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Four students at the University of Westminster want the UK’s state
schools to recognize that the hijab
is not hostile.

This message may get tougher to deliver because current research has renewed
debate over the threat that Islamic political views pose at British universities.

The four Westminster students, two of them Muslim, are all studying for masters
degrees in public relations.

They have created a campaign which encourages all primary and secondary state
schools to permit their Muslim female students to wear the hijab or headscarf.

Wearing the hijab “doesn’t pose any threat to [anyone’s] life,” said Karim Hacine,
one of two Muslim students working on the campaign. “It’s not something related to
bombings [or] fundamentalist groups. It’s just a religious symbol for the Muslim females.”

Research and Debate

Dr. June Edmunds
of Cambridge University wrote in The Guardian’s
Comment is Free that interviews she did with Muslim students at British
universities suggest that fears of Islamic extremism on UK campuses is overblown.

Her findings contradicted research which the Centre for Social Cohesion
published in June.

That report said 32% of the 1400 students it polled believed killing in the
name of religion is justifiable.

But, professor Anthony Glees, wrote on The Guardian’s Mortarboard Blog
that Edmunds’ evidence was not reliable because she only conducted 26
student interviews, eight of which were not in person.

Edmunds responded to Glees that her research was solid because she
used more than just the 26 student interviews. She said she also utilized
a focus group, face to face interviews with Muslim youth organizations
and the work of other researchers.

Changing Perceptions

The Westminster students admit that trying to change the UK school
uniform while addressing perceptions of radical Islam in Britain is difficult.

According to the students, many citizens on the street declined answering
basic research questions asking what they knew about the hijab.

Others acted apologetic when they did answer the students said.

“[The hijab] remains sensitive and controversial at the same time,”
Karim Hacine said.

Also, according to Hacine, many people who did answer questions
about the hijab mistook it forthe niqab, the veil which covers the face,
worn by some Muslim women.

British Muslims

The Muslim Council of Britain reports on its website that different
agencies and publications say there are between 1.5 and 1.8 million
Muslims living in the UK.

The council’s site also provides figures that calculate about half of
these Muslims are born in the UK.

“They consider themselves as being Muslim and British,” says
Erab Fuqaha, the other Muslim student working on this campaign.
“It is very important for them to be accepted by their own community.”

Both the Centre for Social Cohesion’s report and Edmunds’ research
seem to show that many Muslim students want the same kind of tolerance
in the UK that Fuqaha does.

” The British, they are so proud of having this multicultural atmosphere,”
Fuqaha said. “If you really claim that you are a multicultural country then
you have to accept all different religions.”

But she thinks that before she can change school attire she will have
to change some perceptions.


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