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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
Are schools right to ban traditional dress?
Shabina Begum, 15, leaves the High Court in London, Tuesday June 15, 2004
A 15-year-old girl has lost her High Court battle for the right to wear a traditional Muslim dress to school.

Shabina Begum had not attended her school in Luton since September 2002, when she was sent home for wearing the jilbab, an ankle-length gown.

The schoolgirl argued that she was being denied her "right to education and to manifest her religious beliefs".

But Denbigh High School said the jilbab was a health and safety risk, and it already offered an alternative uniform for its Muslim pupils.

Is the school right to ban the wearing of the jilbab? Are alternative uniforms for Muslim pupils acceptable? Send us your comments

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far.

Why on earth is it anyone's business if a young girl wants to wear religious clothing?
Christopher Johns, Newcastle, UK
If people adopted a "live and let live" attitude, then the world would be a nicer place to live in. Why on earth is it anyone's business if a young girl wants to wear religious clothing? Surely schools should focus their attention on preventing bullying and anti-social behaviour, as these more seriously affect pupils' lives.
Christopher Johns, Newcastle, UK

The student and her parents were no doubt made aware of school policy on uniform and her attendance at this school requires her to abide by that policy.
Steve, UK

Generally no; only on health safety grounds after a proper risk assessment and research into rules other schools and relevant institutions have.Where possible, majority and minority ethnic groups should be allowed traditional/ important religious dress. There is not enough principled religion around, and the high ethics that goes with it. The last thing we should do is make enemies out of ordinary people wishing to live their religious lives the way they wish to.
Vince, Coventry, UK

What next? Muslim women wearing a jilbab in any job requiring a uniform e.g. the police force? I'm Muslim but I'd be the first to say that the demands made by minorities are unworkable and worst of all based on flimsy religious grounds.
ML, London, England

Seems to me that someone wants to create a fuss
Kathy Rahman, Richardson, TX, USA
I am an American woman married to a Muslim man from the same part of the world. A jilbab IS NOT required by Islam. Seems to me that someone wants to create a fuss. The same thing is happening at the local mosque here in Richardson. Many younger people are going to extremes in clothing, not only the jilbab, but the niqab (face covering) as well. It seems they want to outdo each other.
Kathy Rahman, Richardson, TX, USA

Having school uniforms is an excellent way to avoid the badgering of parents for designer clothes and expensive trinkets and a way to keep out politics of schools. If people want a secular education they must take terms as they are.
Jens Ørntoft, Copenhagen Denmark

We need to go the same way as France and ban all religious trappings in our schools. We should also ban faith schools except as extra-curricular activities.
Huw Evans, Ipswich, UK

If you choose to attend a school with a uniform code, then you should be prepared to obey that code. Shabina denied herself her 'right to education' at a crucial time in her school career. How very sad that she was allowed her to behave like this.
Lin, UK

Surely on enrolment, Shabina and her parents agreed with the school's rules
Graeme, London, UK

Surely on enrolment, Shabina and her parents agreed with the school's rules, code of conduct and other policies? At no time has she been denied her 'right to education'; this is just another example of people demanding 'rights' without accepting 'responsibilities', in this case to abide by the school's uniform policy. If Shabina is still on the school roll, why are her parents not being prosecuted for her truancy?
Graeme, London, UK

In spite of the fact that I am a Muslim I do think that this girl as gone too far. As far as I know there is little difference in modesty between what she was wearing at court and what the School has prescribed as an appropriate Islamic uniform. I think this issue has a lot more to do with pressure from local Islamic activists who have a chip on their shoulder about traditional Pakistani dress.
Ibrahim, UK

When in Rome, live as the Romans. This country has afforded every culture and religion far more freedom than many of their native lands offer them - how about appreciating it rather than trying to abuse it and complain about it?
Jonathan, UK

Any person, who visits /lives in another country, abides by their rules and culture. Why should this case be any different?
Ken, Herts, UK

As a Muslim, we are under enough strain as it is and she is not helping
Atif, Manchester

As a Muslim in Manchester I think she is pathetic. We are under enough strain as it is and she is not helping.
Atif, Manchester

