- The woman, referred to as Jane, has had a 20-year teaching career
- In all that time, there has never been a word of complaint against her
- But she returned home to her husband in tears after a furious row
- A colleague at the Islamic Al-Madinah school in Derby said her outfit was ‘abhorrent’
Jane is a good school teacher and proud of it. She lives in a handsome, detached house surrounded by neatly mowed lawns on the outskirts of Derby, with her husband and three pet cats. For nearly 20 years, she has taught history, geography and religious studies in schools throughout the East Midlands city. In all that time, there has never been one word of complaint against her from head teachers, parents or pupils.
‘I love teaching and always have done. I am proud that I bring the subjects alive for the pupils and make them enjoy learning,’ she says today, sitting in a black leather chair in her smart sitting room. ‘I feel I do a good job and always wear a business suit with trousers or a sensible skirt in school. It is a sign of respect for my profession and sets a good example to the children.’
Yet, one day in October last year, she returned home from the classroom in tears to her husband, a successful businessman. To her horror, she had become embroiled in a furious row at her school over what she wore to work. The Islamic Al-Madinah school in Derby, one of the newest of the Government-sponsored free schools, had asked her to dress modestly, covering her hair and ensuring she did not show any flesh apart from her face, hands and feet.
She abided by the request — or so she thought. For earlier that October day, wearing a grey suit with a skirt well below the knees, thick knitted black stockings, calf-length boots and her long brown hair completely covered, she stepped into a lift at the school with a male teacher. To her shame, he looked her up and down and told her that she had failed to observe ‘common decency’. The two inches of leg hidden in the 100 denier stockings which showed between her boots and the hem of her dress were ‘abhorrent’, he warned. Her discreet outfit was, he deemed, ‘figure hugging’ and immodest.
‘That encounter in the lift with this Muslim male teacher made me feel like a slut,’ Jane says today. ‘It was the final straw. ‘My husband took a photo of me in my school outfit after I returned home that afternoon. It shows that my head, arms and legs were completely covered up in line with the rulings of Islam.
‘I walked away from Al-Madinah and I have not been back. It seemed to me that the school was more concerned about how I dressed than losing a good teacher who was doing well for the pupils there. ‘In class, I always wore a black cap from Next or a scarf as a head covering as a sign of respect for the school and Islam. ‘But, if I had known that it was compulsory for non-Muslim women staff [to cover up] before I started the job, I would never have accepted the post.’
What happened to Jane, whose name I have changed at her request as she still teaches in the East Midlands, is, of course, shocking in the modern Western world which espouses equality between the sexes whatever their age or profession. Yet 50-year-old Jane’s chilling experience has shone light into the dark corners of the Islamic faith schools, which have sprung up in towns and cities throughout the country as the Muslim population grows in Britain.
She has spoken out bravely over one of the most sensitive issues in Britain today. There are 17 Islamic state schools in Britain. Five of these institutions — including Al-Madinah — have been set up as free schools, which means they are financed by the Government, but can decide what they teach, the discipline code and rules for staff and pupils. Another six Islamic free schools have been approved by the Government and will open next year. Other Islamic schools, of which there are more than 100, are privately-run, but often attract State and council grants or tax-breaks because they enjoy charitable status.
And the strict religious rules now appearing in a growing number of these Muslim schools — particularly when it comes to the treatment of girl pupils and female staff — has led to accusations that they have been hijacked by Islamic hardliners and are promoting a ‘sexual apartheid’ while the Government’s education inspectors, Ofsted, turn a blind eye out of a misguided fear of being accused of racism. In defiance of all British traditions of tolerance, girls and boys are often segregated in class, breaks and at meal times, while music using stringed instruments, singing, dancing and all figurative art are banned because they conflict with the teachings of the Koran, the Islamic Holy Book, which suggests they can lead to sexual arousal and idolatory.
Some schools insist on girls — even those as young as four or five — wearing the hijab and covering themselves in gowns reaching to the floor in line with the strict Islamic rules on female modesty. At many of the schools, women teachers take classes wearing a veil or niqab covering their faces entirely, apart from a slit showing their eyes, while the word ‘pig’ or images of the farmyard creature are banned because it is considered a deeply unclean animal in the Islamic faith.
Worryingly, at the very first Islamic free school — the Tauheedul Islam Boys’ School in Blackburn, Lancashire — even the parents’ council meetings are segregated by sex. On Monday last week it was the fathers who were invited to attend the meeting. On Tuesday, it was the mothers’ turn. It was reported this weekend that the pupils at a girls’ school in Blackburn, also called Tauheedul and with links to the boys’ school, are encouraged to wear the hijab at home as well as in class, while ten per-cent of the sixth form are said to wear the niqab veil covering the entire face, apart from the eyes.
Meanwhile, growing Government worries over what is being taught in the quickly rising number of private and publicly-funded Islamic schools has led to reports that the home intelligence service, MI5, is to send in undercover agents posing as teachers to check if children are being brainwashed in Islamic radicalism.
Back at the Al-Madinah school, it is a sorry story of discrimination if you are female — whether teacher or pupil. In the secondary department of the school, when Jane was there, girls were made to sit at the back of the class so boys could not see them and become excited by the female form. The two groups spent their break times separately and ate their school dinners at different times to keep the sexes apart.
