Plans to ban the niqab Muslim face veil at a Birmingham college are in tatters after student campaigning forced management into a humiliating climbdown.
The astonishing U-turn by Birmingham Metropolitan College bosses came last Thursday—less than a day before a planned mass protest at the city centre campus.
Hundreds of students, Muslim and non-Muslim, were expected to demonstrate outside the college after a staggering 8,000 signatures against the ban were collected in just 24 hours.
After hearing of the retreat, groups of students and supporters gathered outside the college to celebrate their victory.
Aliya Abshir, a young woman who wears the niqab, was a health and social care student at the college last year. “I’m really happy with this result,” she told Socialist Worker. It shows that if we protest we can change things.
“I can’t understand why they tried to ban the niqab. I wore it last year. We have the right—it’s part of our religion. The niqab doesn’t harm anyone. We always wear our ID and people know who we are.”
She was echoed by Aysha Latifa from the Muslimapride organisation.
She said, “We’re glad they have listened to the students. I think the pressure of the protest and the nationwide media attention has forced the college to back down. We hope this encourages students to mobilise around other issues.”
Birmingham Metropolitan is the third largest further education college in Britain. It claims the ban was a “security” measure.
However Muslim women students said they would raise their veils so security guards can check their ID. A ban on the niqab would have stopped many women from attending college.
Many of the women who would be affected are new to Britain and are often mature students with children. They’re studying English for Speakers of Other Languages (Esol) and access courses to enable them to get jobs and education in the UK. The ban would have closed the door on their education.
College principal Dame Christine Braddock announced she was abandoning the ban. She has form on making Muslim students feel unwelcome.
When the new college was built students were forced to campaign for the inclusion of a prayer room, which she refused. She responded to the campaign by expelling two of the students involved, and described their newsletter as “extremist”.
However the successful campaign in Birmingham should serve as a warning to Braddock and college bosses everywhere—students will not allow Muslims to be scapegoated.