- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 15, 2004

From combined dispatches

LONDON — A 15-year-old British schoolgirl who went to court after being told that she couldn’t wear traditional Muslim dress in the classroom lost a legal bid yesterday to overturn the ban.

Shabina Begum was sent home from Denbigh High School in Luton, north of London, in September 2002 for wearing the jilbab, a long, flowing gown covering all her body except the hands and face. She has not attended school since.

She went to the High Court, arguing that she was being denied the right to education and the right to manifest her religious beliefs.

The school argued that the jilbab posed a health and safety risk and might cause divisions among pupils, with those who wore traditional dress being seen as “better Muslims” than others.

Judge Hugh Bennett ruled that the school’s dress code was a “reasoned, balanced, proportionate policy” and that Shabina’s human rights had not been violated.

Four-fifths of Denbigh’s 1,000 students are Muslims. The school denies acting in a discriminatory manner and says it has a flexible school uniform policy that takes into account all faiths and cultures. Students are allowed to wear trousers, skirts or a traditional shalwar kameez, consisting of trousers and a tunic.

“Having considered the matter carefully, it seems to me unrealistic and artificial to say that the claimant’s right to education has been denied in the particular circumstances of this case,” Judge Bennett said.

The Muslim Council of Britain condemned the judgment as “extremely worrying” and urged Shabina to appeal.

“The Muslim community is a diverse community in terms of the interpretation of its faith and its practice. Within that broad spectrum, those who choose to wear the jilbab and consider it to be part of the faith’s requirement for modest attire should be respected,” spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said.

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