'I Might Be 10, but I Know Muslim Girls Should Be Allowed to Wear Hijab in School'

A recent row between an East London headteacher and some members of the local community has thrown a spotlight on the use of Islamic head coverings in U.K. public schools.

A 10-year-old Muslim girl has now written an open letter to school authorities and the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) explaining why she thinks the covering item should not be banned.

Earlier this year, Neena Lall, of St. Stephen's School, tried to bar the use of the hijab —a veil that covers head and chest and is typically worn by Muslim women in public— for girls under the age of eight. She also tried to stop Muslim children from fasting during the month of Ramadan in case they became unwell.

Her attempt to do so—the ban was introduced and later reverted—caused a backlash by some members of the community and parents.

Wading into the thorny issue, the head of Ofsted warned of the danger of religious extremists who use religion to "pervert education" and called on school leaders to promote "a muscular liberalism."

"School leaders must have the right to set school uniform policies in a way that they see fit, in order to promote cohesion," Amanda Spielman said during a speech to a Church of England schools conference on Thursday (February 1).

"It is a matter of deep regret that this outstanding school has been subject to a campaign of abuse by some elements within the community.

"I want to be absolutely clear—Ofsted will always back heads who take tough decisions in the interests of their pupils."

Her comments, believed to be in support of Lall, sparked outrage among some members of the Muslim community. However, Ofsted stressed that Spielman was not targeting the Muslim faith, but rather all forms of fundamentalism.

Fatima Laiba Aftab, a ten-year-old student from a public school in West London, says she is saddened by what she believes is an attempt to force views and opinions on others.

"I do wear the headscarf when I go to the mosque, but I know my religion Islam does not teach me to wear a headscarf yet. When I grow up and become a teenager I will," she wrote in the letter, seen by Newsweek.

"I feel sorry for my friends who want to wear a scarf, but people are now stopping them. This is not fair and at school we are taught not to force our views or opinions on others. Then why are we doing this? It is so confusing and causes stress to us.

"School should be a happy place where we can learn and make new friends and respect each other," she continued.

"It looks like this is not true for religious people, especially Muslims who keep getting targeted. Believing in a religion or wearing a scarf does not mean I am an extremist."

hijab
A vendor prepares hijabs for sale during Ramadan on June 17, 2015 in Surabaya, Indonesia. Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is marked by a holy month of fasting, prayer, and recitation of the Quran. Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)

Spielman already expressed her concern over the use of the hijab in schools last year, arguing that it would sexualize younger girls who do not wear it. The use of hijab is usually regarded as a sign of modesty displayed by girls after they reach puberty.

Spielman also said Ofsted inspectors would question primary schoolgirls wearing the hijab. Her comments drew criticism from teachers and faith leaders.

The Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Harun Khan said at the time: "It sends a clear message to all British women who adopt this that they are second-class citizens, that while they are free to wear the headscarf, the establishment would prefer that they do not."