Muslim Wire

Muslim student barred from college for refusing to remove burka

Posted in Politics, Society by muslimwire on October 25, 2009

By Murray Wardrop

Miss Bilqes, 18, was forced to abandon plans to study at the college after being told she could not enrol unless she removed the head-to-toe garment.

She had been asked to take off the veil, which only leaves her eyes visible, to show her face for identity fraud purposes.

However, when she explained that she could not due to her religious beliefs, she was barred from starting the Access course for an HE Diploma.

Miss Bilqes, of Stoneyholme, Burnley, said: “It is my choice to wear the veil. I live around the corner from the college in an area where there are so many practising Muslims.

“I tried to compromise but they wouldn’t. The college sent me a latter to say I could continue with my course if I stopped wearing the veil.

“We are in the 21st Century and we get people from all walks of life. I’m in the police cadets as well and yet it’s not a problem wearing the veil there.”

Miss Bilqes was approached by a member of staff as she arrived at the college at the start of term to book in on her first day of study.

The school leaver is now faced with looking elsewhere to gain her qualifications.

Burnley College is in a new £81m development described as “the most ambitious development of its kind in the country”. It boasts 7,500 sixth form students and a 100 per cent pass rate for the fourth year running.

The college’s principle, John Smith, has rejected Miss Bilqes’s complaint, saying that all students are required to show their faces and must wear identity cards showing a photograph of their face.

Mr Smith said: “We do require all students of Burnley College to have their faces visible when at the college.

“We are determined to maintain the highest standards of teaching and learning in Burnley College. To do this effectively requires unimpeded communication from the teacher to all students, from the students to the teacher and between student and student.

“It is not possible to maintain this essential full communication of the face of any student is not fully visible.

“Where individuals are able to comply with these reasonable requirements, which apply to all students equally, we would be very pleased to admit them to Burnley College. Where individuals decline to comply, then I am afraid that we cannot accommodate them.

“We are committed also to maintain a fully inclusive college where students from all backgrounds integrate to the fullest possible extent.”

Labour MP Jack Straw caused controversy in 2006 when he suggested that Muslim women should abandon wearing the burka because it was a “visible statement of separation and difference”.

Mr Straw, then the Leader of the House of Commons, faced criticism from Muslim groups after disclosing that he asked women to remove their veils at meetings in his constituency office in Blackburn, Lancs.

In June, French President Nicolas Sarkozy reignited the debate over religious clothing when he called for the burka to be banned in France, describing the garment as a “sign of subservience”.

France, home to an estimated five million Muslims, passed a law in 2004 banning headscarves or any other “conspicuous” religious symbol in state schools in a controversial bid to defend secularism.

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