“Attention-Seeking Muslims”? – Banning the Hijab in Schools

Note: The phrase “attention-seeking muslims” is in quotation marks. These are words borrowed from an online discussion of the Kenya High Case on the Hijab.

The drafters of the Kenyan Constitution were well aware of the problems that could be caused by insisting on a strict separation between church and state. At the same time, the predominance of Christianity coupled with the strong presence of Islam and other religious beliefs throughout the Republic must also have been on the drafter’s minds. So, our constitution makes a compromise which is now entrenched in the Bill of Rights. Every person is required to recognize all religions and not discriminate against any religious group but also every person particularly the State is required to treat all religions equally.

With this background, the question that has recently arising involves the hijab (female muslim headscarf) and whether it should be banned in our public schools.

I concede that the free exercise of religion component enshrined in our Constitution should not be narrowly construed to include only known practices, teachings and observance of a day of worship. Furthermore I understand, albeit not first-hand, the significance and role of the hijab in the muslim faith. However a move by a public or private school to forbid female students of muslim faith from wearing the hijab should not be construed as direct discrimination against muslims or even worse an all-out assault on Islam.

The Board of Governors is the legal authority in all schools empowered to come up with all rules and policies including code of conduct, disciplinary guidelines, fees structures and admission policies. This Board ought to be guided by a need to achieve a culture of reconciliation, teaching, learning and mutual respect and the establishment of a culture of tolerance and peace in the school. This must be done in the context of the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights contained in the new Constitution of Kenya. Every student must be accorded ‘inherent dignity’ and ‘the right have his/her human dignity respected’, in the sense of mutual respect including respect for one another’s religious convictions and cultural traditions. In this regard educators and learners should be encouraged to learn the importance of mediation and co-operation, to seek and negotiate solutions to conflict and differences.

It is indeed sad that the issue of Kenya High ( a reputable single-sex girls’ High School) and it’s muslim students have gone to court over a matter I believe could have been resolved amicably and satisfactorily out of court. I hold the view that when a school determines its school uniform, it takes into account the wide and diverse range of cultural, religious and social backgrounds of its students and balances this consideration with its own ethos, tradition and values as a school.

That said, I think setting a school uniform that forbids all forms of outward manifestations of religion including conspicuous crosses, hair styles, skin markings and garments is not per se discriminatory. The whole rationale behind a school uniform is to create equality among all students, rich or poor, black or white, hindu or muslim etc.. The school uniform is an integral part of instilling discipline in students and projecting a positive image of the school. The hijab’s role is clear yet it comes into question when discussed in the context of an all-girls school with little or no male staff around, as is the case of Kenya High.

Be it as it may, the fundamental question here is whether a student’s right to equality, dignity and freedom of religion is unreasonably and unjustifiably limited by prescribing a standard school uniform devoid of any other garments, adornments and symbols religious or otherwise. Personally my answer would be no. Let us not start comparing Kenya with France whose legislature banned the hijab in all schools and public institutions. Presently, we are only dealing with one school and its strict uniform policy. But in the spirit of mutual respect, reconciliation and tolerance, I believe that the Board of Governors of schools, parents and students should strive to negotiate, discuss and compromise with each other whenever rules and policies are being made touching on such sensitive matters as freedoms of expression, conscience, religion, belief, association and opinion.

7 thoughts on ““Attention-Seeking Muslims”? – Banning the Hijab in Schools

  1. Was waiting for this post to come here. Twitter was never a good forum for it’s discussion considering the high-emotions this will elicit. Kenya High being a public school has it’s rules and regulations which must be used to govern all facets of life within the school confines of the student body. I also believe that upon admission to the school……… as student signs a form to adhere to the set rules and regulations.

    On this issue….was hijab explicitly removed as part of the uniform? Am asking this because because I know a friend who is a Muslim and the sister who is about to join Uni is an alumni of Kenya High… they didn’t have these issues then….meaning that something must have triggered this problem to evade local solution mechanisms to get to the courts. What really happened?

    Against this background…….can a school like Sheikh Zayed in Mombasa admit a Christian wearing the turban or the crucifix…..where do we get the balance in this issue to ensure we have religious harmony and at the same time ensure access to schools for all students?

  2. This is insane to me. I believe Kenya High School is not being intolerant here, They’ve been operational why before that girl was even born and I believe there have been many Muslim girls who have come through from the school. What struck me is that she is not a new student, She’s been in the school for fucking 2 years and this is her 3rd year in that school. If she wasn’t an “infidel” and deemed her faith more important than school, She shouldn’t have joined the school in the first place. So after 2-3year fucking years, she wanna make right with her faith and sues the school for something she’s always played along to? to play with people’s emotions or what? I hate religion and hypocrites that hide in it. I think as a public institution, the environment should be conducive for all students without prejudice along ethnic affiliations or social class and there is no better way to enforce that than just create the feeling that all students are equal. This is all unnecessary self-gratification and at the wrong place. There are schools that allow Hijab, there are schools that are exclusive to Muslims. The girl had so many options that she never explored. Btw this girl in Islam, she is Munaafiq or even Faasiq-ul-‘Aqidah (She traded her faith for admission)

    Btw MisterNV your title sucks, Hijab is not banned in Kenya High School, It’s just not part of their uniform… LOL, Good article though kid!!