Before the school opened in September 2012, the book list prepared for English classes was ‘censored’ by the school, according to Jane. Out went Dickens, other English classics and plays by Shakespeare. ‘There was also no question of romantic, historical novels such as those by Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte being put on the list either,’ she says. ‘I was asked to personally go through all the textbooks in the school to make sure that the word ‘pig’ was not mentioned and that there were no pictures or drawings of the animal on any pages.’
What Jane told me this week is worrying enough. But warnings that a dangerous fundamentalist ideology is being promoted in Islamic faith schools are now being sounded by others. David Green, chief executive of the respected think-tank Civitas, said: ‘Some Muslim schools in Britain have become part of a battleground for the heart and soul of Islam. Their aim is to turn children away, not only from Western influence, but also from liberal and secular Muslims.’
Mr Green says that children in some of the Islamic schools are not being prepared to live in a free and democratic British society. Indeed, they are being made to despise our culture. Meanwhile, Manzoor Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum, declared: ‘We are not living in rural Pakistan or a Taliban-run region of Afghanistan. Such superstitious, divisive nonsense should have no place in a British school.’ So what of Jane herself? The teacher remembers how she first came across an ad for the job as head of humanities at the new Derby school in the Times Educational Supplement in 2012.
Government controls are placed on the pupil intake of faith free schools so they do not become religious ghettos. In the case of Al-Madinah, 50 per cent of the pupils should be Muslim, with the rest drawn from other faiths. With such rules in place, Jane saw no difficulty teaching there as a Christian.
Attracted by the chance of becoming a head of department, she went for an interview and was offered the job. ‘I was assured, wrongly, it was a multi-faith school and that half the pupils would be non-Muslim. I felt excited and was sold on the idea. ‘Neither at the interview nor in my contract was anything said about a compulsory dress code for non-Muslim women teachers. I had no idea I would be asked to cover my head.’ It was only when she started her new job that Jane began to receive warnings about what she was expected to wear. She began to be ‘hassled’ about her clothing by senior staff and was sent a text from the school saying she must obey a ‘modest dress code’.
On one occasion, soon after the start of term in September 2012, she was called to a meeting of the governing body where she was criticised for wearing a business suit and not covering herself up to Islamic standards. As a result, she began to wear a hat or scarf in the classroom. ‘But even that was not good enough,’ she remembers. ‘When I was told in the lift I was still dressed immodestly, I felt oppressed, marginalised and faced with prejudice both as a non-Muslim and a woman.’
Yet her main concern was not for herself. It was for the pupils under the school’s hardening approach on Islam. ‘I saw one non-Muslim pupil at the school, a small Asian boy. It was clear that the ethos of Al-Madinah was Islamic and I could not see how it was adhering to the promises it made when it gained approval as a free school.’ Other matters were also alarming Jane. At the start of the school term, the girls and boys were allowed to sit and eat together at lunch time and school breaks. But within weeks this changed.
Soon, the boys and girls were being strictly segregated for meals. ‘We were informed there had been one or two incidents where the girls had got giggly and were talking about the boys and that this was not allowed. It was nipped in the bud quickly,’ Jane remembers. ‘In all the time I was there, the girls were always made to sit at the back of the classroom, with the boys at the front. In my experience, this kind of segregation went on even if a girl was short-sighted and could not see the teacher at the front of the class.’
Since Jane left, she has discovered that the school has issued a strict Islamic dress code for teachers regardless of their religion. It clearly states that clothing must cover the entire body and only the hands, face and feet remain visible. The material must hang loose so that the shape of the body is not apparent and it must not display any symbols of ‘other faiths’.
At the end of the code are quotes from the Koran, including the verse: ‘Say to the believing woman that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their body and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof.’ Jane is horrified, saying the Islamic rules should not have been issued in a school that was set up with Government funding as a multi-faith school.
Today, she is continuing her life as a teacher. She has two grown-up children who visit regularly and she is putting the pieces of her life back together. But she feels angry about Al-Madinah. ‘Rightly or wrongly, I feel I was simply appointed as a non-Muslim teacher so the school could claim to be multi-faith and get its application to be a free school approved by the Government.
‘Once it was up and running, I was surplus to requirements.’ The school is now under investigation by the Department for Education over its administrative practices, quality of teaching and leadership. Last night a letter to parents on the school’s website suggested primary and secondary pupils had been sent home owing to a ‘health and safety issue’.
A DfE spokesman has said: ‘We will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary to prevent religious intolerance or any breaking of the rules for free schools.’
Meanwhile, Al-Madinah, in a separate statement issued this week, said the pupil seating arrangements at the school were determined purely by practicalities, such as the size of the classrooms. It has denied that girls are being treated in an inferior fashion to boys or that it has breached the rules on intake. However, the school has not denied that it has issued a strict dress code for teachers and makes it clear on its website that Islamic values are a cornerstone of the school.
Whatever the entire truth, Jane believes it is already too late to help many pupils. ‘Hundreds of girls are being brainwashed into believing they are second-class citizens at this Islamic school. That cannot be right for them or for modern Britain.’ – Dailymail