I am proud of Britain's reputation as a place of safety and refuge for those seeking a better life away from civil war or persecution. However, people must adapt to our way of life - and not the other way round.
Carl Jackson, Chalfont St Giles, UK

I think the school is demonstrating real ignorance. Individuals ought to be free to carry out their religious beliefs at any time, not during the hours dictated to them by any authority. The girl and her family are not just being awkward, or asserting some kind of superiority, just doing what they believe to be correct & wish to do. I do not follow any religion myself, but when "Big Brother" starts dictating when we are allowed to practice our beliefs, then it is a bad day for this country & the freedoms we enjoy here.
Dave, Bristol, UK

The lines have to be drawn some where and here is an excellent gate
Kathleen , Shreveport, Louisiana
As a wife to a proud Englishman and a frequent visitor of the UK I have to say "finally". The lines have to be drawn some where and here is an excellent gate. Isn't that why the UK enforces uniforms within the educational system to begin with? Haven't they done enough to please all of the many cultures your kingdom holds?
Kathleen , Shreveport, Louisiana

I am a good Muslim living in a Muslim country and I don't wear a hejab. I don't see that it is a must to wear it. But I wear the hejab when I am praying or when I visit a mosque. I think that wearing the hejab and the jilbab is becoming a new fashion and has nothing to do with Islam. This young girl should read the Koran in a spiritual way and not listen to what is told to her by who think he is a new Prophet and I believe that if one live in a country, one should behave like its citizens
Firdaus, Cairo, Egypt

She has denied herself the right to education by not towing the school uniform policy.
D Burnham, UK

The words "storm" & "teacup" come to mind. It should never have got this far, and for this, both the school, and the young woman's family need to reflect. I fully understand Shabina's conviction, whilst the school is right to stop other students being pressurised (but I don't buy the health and safety argument). However, should this really have gone to court? I just hope the young woman can get back to a normal life as quickly as possible...
Faisal Sheikh, London, UK

What is more important to ones being, integration or religion?
Mrs Salim, West Midlands
Wearing the hijab (head covering) is compulsory on every female Muslim by the time she has reached the age of puberty. This may not be stressed in the Qur'an in so many words but its reflection is sought in the practices of the people who were alive at the time of the revelation of the Holy Scripture. I am also determined to defend Shabina's decision to go to court regarding her want to wear the Jilbab(long gown). The jilbab differentiate us from other Asian women who wear the traditional shalwar kameez, but what is more important to ones being, integration or religion? I would not want to integrate with those who would oppose my religion!
Mrs Salim, West Midlands

If the school uniform is acceptable to some 800 other Muslim pupils then this surely is a case of one family trying to use the legal system to fight against integration.
Simon, Luton, UK

I could understand if the young women wore the jilbab for a religious service. But for normal school work it does seem somewhat inappropriate.
Clive, Dartford, Kent

Some might consider this a case where the 'right of free speech' is being contravened by the state's interests in promoting harmony as well as the separation of church & state. However, 1) the 'right of free speech' is not absolute, & 2) students should attend school to get educated, not to promote their beliefs. They have approximately 2/3 of each day to engage in non-educational activities.
Jon Davis, USA

This sums up the intolerance of this society towards Muslims
Assim Hussain, Bradford, UK
This sums up the intolerance of this society towards Muslims. So much for freedom. A lot of people comment that this dress code is not compulsory (in Islam) and therefore it is within the rights of the school not to allow it. Sorry, but you are wrong. The dress code for Muslims in public is quiet clear, as demonstrated by this school girl. The use of "health and safety" just shows how pathetic and desperate the excuses are getting. I'll be speaking to all of those from the Muslim community who called for integration, and I will ask them, "How did this country today protect the honour of the Muslim women?"
Assim Hussain, Bradford, UK

Would the school feel as strongly against a Christian wearing a crucifix for instance? I feel that both the judge and the school show a lack of understanding of the importance of this garment to Shabina's faith. Yes, I appreciate that uniforms are the base stone upon which the school aims to integrate all pupils and provide an environment where there is equality for all. But I do not believe that it is ever right for someone to dictate how another person carries out their faith (unless doing so causes harm to others). This totally goes against their initial aim of teaching tolerance and understanding of your fellow man. For the record I am not Muslim.
Rachel Southall, Dudley

