A woman is taking legal action against her daughter’s school after she was told she was not allowed to wear a face veil (niqab) on the premises.
Rachida Serroukh, 37, accompanied her 11-year old daughter to Holland Park School in west London for a parent’s evening on June 13 but was told she had to leave the premises as her niqab violated the school’s health and safety policy. She is reportedly pursuing legal action against the school.
Serroukh, a single mother of three, was taken into a room by a member of staff and told she had to leave through the back exit as the niqab, was not permitted in the school’s policy.
The rule, despite being a legally exercisable restriction for pupils and staff, was not present in writing and had not been previously mentioned by the school.
Holland Park School has defended its stance claiming it was a health and safety concern and the school reserves the right to prevent individuals wearing face veils from their premises despite the restriction’s absence in the school’s policy.
The school argued in an e-mail to Serroukh that it was necessary to be able to identify anyone coming into the school.
However, Serroukh dismissed the safety concerns, saying she “had no problem with security at the school gate when I entered the school and nobody there had mentioned a policy” and that she uncovered her face when speaking to the female teacher who instructed her to leave. She also claimed, “I always lift my veil and show my photo ID when required to do so for security purposes.”
The distraught mother has expressed her discontent and has stated that the school’s “discrimination” has infringed upon British values of “diversity and multiculturalism”.
As a former alumnus and excelling pupil of Holland Park School, Serroukh was delighted that her daughter had secured a place at the prestigious academy in Kensington. Following a £80 million renovation in 2012, the school was dubbed the “socialist Eton”, sending expectations soaring further. Serroukh was looking forward to a venerated education for her daughter who had performed exceedingly well in her Year 6 SATs.
Following such high anticipation and eagerness, Serroukh was left shocked and disappointed by the school’s decision to abruptly remove her, and without providing any solid reasoning or any mention of this restriction.
Restrictions placed on Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab or niqab in Europe has been on the rise in recent years.
In 2010, Belgium became the first European country to vote to ban the niqab in public, with the first implementation of the ban taking place in France in April 2011. This sentiment has since been reciprocated throughout Europe with the European Court of Justice controversially ruling in March that employers can prevent staff from wearing visible religious symbols such as the hijab. Such legislation has been constantly opposed by human rights campaigners but continues to spread throughout Europe.
Although the UK has kept a relative distance from such restrictive policy, events like this threaten a steady move towards the repression of some Muslim women and the infringement of freedom of religion.