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Banning of hijab in schools ‘could damage’ Ireland’s image

June 12, 2008, Posted at 04:42 PM

THE banning of religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab headscarf in schools could damage Ireland’s international image, the Government’s anti-racism agency has warned.
The issue has been the subject of recent public debate, prompting Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe to indicate that schools could be issued with guidelines on the question later this year.

However, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism (NCCRI) says it has not been a thorny issue for schools up to now. It points out that most second level schools have adopted a pragmatic and negotiated policy of allowing the hijab to be worn by Muslim girls, as long as the colour is consistent with the uniform.

“Over the past 10 years, there have been very few complaints from Muslims about individual schools seeking to ban the hijab from everyday school use,” said NCCRI director Philip Watt

“Likewise, very few schools have raised the wearing of the hijab as an issue and some have expressed surprise that it has now become such a high profile issue,” he said.

The Department of Education does not offer advice to schools on the topic, leaving it to boards of management to decide their own policy. Following concerns about the lack of guidelines raised by a Co Wexford second level school, Mr O’Keeffe said the matter may be considered as part of a forthcoming intercultural education policy.

Mr Watt said anyone advocating a ban on the hijab might or might not have fully considered the consequences of such a ban in respect of all religious symbols and obligations in schools.

“The banning of obligations and symbols in schools which are widely accepted in other parts of Europe and the rest of the world will potentially damage Ireland’s image and interest abroad,” he said.

An opinion poll in yesterday’s The Irish Times showed mixed public support for the wearing of hijabs in schools, with 55% of those expressing a view in favour of allowing them.

Apart from hijabs, other religious items often worn by students include the Sikh kara (wrist bangle worn by males and females) and patka (turban for boys and young men), the Jewish Kippah (skull-cap for males) and Christian crucifixes (cross worn by Christians).
Irish Examiner 

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