept the niqab, and to take it off.”
Yasmin has been practicing wearing the niqab since around March, but endeavours to wear it in the future.
She was surprised when the staff told her to take it off, telling the only Muslim teacher in the school when she went back to class, who said that it wasn’t right for them to be forcing her to remove it.
A student in Year 12 at the school, who wishes to be kept anonymous, felt strongly about the school’s ban.
Yasmin recalls that this student said: “I’m not going to take it [the niqab] off. I’m committed to it fully, so I’m not taking it off.”
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear.
It may also be worn with a separate eye veil and is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
Headscarves, and their many variations such as the hijab, and the niqab, are all ways in which Muslim women adhere to the advice of the Qur’an.
The Qur’an, which is the holy text of Islam, advises men and women to dress modestly.
For some women, that description has been interpreted to cover all areas of the body, and that is why there are many different variations of head and face coverings.
When Yasmin went into school the following Monday, a massive amount of support from the student body was given to her.
She mentions that everyone was comforting both her and the Year 12 student, and had come in support of them, and were standing up against this ban.
She said: “Everyone was really frustrated and angry on our behalf. My head of sixth-form, the vice-principal and the student body held a meeting about the situation, and I said that I wanted to be present, because the meeting is about me.
“However, my head of sixth-form told me that until I took the niqab off, you’re not welcome into lessons, I am not allowed into this meeting, and I cannot be heard.”
King Solomon Academy is a multi-educational school, providing education from nursery, up until sixth form, when the students leave for their future endeavours.
The school was established in 2007 and is currently headed by Max Haimendorf.
Yasmin says when she comes into school for her timetabled day, the teachers form a line and escort her to a room on the other side of the building, picking her up from reception and taking her there.
No one was allowed to see her.
Yasmin claims that the school said that let her walk around out of lessons, and that it was her choice to leave them, when she strongly persists that the reason why she was out of those lessons in the first place, was because of them strongly being against the wearing of the niqab.
She also says that she offered them many solutions to their issues – one such issue being ID.
Yasmin said: “I told them that I was more than happy, at any point of the day, and with a female teacher present, to take off my covering so they could ID me.
“I wear my ID card around my neck.
“I gave them so many solutions, and they just didn’t want to hear me.”
The situation has also caused a lot of issues for Yasmin’s home life, and her own physical and mental well-being.
She said she doesn’t feel like going into school anymore because she knows that her voice won’t be heard.
She also said that some girls, a part of the student body, were meant to go into a meeting to discuss what was happening, but they didn’t want to, because they felt drained and knew that they weren’t going to be listened to either.
She said: “Tuesday [22 March] is when I posted the TikTok about it, because I wasn’t being heard.
“Because of me going into isolation, I couldn’t speak to my year group about it, and I couldn’t be present in the meeting either, there was no way of me being heard.
“I felt really hurt, degraded, and embarrassed. Even the teachers were moving cautiously around me, like I was a danger.”
The TikTok, which was posted in March when Yasmin was kept in isolation, now has garnered a staggering 382.2k views, and 63.9k likes, with many comments showing their sympathy, anger and support.
Her account was then removed, and she wasn’t able to post anything from that account. She subsequently got her account back.
Zainab Chaudhry also feels affected by this issue.
She said: “People should feel like they have the right to wear it if they want to.
“I just feel like the fear towards this is irrational. It’s based on your perceptions, and people’s perceptions of Muslims.
“If you’re scared that someone who wears a niqab is going to do something weird or dodgy, most likely you have an irrational fear of Muslims.”
She recalls that, at a young age, hearing certain phrases or names didn’t really phase her.
Names such as Osama Bin Laden didn’t make her react, because for example, her cousin is called Osama.
But, when she got older and started to learn more about people’s views and similar issues, that’s when it clicked for her.
She said: “This is not what my religion is about. All the stuff that happens – terrorism and similar – isn’t a part of our religion.
