One of Ireland’s leading Muslim academics has clashed with a Catholic commentator on the wearing of hijabs in Irish schools.
Trinity College professor Dr Ali Selim has called on all Catholic schools to allow their Muslim pupils to wear the hijab.
He also wants Catholic schools to tailor uniforms to suit the needs of Muslim students.
The Sunday Independent reports that David Quinn, a leading voice on Irish Catholicism, is as odds with Dr Selim’s request.
And even the Islamic Foundation of Ireland (IFI) and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland have taken issue with Dr Selim’s remarks.
Speaking at the launch of his new book on Islam and education in Ireland, Dr Selim said: “The hijab for Muslims is an essential aspect of character. Depriving Muslims of the right to wear hijabs is very threatening to their identity.
“Although there is no legal ban on the hijab in Irish schools, wearing the headscarf is a divine obligation for Muslim girls. I urge schools to be more flexible about incorporating it as part of their uniform.
“In today’s society we need to apply a more pluralistic approach when it comes to the school uniform.”
A former Secretary General of the Irish Council of Imams and resident in Ireland since 1999, Dr Selim has also called for religious symbols to be removed from school crests.
He added: “It is not dangerous to wear a hijab in class, some may argue that they are dangerous in PE, but there is a special sports hijab that Muslim women wear in the Olympics.
“Sometimes our school uniform might have a religious identity. If I don’t believe in this religious identity does this put me in a difficult situation with regard to my faith values. In order to provide children with an inclusive educational environment these obstacles need to be removed.
“And admission policy is a practice of discrimination in my understanding.”
Leading commentator and Iona Institute director David Quinn, who attended the launch, told the Sunday Independent that he has ‘issues’ with Dr Selim’s views.
Quinn told the paper that while Muslim parents have the right to send their children to Catholic schools, the ethos and identity of the school should not be compromised.
He said: “A faith school is by definition set up to mainly cater for children of the faith of the school.
“Muslim students should be allowed to wear their traditional headscarves, as long they do not cover their faces.
“Covering the whole face acts as a barrier between the person, the rest of the class and the teacher . . . it is going too far in the other direction.”
Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills said uniform guidelines are specifically set by individual schools.
A statement from the department said: “School uniform policy is a matter for each individual school, preferably in consultation with its own stakeholders . . . parents, students, and any other relevant parties.”
Over 60,000 Muslims now live in Ireland and is the fastest growing community in the country.
Some 91 percent of the country’s 3,165 primary schools are under Catholic patronage with just two Muslim primary schools in Ireland, both based in Dublin.
The Islamic Foundation of Ireland (IFI) and the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland (ICCI) - the official body for Islamic education in Ireland – have both rejected Dr Selim’s views.
In a statement to the Sunday Independent, the IFI said: “As patron of the Muslim National schools in Ireland since 1990, we can confidently assert that such opinions are neither shared by the IFI, the ICCI nor the majority of participating members in the Islamic community here.
“We have found that Catholic school managements have made wonderful efforts to make their schools as inclusive as possible without losing their own ethos.
“We acknowledge that there is always pressure on schools and on parents of all denominations and no faith seeking places, which sometimes results with many parents not receiving their first choice.”
But the report adds that Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson agreed with Dr Selim that Catholic schools in the Republic need to be more tolerant of students from other religions.
He said: “Those who are not of a tradition can actually learn and share their childhood together and will be able to stand for respect, integrity and tolerance if situations become aggressive . . . if you learn about that at an early stage it will continue to inform your reactions as an adult.”
Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland, said Dr Selim’s version of inclusivity is ‘not practical.’
Nugent said: “If he wants schools to promote specific beliefs of other groups then he should recognize that the Islamic schools should also openly respect atheism and other religious views.
“The only realistic way you can have proper inclusivity in education is to have a system that is neutral rather than one than manifests all beliefs.”