    Peace – Fort Knox

    • Yes, indeed, they did. Long before the hateful anti-islam Rosemary Saina came in there was never such a restriction as preventing Muslim girls from wearing the hijab. I am well aware that the Muslim students had options to wear hijab or not. Why this matter should be an issue now is beyond understanding. The girl in question is not objecting to wearing the grey skirt and white top. She wishes to cover her head/hair with a respectable attire. Those who are today vehemently objecting to the necessary head gear are setting an unjust precedent. It is reminiscent of the Moi era when some Ministers insisted that the mortal being was God sent to rule the country. When the true Moi manifested many were in hot soup and regretting. Now we are we are pouring vitriol on a harmless issue that will in future impinge upon the rights of others and many will say “I told you so”.

    • Let me give the answer to this as an ex-student of boma. In the past, Kenya High students used to wear uniform during the day then ‘home clothes’ in the evening and at specified times over the weekend. When in uniform, all girls were required to dress alike down to the black hairband and no-pattern socks. No earrings, chains, or any other jewelry. The only thing you were allowed to have on that was different was a watch. At that time, girls were not allowed to wear the hijab… unless they were doing their prayers.

      However, the ‘home-clothes’ session was free. You wore whatever you liked, including the hijab.

      But an argument was raised that, being a national school, girls from relatively poorer families were being made to feel inferior to their peers. So an attempt was made towards equality. A ‘weekend uniform’ was proposed and passed. This meant that the ‘home-clothes’ system was abolished. I will leave it to you all to debate on its usefulness…

  3. First before we go anywhere, I would like to educate my brother who wrote this article about the importance of Hijab.
    Hijab is one of the righteous deeds and it is a sign of honor stands as a shield
    of protection to a Muslim woman against evil man.

    Moreover Hijab also gives the women an air of authority, dignity and respect,
    Surah an-Nur ayah 31 says:
    And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their head coverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms , and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful.
    Lowering the gaze means not looking at what is forbidden to be seen of others. Guarding the private parts means that only the husband is allowed to see or touch them. And our prophet explained that the phrase “what is apparent of it” refers to the face and hands.
    The other four commandments relate to dress, and can really be expressed as three rules:
    • not displaying the beauty beyond “what is apparent of it” except to the people listed above
    • extending the head covering to cover the bosom
    • drawing the outer garment close around
    Do not display the beauty except for the face and hands around non-mahram men”. This is the basic rule of hijab as explained in the Holy Quran. The obligations of hijab are clear, explicit… Hijab is one of the commandments of Allah (SWT). And those women
    who do not observe proper Hijab are blatantly defying the commandment of Allah (SWT).
    Let us not forget the purpose of our existence, which is to cultivate love and
    affection to God in our heart and not for anything else. How can we create that love
    when we disobey Him?

    Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community,
    in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
    It is considered by many people and nations to be a fundamental human right

    Historically freedom of religion has been used to refer to the tolerance of different theological
    systems of belief, while freedom of worship has been defined as freedom of individual action.
    Each of these have existed to varying degrees. While many countries have accepted some form
    of religious freedom, this has also often been limited in practice through punitive taxation,
    repressive social legislation, and political disenfranchisement.

    Following a period of fighting lasting around a hundred years before 620 AD which mainly involved Arab and Jewish inhabitants of Medina (then known as Yathrib), religious freedom for Muslims, Jews and pagans was declared by Muhammad in the Constitution of Medina.
    The Islamic Caliphate later guaranteed religious freedom under the conditions that non-Muslim
    communities accept dhimmi (protected) status and their adult males pay the jizya tax as
    a substitute for the zakat paid by Muslim citizens. Jews and Christians were alternately tolerated.

    Religious pluralism existed in classical Islamic ethics and Sharia law, as the religious laws and courts
    of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the
    Islamic legal framework, as seen in the early Caliphate, Al-Andalus, Indian subcontinent, and
    the Ottoman Millet system.[8][9] In medieval Islamic societies, the qadi (Islamic judges) usually
    could not interfere in the matters of non-Muslims unless the parties voluntarily choose to be judged
    according to Islamic law, thus the dhimmi communities living in Islamic states usually had their own laws independent from the Sharia law, such as the Jews who would have their own Halakha courts.[10]

    ] Non-Muslims were allowed to engage in religious practices that was usually
    forbidden by Islamic law, such as the consumption of alcohol and pork, as well as religious practices
    which Muslims found repugnant, such as the Zoroastrian practice of incestuous “self-marriage” where a man could marry his mother, sister or daughter.
    According to the famous Islamic legal scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292–1350), non-Muslims had the right
    to engage in such religious practices even if it offended Muslims, under the conditions that such
    cases not be presented to Islamic Sharia courts and that these religious minorities believed that
    the practice in question is permissible according to their religion.

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