The College in West London has banned the niqab as a security measure. But the hijab, which covers only the hair and has been banned in French schools, is allowed.
Tony Mitcheson, the college secretary, said that the ban was needed “in light of security concerns raised by the terrorist incidents which occurred over the summer”, referring to the bombings in the capital on 7 July and the attempted bombings on 21 July.
Abigail Smith, a spokesman for the college, said that it needed to be able to identify everyone on campus. “It’s not a blanket ban on religious dress – we’re just asking people not to cover their faces for security reasons,” she said.
Hugo Charlton, a human rights barrister, said that the college was within its legal jurisdiction to implement such a measure.
“I expect that the college does have a right, because this is private property,” he said. “But I expect that the courts would say that they need a good justification for it.”
On Friday, about 35 students demonstrated against the measure.
Ruji Rahman said the ban on face veils is the latest in a string of measures designed to drive Muslims out of Imperial.
The Student Union dismissed the
“I studied hard, I got into a top university and now I’m being asked to sacrifice that because of my religion,” she said.
The president of the Student Union dismissed the demonstration as scaremongering.
Sameena Misbahuddin said: “[The protest] is based on something that’s not true – it’s based on the banning of hijabs, which quite clearly is not the case.”
Nevertheless, the Student Union is concerned that the Muslim community could feel targeted.
“There’s religious discrimination that it could provoke, with the full-veil and half-veil [ban], it’s open to any sort of interpretation, it could be used any time the college wants to have a problem with someone,” Misbahuddin said.
Misbahuddin will be taking those concerns to college officials next week.
Scaring potential students
The ban on the niqab and the subsequent demonstration has created controversy which seems to be scaring potential students away from Imperial.
Smith told Aljazeera.net that a potential student had called her to ask if she would be able to wear her hijab at the college.
“She was thinking about cancelling her application,” Smith said, adding: “And that’s very worrying.”
That is a fear that Rahman shares. “We’ll end up getting no Muslim students coming to university – just like France,” she said.