I think that, given the school has already gone out of its way to provide acceptable options to Muslim girls this was a pretty frivolous action to take. The vast majority of Muslim women in many countries go about all the time without feeling the need to wear the jilbab and its really an affectation of middle eastern dress, nothing else. What a waste of time and money. Look at France, where they won't allow any kind of religious dress, which is affecting Muslims and drastically going to effect Sikh men, for whom a turban is not even a matter of choice.
Paul whiting, London

If Shabina had won her case the other Muslim girls in the school would have soon come under community pressure to conform to her wishes
Josh, London
If Shabina had won her case the other Muslim girls in the school would have soon come under community pressure to conform to her wishes. In my school most Muslims are as uninterested in religion as the rest of us. Unfortunately a small number of individuals formed a "Muslim Group" who started holding prayer meetings and wearing "traditional" dress etc. - next thing the other kids were being "talked to" by elders in their community because they weren't as "devout" as the brothers and sisters (that's what they call themselves!) in the Muslim Group and many now feel pressured into joining in the Group's activities. It has caused a lot of bad feeling all round.
Josh, London

I would like to know how much this law suit cost the tax payers? I am appalled to learn that Shabina Begum has not attended her school since September 2002 and I assume she has wasted a very important part of her young life in not getting proper education. Islam stresses in the Qur'an again and again (756 times)to go and get education from all corners of the earth. Wearing the hijab is not a command in the Qur'an and I would blame the parents and other misguided supporters of this young girl in their narrow minded understanding of Islam. I wish these youngsters would learn about Islam from learned scholars and not from the majority of narrow minded little educated mullahs who teach the Qur'an in mosques.
Saqib khan, London, UK

As a student in a secondary school, I feel that it is important that everyone is treated fairly but in order for that to be the case, it is also important that everyone conforms to the same and expected standard including dress. No religion should be given preference over others and non-believers.
Vernon Barns (16), Yeovil

Muslims make up 2.7% of this country. That's a significant minority. They ought to tow the line as we would in an Islamic country and expect not special treatment. That's not racist, it's a logical observation and conclusion of the facts.
Paul, Flint, North Wales

The whole situation was a waste of time and money
Hussain, Luton
As a former pupil of Denbigh high school. I am happy that the right decision was made, 80% of the school is Muslim, so it is quite clear the head of the school Mrs Bevan as made every effort to make sure the pupils get a good education. The whole situation was a waste of time and money, in the long term has given a bad name to Muslims and to the school! The argument she made is flawed: If she was being denied the right to an education, then why did not the other pupils follow her protest?
Hussain, Luton

What's the difference between those countries which force women to cover their head with scarf and the others which force them to take the scarf off! As long as one woman has the right to show off her body as much as she wants, on the basis of freedom, Shabina Begum also has right to cover her head on the basis of freedom.
Totakara, US

I too am a Muslim and I wear a jilbab, but I do agree with the school's stance - it is perfectly OK for her to wear it to and from school no-one is stopping her from doing that, but to insist on wearing it at a place where alternatives are clearly presented is just 'creating a scene'. As long as her clothes are not revealing, Islam allows anything - shalwar kameez is a very good option. In fact when I wear the shalwar kameez, if it is long enough then I never bother with the jilbab. I only really insist on it when I'm wearing short blouses etc.
Anon, Oxord

The girl's lawyer says that she feels this decision doesn't help Muslims integrate into British society; well, how can the desires of individuals to appear outwardly different help them to integrate? Maybe if the members of our Muslim community adopted modest western dress codes they would find it considerably easier to integrate. If you advertise the fact that you are 'different' you shouldn't complain that you are treated differently. A sensible decision for once, but somehow I suspect we have not heard the last of the issue.
Neil Wallace, Sheffield, England

The religious requirement, for those who choose to actually investigate it, is that both Muslim men and women dress modestly
Helen, Guadalajara, Mexico
The religious requirement, for those who choose to actually investigate it, (Sura 33) is that both Muslim men and women dress modestly. Hijabs, jilbabs, burkas etc are simply tools designed by men, using the guise of religion, to repress women. I worked at a multi-faith school in a Muslim country (Sudan) where exactly the same situation occurred. The student involved wore the jilbab simply, as teenagers do, to be provocative, because she knew it was not allowed. She straightforwardly told the head teacher that she wore the jilbab to show the world she was a more religious person, and therefore better human being than those who did not. Shabina Begum is obviously a very feisty, determined young woman: these qualities will serve her well in the future. I sincerely hope that she learns to channel them into something more worthwhile.
Helen, Guadalajara, Mexico.