“I found myself having to explain myself all the time to people, and explain to them how, if one person does something, it’s not like the rest of us feel the same.
“I know the truth in my heart, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
Noor, who goes by @celestialmoonmoth on TikTok and Instagram, has a following of 127.7k followers on TikTok – the platform they use most often.
They shared their thoughts on how social media, media and education in general contributes to islamophobia.
They said: “Every story needs a villain, and a lot of media has very subtle nationalist messages – so we make good faceless enemies.
“It’s easy to make an enemy out of a group of people you’re not interested in understanding or learning about.”
Noor is a revert to Islam and explained why they wanted to make this decision.
They said: “I was first deeply drawn to the beautiful recitations of the Qur’an, and then by the kindness of The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).”
However, they also said that making this decision had a knock-on effect to how family and friends viewed them.
They said: “A lot of my family and friends absolutely took a step back from me.
“Many of them thought I was giving up my rights as a person, and others were afraid that I was going to attempt to tell them how to live or try to convert them as well.
“Of course, I also had to deal with small comments along the lines of ‘Well, as long as you don’t become too radical and turn into a terrorist’.”
Both Zainab and Noor share similar thoughts on how education can contribute to islamophobia.
Zainab said: “I remember reading things in R.E. and thinking ‘Hold on, that’s not right.’
“In secondary especially, all the Muslims in my class would correct our teacher and let them know that what we were being taught isn’t right.
“But the teacher would respond, and say that ‘it’s what is in the syllabus’.”
Noor shares a similar opinion.
They also said: “Muslim women are often seen as exotic pets by Islamophobes and Muslim men are seen as barbaric and violent creatures incapable of higher reasoning.
“This is ironic, because the first ever college was actually founded by a Muslim woman.”
They added: “I had several white men come up to me and imitate a ‘middle eastern’ accent.
“They asked me if I wanted to do several awful things with them, and then made comments about what they thought my body looked like under my niqab and abaya. They started tugging on it and trying to pull it down.
“The most frightening thing was that there were several white women who simply watched on the sidelines. It was absolutely burned into my memory.”
According to Gallup, 52% of Americans and 48% of Canadians say the West does not respect Muslim societies. Smaller percentages of Italian, French, German and British respondents agree.
Noor also shared their realisations on how people treat Muslims.
They said: “The act of Islamophobia does not just harm those who are Muslims.
“There are many people from western Asia and south-east Asia and other areas who are affected by it as well because they simply ‘look’ Muslim.
“Islamophobia is deeply rooted in racism.
“For many Islamophobes it’s a race, not a religion.”
Previous students have come forward since the situation has happened at King Solomon Academy, telling Yasmin about their experiences.
Yasmin said: “They want everyone to be the same.
“They clearly don’t respect other religions because this isn’t the first time this has happened – this is just another example.”
One incident at the school involved trying to get the boys and girls to pray in a room together, which, islamically, can’t happen.
They claimed that the boys and girls praying separately causes ‘too much segregation’.
Google Reviews on the search aren’t too positive either.
One user called Remo Time said: “Honestly, I am angry that this school has not been punished or that the staff have not been changed.
Another user, called Anisah, said: “I have heard terrible reports on how the staff at this school, including the headteacher, treats minorities.
Yasmin said: “It doesn’t cause harm to the school, but they still want to enforce these rules.”
King Solomon Academy said that they are reviewing the dress code as a result of the situation.
Principal Max Haimendorf told SWL said: “We pride ourselves on welcoming and nurturing students of all faiths and none, and celebrating diversity is a fundamental part of who and what we are.
“This is a sensitive issue and, like all schools, we try to strike the right balance in adherence to religion.
“While this review is undertaken, we have made temporary exceptions to our current face covering rule.”
According to the current school dress code, students are able to submit requests to wear particular items of clothing for cultural reasons to their head of year, who will check to see if they ‘match sixth-form expectations.’
Featured image: Mx. Granger via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)