- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006

LONDON — Britain’s highest court ruled yesterday that a school acted properly in refusing to allow a student to wear Muslim clothing of her choice rather than the attire permitted under school policy.

Shabina Begum, now 17, last year won a Court of Appeal ruling establishing that Denbigh High School in Luton, north of London, infringed on her rights by not allowing her to wear a jilbab — a long, flowing gown that covers her entire body except for her face and hands.

The school, where four-fifths of the students are Muslim, allows students to wear pants, skirts or a traditional shalwar kameez, which consists of trousers and a tunic. Girls also are allowed to wear head scarves.

The school, which appealed its case to the Law Lords, Britain’s highest court, argued that the jilbab posed a health and safety risk and might cause divisions among pupils, with those wearing traditional dress being seen as better Muslims.

Lord Justice Thomas Bingham said in the 5-0 ruling that the school “had taken immense pains to devise a uniform policy which respected Muslim beliefs but did so in an inclusive, unthreatening and uncompetitive way.”

“The rules laid down were as far from being mindless as uniform rules could ever be. The school had enjoyed a period of harmony and success to which the uniform policy was thought to contribute,” Mr. Bingham said.

He noted that the head teacher at the school at the time was a Muslim, and the rules were acceptable to mainstream Muslims.

Shabina, who was sent home from school in September 2002 for wearing the jilbab, told Sky News that she had not decided whether she would take the case to a European court.

“I think I have made my point at this stage,” she said, adding that she hoped the case encouraged others to “speak out.”

Lord Justice Leonard Hoffmann said Shabina could have moved to a single-sex school where her religion did not require her to wear a jilbab or a school where she was allowed to wear one.

“Instead, she and her brother decided that it was the school’s problem. They sought a confrontation and claimed that she had a right to attend the school of her own choosing in the clothes she chose to wear,” Lord Justice Hoffmann wrote.

Lord Justice Donald Nicholls, while joining in ruling for the school, said he thought the court may have underestimated the difficulty that Shabina would have faced in changing schools.

The 3 1/2-year case has drawn comparisons with the furor in France triggered by a ban on Muslim head scarves in state schools, Reuters news agency reported.

France last year banned all conspicuous religious clothing, including head scarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses. The move sparked angry protests across the Islamic world.

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