While schools need uniforms to ensure classrooms don't turn into fashion shows it does seem a little bizarre that a teenage girl who wishes to cover her body is prevented from doing so while other teenage girls walk around wearing ever-shorter skirts and ever-lower tops while nobody bats an eyelid.
John B, UK

Yes this is the right thing to do. As with the French and Belgium States, we should separate the State and Religion all together. In other words, we should not allow any, religious dress in school, and this includes Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Seikh and Islamic dress. To me the only acceptable dress in schools is a school uniform. If we allow religious dress, then should we not abolish all school uniforms?
Spencer Rignall, Cambridge UK

I am a Muslim woman who was educated to university level and fully agree completely with Jennifer (below). The school uniform is there so that all the pupils do NOT have a status associated with them i.e. rich or affluent or poor or overtly religious etc. Once you start to break down this discipline, you begin to lose control. Thank goodness the court ruled in favour of the school.
Qamar, UK

In a secular state like the UK, Church and School are separate. Therefore, such overt religious dress has no legal right to be worn in a state school. Especially since alternative suitable and acceptable clothing has been agreed by both the school and the local Muslim community. When such a foolish case as this goes to court only the lawyers win; lining their pockets with money that could have been spent on education.
Olly, Cambs, UK

I really don't see why this young woman isn't allowed to conform to her religion in school
Cat, Cambridge, UK
I really don't see why this young woman isn't allowed to conform to her religion in school. I don't agree with the morals and beliefs of Islam but I feel very strongly about people rights to their beliefs. I don't see the point of school uniform in any school. I also don't see how how the jilbab is breaking health and safety rules when you would be able to wear a long sleeved shirt and long skirt as a non Muslim. What's the difference at the end of the day? The court should have ruled in her favour.
Cat, Cambridge, UK

The decision by the Court was the right one. Islam does set rules about what to wear, however there is sufficient flexibility to choose the colour and material to enable the Muslim dress to conform with the school's rules. Many schools in London have managed this. I feel the young girl was simply demanding too much under the banner of Islam
Mr T Shafiq, London, UK

As far as I am aware the Islamic religion makes no specific demands upon what women should or should not wear. This is a cultural issue not an Islamic issue. Islamic guidelines are being met by the current dress code. This is a disgraceful waste of taxpayers money. The money this has cost the school will undoubtly detract from children's learning. The entire school suffers due to the actions of single pupil.
William Heron, London England

The school is right. I might as well say that I'm going to wear traditional British dress. This sort of demonstration encourages the myth that certain groups don't want to integrate. Was the girl herself serious about this? I'd bet she wasn't!
Vic, UK

Every student, whatever creed, is there to learn and only to learn
John Gearing, St.Helens UK
I find it quite annoying to hear religion crashing with education. Every student, whatever creed, is there to learn and only to learn so leave your religion at the door and maybe the racist violence and boundaries religion causes might disappear.
John Gearing, St.Helens UK

Since the school is "in loco parentis" whilst a pupil is in attendance, it is for the school to decide. When are we going to be able to discuss moral and ethical issues as individuals, rather than as adherents to one belief system or another?
Harry Webb, Broadstairs, Kent

I had to conform to a dress code at school and there were no exceptions. If someone was a pagan, would they be able to wear a gown at school? Of course not. I find it incredible that the parents think that things like this prevent the integration of Muslim culture into Britain. How about other cultures trying harder themselves to integrate into our culture?
CJ, Derbyshire, UK

The whole point of a school uniform is to be 'uniform'. This prevents pupils from displaying wealth, gang loyalties, football loyalties, religious beliefs, etc. to other pupils. People who dress alike tend to congregate together to the exclusion of others. This is divisive and should not be encouraged. The ruling is correct.
Richard King, Woburn, England

