In Dewsbury today, a primary school teaching assistant was suspended because she insisted on covering her face with a veil while working with kids and they could not understand her. Wierd timing. Or is it the case that this kind of workplace disagreement is only headline news when it fuels an ongoing head-line grabbing debate involving religion, gender, sex, power and politics?
I think that the school was right to ask her to remove the veil while she worked with the kids, and if she felt she could not do this, she should have not been given the job in the first place. The school appears to support her wearing the veil outside the classroom, only asking her to remove it when working one to one with the children.
I am personally quite torn on the issue of the niqab, and indeed on the hijab. I teach many young Muslim women from different ethnic backgrounds, and practice varies widely. In my younger days I took very seriously certain religious imperatives of my own faith and can understand young people seeking to make a stand on their beliefs as they grown into adulthood. On the other hand, I am completely unimpressed by what I understand to be the theological basis of the requirement for women to cover their hair and bodies.
So I am stuck. I respect their personal faith and their commitment, I respect Islam, but I don't respect the specific tenets of the faith that require this particular obedience from them. In a similar way I reject certain actions carried out in the name of my own faith while understanding my co-religionists' desire to seek God and to serve him faithfully in the world.
Radio 4 radio clip on the theological basis of hijab - only available until 16th October