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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Muslim educator suspended for refusing to remove veil

Restriction may point to political and educational discrimination in the United Kingdom (
Restriction may point to political and educational discrimination in the United Kingdom (

Muslim teaching assistant Ms. Aishah Azmi, 23, was suspended for refusing to take off her veil in the classroom by the Headfield Church of England Junior School, in Dewsbury, England. Some school officials believe that Azmi’s black veil, which reveals only her eyes, is a communication barrier that alienates her from her students.

Azmi argues that she had agreed to remove the veil in the classroom, as long as it was not in front of her male colleagues.

Local government minister Mr. Phil Woolas said to Al-Jazeera, “(Azmi) should be sacked. She put herself in a position where she can’t do her job.”

Ms. Azmi’s lawyer, Nick Whittingham, called for Woolas to withdraw his comments, since they might influence Azmi’s employment tribunal.

Azmi told BBC that the veil has never before been a barrier between her and the children.

“The children are aware of my body language, my eye expressions, the way I’m saying things,” Azmi said. “If people think it is a problem, what about blind children? They can’t see anything but they have a brilliant education, so I don’t think my wearing the veil affects the children at all.”

“Ms. Azmi is very well able to carry out her role as a teaching assistant providing support to pupils who speak English as a second language,” said Whittingham to a BBC reporter. “She has demonstrated in a number of interviews that she can communicate effectively while wearing the veil.”

“My own position would be to agree with (Azmi),” said Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Women Studies Jane Redmont. “I gather from the story that the students don’t feel the veil is a barrier, and the primary concern in a school should be the total well being of the students.”

Associate Professor of Education Studies David Hildreth highlighted the importance of considering the ages of the students Azmi taught as part of deciding whether the veil is a distraction.

“Children this age really want to try to be accepted, and if some students make a big deal about the veil then it might become a focal point for other students,” said Hildreth.

Azmi did not volunteer to the school administration the fact that she wears a veil, and she did not wear a veil during her live job interview, which was conducted by both a female and a male.

Azmi justified her not wearing the veil in front of a male governor of the school to a BBC reporter.

“Yes, there was a male, but (my veil was off) for only about five minutes, and there was a female in the room,” said Azmi.

“I’m not sure whether the veil causes a barrier in communication,” said Hildreth, “because you have to look at every situation in context and examine the culture of the school.”

Azmi said, “I didn’t realize that the veil would be perceived as a problem because this is a mainly Muslim school and the female parents wear it . if I had known it would be a problem I would have said something.”

“If the majority of the students were familiar with (the veil) then it is very possible that the veil was not a distraction,” said Hildreth.

Even though school officials insisted that Azmi’s suspension was not motivated by anti-Islamic sentiments, Al-Jazeera reported that senior British politicians and the country’s media have been accused of causing and encouraging anti-Islamic feelings towards the wearing of veils by Muslims in the United Kingdom.

“The body integrity and the religious and cultural integrity of the teacher are very important,” said Redmont. “As long as the children’s learning and level of comfort does not suffer, (Azmi) should be allowed to wear the veil.”

Muslim Hussam Dakkak, a London college student, said in a telephone interview, “It is very disrespectful towards Islam for people to underestimate the meaning of the veil. Just because some Westerners do not identify with it, does not give them the right to discriminate against women who wear it.”

“The U.K. is struggling with what it means to be a multi-faceted cultural and religious country,” said Redmont. “You really have to look at the symbolic power of wearing a full veil because currently there is an issue with Islam and an issue with Arabic cultures in the West.”

“One of the jobs of educators is to teach students to be open-minded and be accepting of other cultures,” said Hildreth. “This could have been a situation for the school to teach the students about different cultures and that there are things that make us all unique and we should celebrate them.

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