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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Schoolgirl loses Muslim gown case
Shabina Begum
Shabina Begum wanted to wear a full-length jilbab gown
A 15-year-old girl has lost her High Court battle to wear a style of Islamic dress to school.

Shabina Begum has been out of her Luton school since September 2002 in a row over her wish to wear an ankle-length jilbab gown.

She said her religious rights and education were being denied.

But the High Court judge said the school's uniform policy was aimed at the proper running of a multi-cultural, multi-faith secular school.

Dismissing Shabina's application for judicial review, Mr Justice Bennett said the limitations placed on what she could wear was "proportionate" to that aim, and her human rights had not been infringed.

It seems unrealistic and artificial to say that the claimant's right to education has been denied
Mr Justice Bennett

Guidance for schools discouraged them from excluding pupils for breaching school uniform policy, he noted.

But that did not mean schools could not do so "if the pupil flatly refuses to wear the appropriate school uniform", he said.

Outside court, the school's solicitor Iqbal Javed said the uniform had been agreed after wide consultation and the focus would now be on readmitting Shabina to school.

"The uniform is designed to be inclusive and takes into account the cultural and sensitive needs of the pupils," he said.

The whole point of a school uniform is to be 'uniform'
Richard King, Woburn

Shabina's lawyer Yvonne Spencer said her client was devastated and would not be returning to Denbigh school.

"The family feels this decision doesn't help integrate Muslims within our society," she said.

The judge has refused permission to appeal, but Shabina can still ask the Court of Appeal to hear the case on the basis that it raises issues of general importance over the question of dress in multi-cultural schools.

The family would consider this, her lawyer said.

Human rights claim

Denbigh is a 1,000-pupil comprehensive where almost 80% of pupils are Muslim.

The case echoes controversy in France, where politicians have voted for a ban on religious symbols in schools, including the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim girls and women.

Ms Spencer had argued the school's ban on her chosen dress amounted to "constructive exclusion" and breached both domestic law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

But the school argued an alternative uniform option for Muslim girls was on offer, while the jilbab could divide Muslim pupils and presented a health and safety problem.

Opinion divided

Originally, Shabina wore a shalwar kameez to school, but her deepening interest in her religion led to her wearing the jilbab.

The long gown is worn by some Muslim women who seek to cover their arms and legs, but not faces or hands.

The judge said: "In my judgment, the adoption of the shalwar kameez by the defendant as school uniform for Muslim (and other faiths) female pupils was, and continues to be, a reasoned, balanced, proportionate policy."

Abdul Bari, deputy leader of the Muslim Council of Britain said the High Court's "landmark decision" was "very worrying and objectionable".

"The British Muslim community is a diverse community in terms of the interpretation and understanding of their faith and its practice," said Dr Bari.

"Within this broad spectrum those that believe and choose to wear the jilbab and consider it to be part of their faith requirement for modest attire should be respected.

The BBC's June Kelly
"Shabina was devastated by the decision"

Yvonne Spencer, Shabina Begum's lawyer
"The family feel that this decision doesn't help integrate muslims within our society"

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