Furious debate as teachers at Islamic College of SA's West Croydon campus ordered to wear hijab or face sack
Investigations Editor Bryan Littlely
February 11, 2013 10:30PM
A WARNING from South Australia's biggest Islamic school that teachers - including many non-Muslims - will lose their jobs if they do not wear a hijab to school functions and outings has sparked outrage among News Ltd readers.
Furious debate has erupted, with many respondents irate over what they perceive as double standards in the school's stance, claiming the ruling is religious discrimination. There were repeated calls for an end to any government funding to the school.
Up to 20 non-Muslim female teachers, who do not wish to be named, have been told they will be sacked from the Islamic College of South Australia's West Croydon campus after three warnings if they do not wear a headscarf to cover their hair.
"If a female Muslim teacher working at a non-Muslim school was ordered to stop wearing her hijab at school functions and outings then that school board and principal would be before the Anti-Discrimination Commission before you could say 'hypocrisy'," wrote "Sir Loin of Lamb".
Meg of the Hills said: "I have no problems with women wearing a hijab if they so wish. I also don't have any problems with covering my head if I go to a Muslim country. But I have problems with this school's attitude. What is it teaching the kids?"
Many readers asked whether it was appropriate for non-Muslims to wear the religious garb.
"That is blatant discrimination against a non-Muslim's beliefs to force them to wear an Islamic religious garment. I would have thought that it was also sacrilegious of the non-believer to do so," wrote Concerned Citizen of Aberfoyle Park.
JaneAd of Adelaide said: "The hijab is a highly visible outward sign of one's faith. What is the point of forcing non-Muslims to wear it? I would find the thought of anybody faking another's religion to keep their employment revolting and insulting. The children are so fragile that exposed hair confuses them? Really?"
Mike of Australia of Brisbane added: "The wearing of scarves in Muslim countries differs from country to country. There is no standard. Why should the teachers be made to wear a scarf if they are not Muslim?"
Others argued that the school had the right to set its own dress rules.
"If you choose to work at this school, then you follow the rules set by your employer. If you don't like the rules, then leave and work elsewhere. Seems straight forward to me," said Peter the Observer of Norton Summit.
"I wonder what would happen if I showed up to job at Macca's wearing an HJ's t-shirt...," said Gary.
Many pointed out that church-run institutions often had rules based on religious values and said strict rules were not unique to Muslim schools.
"I don't see how this is any worse than what Christian schools do. Except Christian schools have won the right, through discrimination law exemptions, to only employ Christians in the first place. So those 20 women wouldn't have even found employment in a Christian establishment, if they are not Christian that is. At least the Islamic College isn't discriminating by only hiring Muslims," said Chad of Adelaide.
Wiseimp of Adelaide added: "How is this any different than a Christian School refusing gay kids or gay parents? There is no difference, just because you don't belong to the religion doesn't mean you should still have to fit in to get their service? See old aged homes refusing gay couples... people speak so harshly of Islam but then forget this is not different to Christianity."
"Banging the racist anti-Muslim drum, (WHAT RACE IS ISLAM AGAIN ? ) is missing the point," said Wakey Wakey. "This is the problem with all private religious schools generally. Their primary focus is religion (and money), not childrens' education. Catholic/Anglican schools have on-ground chapels and churches, school masters may be priests and nuns. This is the nature of religion. If a school is founded on outdated or discriminatory principles then parents need to make REASONED decisions about where they send their kids to be educated. Let the Muslims be."
Earlier it was reported that the order, from the school's governing board and chairman Faruk Kahn, contradicts the policy of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.
Mr Kahn yesterday referred The Advertiser to AFIC for comment on the matter. "I have no comment ... I think you better go to AFIC, they are the only ones that are to make comment," Mr Kahn said.
School principal Kadir Emniyet did not return calls.
AFIC assistant secretary Keysar Trad said the policy was at odds with the national federation, but it was powerless to intervene.
"I'm aware there's a policy at that school with respect to the scarf," Mr Trad said.
"The AFIC policy is not to require any teacher to observe the hijab. In SA, the board itself has decided they want to operate in their way and we are not allowed to interfere in the matter.
"We maintain that staff should dress modestly but not be required by the nature of policy to wear the hijab."
Mr Trad said that matters of unfair dismissal resulting from teachers disobeying the school's hijab policy should be referred to Fair Work Australia.
"It's confusing for our children to see their teachers wearing the scarf in school and then they take it off when they are out shopping and the children see them there," he said.
"It is also a respect thing for our staff. If they are not Muslim they should not be forced to dress as Muslim."
One long-term teacher at the Islamic College of SA said a new school board was now "forcing teachers to put hijabs back on".
"There's no discussion ... you wear it or you're fired," the teacher said. "The teachers have always adhered to the policies and we are respectful of that.
"We are respectful of their religion but they are not going to respect us."
The college has about 800 students and 40 staff.
Guidelines from the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils to other Islamic schools do not require teachers to wear hijabs.
Glen Seidel, state secretary of the Independent Education Union, said the union was monitoring the policy.
"Essentially it means female staff have to wear a scarf covering most of their hair, and not have legs and arms exposed," he said.
"In 2012, the requirement was being managed moderately, but with a new principal in 2013 enacting the decisions of a very conservative school board, there is no room for compromise."
Mr Seidel said the union's view is staff should be free to decide whether to wear a scarf.
"The ultimate test would be in an unfair dismissal action to see if that requirement would be considered a `reasonable direction' and the termination therefore being reasonable.
"This is not a matter (in which) religious organisations are exempted from equal opportunity legislation in order to not cause offence to the `adherents of the faith'," Mr Seidel said.
"Non-Islamic staff are not being discriminated (against) in their employment as it is the same code for all.
"Non-Islamic staff can, however, feel rightly aggrieved that they are being coerced to adopt the dress code of a religion to which they do not belong."