Shabina Has Done Muslims a Disservice; as a Schoolgirl Wins the Right to Wear Islamic Dress in School, a Prominent Muslim Commentator Warns That the Result Could Damage Race Relations

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WHEN Lord Justice Brooke said that Denbigh High School denied Shabina Begum the right to manifest her religion, many people must be asking, "Like how?" The school had initiated a long consultation process with local mosques, religious leaders, parents and students. It had designed a uniform which fulfilled the Islamic requirements "to cover everything, except the face and the hands, in clothing which did not define the shape of the body and was thick enough so could not be seen through".

There is no question that this is the correct legal decision under the Human Rights Act, but I can hear people across the land echoing Dickens's Mr Bumble: "If the law supposes that, the law is an ass".

The problem with taking the court route is that normal, rational people who want to be tolerant begin to ask, "Where will this all end? Is this the thin edge of the wedge?" This case has, I am sorry to say, done Muslims and the cause of better understanding a disservice.

In such circumstances, well-meaning people begin to feel confused and wonder whether the far Right don't have a point after all. The British National Party called it "another concession to Sharia demands". Indeed many French commentators have used the Begum case to justify the French stance on banning any religious expression in schools, including the head covering.

What worries me most in the present climate is that those who would make trouble for Muslims in Britain will be tempted to use this as a cause celebre to claim that there is a growing separation between the Muslim population and the rest of Britain. That could have very adverse consequences. We would be wrong to emulate France's scarf policy - it is forbidden by state decree in French schools - which is bringing untold misery to thousands of Muslim girls.

AT TIMES like this we need to be grateful for Britain's open and tolerant society and realise that it is something to be proud of and to support. But it will take hard work on all our parts. We live in difficult times.

Recently my Muslim friends and I have noticed a hardening of people's attitudes towards us. Some have had things thrown at them; one was showered with stones when she was pushing her baby in a buggy.

On a day-today level, it's harder to get the old lady on the bus to smile; instead she'll look at you with intensity, frowning. And then there is the verbal abuse.

On a train from Birmingham to London recently, a young man decided that it was perfectly all right to shout about the "Muslim problem". The sad thing was no one said a word.

At Baker Street Tube station a man was screaming across the platform, "We should f****** kill 'em". I looked around to see who he was shouting at, and then came the unpleasant realisation that it was at me. The fact that I was wearing a rather nice lilac Laura Ashley suit was irrelevant - the scarf was what mattered.

Wearing the scarf marks me out, but that doesn't have to be negative. People ask me why I don't take it off. But what next? Change my children's names? …


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