Thursday, March 23

Embracing Differences Click for more info

The Law Lords ruled in favour of Denbigh High School and overturned the appeal ruling that favoured Shabina Begum. What this means is that the school did not deny Begum's right to manifest her religion. Although I respect and may even agree with that decision I do think there are some things worth noting.

  1. There was compromise on both sides. The school allowed shalwar kameez and hijab in their uniform, and Shabina was willing to wear the school's colours and logo over her jilbab.
  2. There was stubbornness on both sides. Both parties didn't accept a decision handed to them (with Shabina taking it to the Appeal Court and the school taking it to the Law Lords).
  3. Both sides can be accused of wasting time and money, but the fact that this needed to be challenged kinda proves that it was worthwhile doing so.
  4. Although the Law Lords have decided that the school was fair, they've missed a trick in disallowing the jilbab in the first place and are almost promoting disunity.
The last point is worth elaborating. Many reasons were given for this policy, many of which weren't really interesting (health and safety? Yeh, right). The one that I found interesting was how the school felt that a few to wearing a jilbab might make some other students feel insecure about their own faiths and practices.

But isn't it a better idea to use differences like these to teach our kids how to handle them later on? There will be lots of things in life that will make a kid insecure, and protecting and shielding them from these differences in opinion or style or outlook isn't really the way forward. Surely the ideal situation is for classmates not to mind what others happen to be wearing?

I'm thankful that my school had a relatively open uniform policy. It taught me how to be an individual as well as how to accept the individuality of others, and as a result I like to think I'm pretty tolerant in these later years of mine. I'm not sure what the case would have been if, for example, we were all made to shave, or cut our hair short, or roll down our trousers. I saw then that people different from me were normal too. It's the classic Melting Pot versus Salad Bowl argument, and I guess I'd rather be a piece of lettuce than a blob of molten lead.

So although I accept the Law Lords' conclusion (since someone has to draw the line) I just hope these kids from Denbigh High don't grow up thinking we all have to be the same to get along; otherwise we might find ourselves in the situation where it's not just schools being taken to court for possible denial of human rights.


  1. Thank you for this informative post. I wish newspapers were as good on this issue as you. I wrote about the poor girl both last year and just today.

  2. >>I just hope these kids from Denbigh High don't grow up thinking we all have to be the same to get along;

    ridiculous! Denbigh is not promoting that at all. it caters better than most schools for an expression of an individuals beliefs. if you think school uniform stifles beliefs then don't go to that school. just as Muslims desire freedom of expression, this school desires the same thing and to set its own rules, which it is perfectly within its rights to do.

  3. That was an excellent blog. Clearly, fairly expressed point of view. Nice and balanced. Thank you.

    WRT Johit's comment,I don't see how banning a pupil from dressing how her religion dictates is "freedom of expression", surely its intolerance... If institutions are hoping to promote freedom and tolerance, Denbigh High school is doing perfectly the opposite.

    If you speak to ex-students of DHS there are significant numbers that recall the new head-mistress and occasions when they were made to hitch up their skirts so high that parents had to be called to provide trousers. DHS sounds like dictatorship to me.

    What I can't understand is how the "local scholars" could have concluded that trousers and tunics meet the requirements, they don't!It's a shame they didn't have much to say when it came to press. Typical.