punished for Muslim dress
When Yasamin Alttahir started wearing her
mantoo to school more than two years ago, fellow Muslims congratulated
her on the strength of her faith.
But the body-length
religious tunic has since landed the high achiever in trouble with her
principal at Auburn Girls High, Sharon Ford.
After disobeying Ms
Ford's orders to stop wearing the mantoo in March, the 17-year-old
Muslim from Smithfield was this week put on detention. Yasamin, who is
in year 11, had drawn up a petition of more than 100 signatures from
students, parents and members of her community supporting her case, but
to no avail.
She has accused the
school of cultural insensitivity and says Ms Ford at one stage
threatened her with suspension for continually breaching the school's
uniform code and told her, "Well, have you started
looking for another school?" - claims the school denies.
The NSW Government
last year enshrined in its uniform policy a student's right to wear
religious attire and ruled that students could not be suspended for
"I've been wearing this to school for two years
for my faith, and all of a sudden I'm a bad student. Some other girls
wore it but they backed down. Even my teachers think it's ridiculous,
but they can't say anything."
Auburn Girls High and
Ms Ford have declined to speak to the Herald. But a spokesman for the
Education Department said the school had asked Yasamin for a note from
her parents allowing her to wear the mantoo, which she did not provide.
"I think the words [Ms Ford] may have used were that she would 'invoke
the school's disciplinary code', but that's not necessarily a
suspension," he said.
A list of clothing the school permits includes chequered brown-and-green
pleated skirts, bottle-green pants, cream shirts and bottle-green
jumpers. It does not prohibit jackets, but does rule out jeans. The
school has no problem with the Muslim headscarf and allows Yasamin and
other students to wear it.
The department supported the school's uniform code, which was developed
late last year in consultation with local Muslim clerics, the spokesman
A spokeswoman for the Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said she was
not prepared to comment because the dispute was a departmental matter.
Yasamin said she has never been asked for a parental note, and should
not have needed one. She had drawn up a design for a shorter jacket to
present to Ms Ford, but was told "the matter is closed for discussion".
"If the Government's policy is that I'm allowed to wear this, then why
do I need a note?" Her parents, Mohammad Alttahir and Eiman Moosawy,
said they visited the school to support Yasamin's position, but were
unable to see Ms Ford.
Yasamin said: "If the school wants parental
permission, then why weren't they prepared to see my parents?"
She said she did not receive any warning or disciplinary action in
writing and that Ms Ford never showed any public disapproval of her
tunic when she started wearing it.
She said she had one conversation with Ms Ford in the company of a
teacher, Kathy Klados, last week where Ms Ford said: "You either follow
the rules or you face suspension … As your principal, I'm ordering you
to remove that jacket." She said she did, but put it back on when she
returned to class.
The chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils,
Amjad Mehboob, described Yasamin's loose outfit as "the attire most
recommended" for women of her faith. "Australia is
a tolerant country, so to see this is upsetting, people should be free
to practise their faith as they see fit," he said. "She shouldn't have
to bring a note, that is ridiculous."
Sheik Haydar Naji, who was contacted by Auburn Girls High yesterday,
said it was not strictly necessary for a woman to wear a mantoo.
However, Yasamin said the opinion was "irrelevant
because I've chosen to wear this, it's motivated by my religion, and my
decision is what matters".
Since being contacted by the Herald, Auburn Girls High has arranged a
meeting with Yasamin, her parents and a Muslim cleric for next week.
The dispute follows a court victory in March by an English schoolgirl
who sought to wear traditional Islamic dress in class, and last year's
ban by the France on all "conspicuous religious symbols" in public