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Why Muslim girls cover up for Islam

Why Muslim girls cover up for Islam



  March 5, 2005
The case of Shabina Begum is just one example of young women rejecting Western values

A GROWING number of British Muslim girls are embracing a strict version of Islam in a similar manner to Shabina Begum, who won a landmark ruling earlier this week to wear religious dress to school.

While Miss Begum’s victory to wear the jilbab to lessons was a personal triumph, her case is just one example of a wider problem among the young female Muslims.

According to the Muslim Council of Britain, an increasing number of teenage girls are wearing Islamic clothes and are embracing the religion more intensely than their parents.

“They have fewer direct links with their country of origin compared with their parents and so more of the younger generation find an awareness of their identity through religion,” said Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the council.

“Many of them follow Islam more strictly than their parents and there is no doubt that an increasing number of young Muslim women are wearing the hijab and jilbab,” he said.

Miss Begum, 16, is an almost perfect case study of how a happy, integrated schoolgirl can suddenly turn her back on Western values and adopt the strictest form of Islam. The Court of Appeal ruled that she had been denied “the right to education and to manifest her religious beliefs” when Denbigh High School in Luton excluded her for wearing a jilbab.

The circumstances that caused her suddenly on the first day of term in September 2002 at the age of 13 to stop wearing the school uniform of shalwar kameez are complex but tell a story that is being repeated daily in Luton and other Muslim communities. She had been a model student and wanted to be a doctor. She is studying for seven GCSEs at another school in Luton.

Increased hostility towards Muslims after September 11, fringe Islamic groups with radical ideologies, the death of her mother and a culture of poverty and despair in Luton all had an effect on Miss Begum. The influence of Muslim groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir and the now disbanded al-Uhajiroun are undeniable. Luton is an ideal recruiting ground for radical groups; its Muslim population of 25,000 consists of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, concentrated in Bury Park, a small run-down area. The unemployment rate among men is 20 per cent and the number of madrassas (religious schools) has grown from four in 1989 to 15. Former classmates of Miss Begum, who did not want to be named, said she had gone from being a “normal”, girl to one who had become a devout Muslim almost overnight.

Friends of her family — her father died in 1992 and whose mother died in 2003 — say that her brother had started supporting Hizb ut-Tahrir around this time. They described Shuweb Rahman, 22, a computer science student at Hatfield University, as intelligent and hardworking. Since the death of his father Mr Rahman had taken on responsibility for his sisters, Shamina 18, a student, and Shabina. Hizb ut-Tahrir has a record of targeting young people and is banned in many Middle East countries. Al-Muhajiroun also had a high-profile presence in the area. Shamina Begum, who also wears the jilbab in public, spoke to The Times from the family’s small terraced house. “They (Hizb ut-Tahrir) supported Shabina but didn’t give any money. Lots of groups helped us. I think their influence has been exaggerated.

“We are not going to sue the school for compensation, that’s not what this case was about. Shabina has been very happy and cheerful since she won.”

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, said: “Hizb ut-Tahrir targeted the school, they grandstanded this case, they are trying to pick a fight . . . social services should have looked at this case. A 13-year-old girl does not make statements and decisions like that on her own.”

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