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Kenya: Muslim Student Fights to Wear Hijab in School

A student who wants to be allowed to wear a hijab in school yesterday demonstrated to the court how the headgear is worn.

The hijab, a headgear traditionally worn by Muslim women to preserve their modesty covers the head, neck and ears and only leaves the face exposed. The demonstration was made during the hearing of a case filed by Anisa Bashir on behalf of her daughter and the 48 Muslim students at Kenya High School in Nairobi who want to be allowed to continue wearing the headgear.

Mrs Bashir, who is represented by Omwanza Ombati, said it is the right of her daughter and the other Muslim girls at the school to wear the hijab. She said the decision by the school to deny them this right is illegal. Ombati attached a letter from the Ministry of Education addressed to all heads of public schools saying Muslim students should be allowed to wear the hijab. "By virtue of the Ministry of Education's instruction, the school is under legal duty to allow the girls to wear the hijab in the school," said Ombati.

He said the parents had on many occasions tried to solve the issue amicably but to no avail. The school has strongly argued against allowing the girls to wear the hijab, saying it is against the principle of promoting school uniform for equality. The school, which is represented by Fred Ngatia, said when the student joined it in 2009, she was not wearing a hijab and voluntarily signed to abide by all its rules and regulations.

"Among the rules she agreed to abide by was one which says wearing of school uniform should be strictly observed. The school uniform is considered critical in promoting discipline in the student community," said Ngatia. "If the court allows the Muslim students to wear head scarves, this will open a can of worms for all manner of demands for wearing of 'religious' regalia such as turbans, buibui, ornaments and dreadlocks," the school said in an affidavit sworn by the Board of Governors Secretary Rosemary Saina.

The hearing will continue on February 23. Ngatia told the judge that none of the students are allowed to have any outward manifestation of their religion. He said the more than 600 parents of the school met in March 2010 to debate on the issue of whether to give Muslim students preferential treatment and resolved that the hijab should not be allowed. They said that once Muslim students were allowed to wear the hijab other students who prophese the Hindu, Legio Maria and Christian faiths might start making demands. The case will resume hearing on February 23.

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