School uniforms are designed to make all children feel equal
Jeanne Walker, UK
I grew up in Asia as a child and I like to see the different cultures being kept alive but I also believe that old saying; "when in Rome do as the Romans do". This is, after all, Great Britain. If Muslims or any other religious sects choose to attend British schools then please abide by their rules. School uniforms are designed to make all children feel equal.
Jeanne Walker, UK

Schools have uniforms for a reason - if everyone could just wear what they pleased (whether for religious or fashion reasons), the ethos of the school changes. If you don't like it, go to another school that offers what you like...
Jennifer, London, UK

I believe that that schools should focus more on the abilities, behaviour and attitudes of pupils if they want to bring up a generation of Britons who tolerate each other and build up this country together, instead of criticising their clothing.
Mina, London

In a pluralistic and tolerant society, everybody should be free to dress as they like, whether they are Muslim or nor. Schools have no right to impose such bans on pupils, and the justification that the jilbab is a "health and safety risk" is, quite frankly, ludicrous.
Pierre, Brighton

What she is wearing is not uniform, but at least it is clean and respectful
John, UK
Whether you are Muslim or not, you have to respect this girl. Ok, what she is wearing is not uniform, but at least it is clean and respectful. How many children nowadays do you see going to school in what can only be classed as clothes designed for impressing the opposite sex?
John, UK

I am appalled that the lawyer will get paid for this waste of time and even more appalled that her family allowed her to lose education. What a shameful waste of time and money.
Carole, UK

Apparently the school had consulted with the local community and come up with a dress code approved by the local Muslim Council. In this instance I think the judgement is correct; our human rights do not remove our obligation to get along with others, and that sometimes means compromise.
Geoff Taylor, Bury UK

I'm a British Muslim, and I've got to say that in this case that I think that the school and the council are completely justified. It's not written anywhere in the Koran that the jilbab needs to be worn, and it is a health and safety risk. The alternative uniform offered by the school is more than adequate for even a modest Muslim girl.
N, Canterbury, UK

What's "traditional" anyway? Many Muslim countries have "traditional" laws that severely restrict education for girls. The school in question is 80% Muslim. All the other pupils seem perfectly happy to wear the alternative uniform which is approved by the local mosque as being perfectly "traditional" enough.
Peter, Nottingham (U.K)

Yes, the school is right to ban the wearing of the jilbab. If you allow one faith with exceptions others will follow suit. You have to follow the rules regulation and procedures of the place, country you live in. If it is too much of importance than then they should go to Muslim school which can cater for such exceptions.
Vicky, UK

Where is the line between the school respecting Shabina's culture and Shabina respecting the school's culture and rules?
Natalie, Berkshire, UK

The school has every right to set and enforce its own uniform policy
Matthew, Oxford, UK
The school has every right to set and enforce its own uniform policy. It seems that in other areas this particular school has tried to be reasonable, but if you let one pupil break the rules to the extent that this girl has tried to, the school's discipline can only suffer as a result.
Matthew, Oxford, UK

The school and court are right to make this decision. Uniforms are worn for a reason, by wearing alternative dress opens the floodgates for other children to claim religion for the way they dress. They are all supposed to dress the same so as not to discriminate.
Kay, Newcastle, UK

I don't see how the jilbab can be safe enough for millions of Muslims but seemingly fatal at this one school. Are classes conducted around an open fire there?
W Yuen, London, UK

On a purely practical level, the jilbab is a serious safety risk for a child e.g. in science or home economics classes. At a religious level, there is no requirement in the Koran for such an extreme form of dress - even in most Islamic countries the hijab (headscarf)together with modest clothing is considered quite proper.
Colin Morris, Manchester, UK

This girl should not have been allowed to pursue this and ill-judged lawsuit. She should be studying at school rather trying to make a religious and political statement). She can wear her jilbab at home and even on the way to and from school perhaps. How would she participate in P.E., games and cross country in such garb? The taxpayer will have to pick up the bill for the tens of thousands of pounds wasted by this girl's legal team. No doubt an appeal will be filed and Shabina will sit at home for another year or so. What a waste!
Gerry, Luton, Beds

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