British Local Government and Community Cohesion Minister Phil Woolas on October 15 stressed that a Muslim teaching assistant should be sacked from her job for refusing to remove face veil in front of men.
“She should be sacked. She has put herself in a position where she can’t do her job,” said Woolas.
Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury has suspended Aishah Azmi on the ground that face-to-face contact was essential in her role as a bilingual support worker. “She cannot teach a classroom of children wearing a veil,” said Woolas.
Azmi, 24, told BBC radio on October 14 that she had only insisted on wearing the face veil in the company of male colleagues but had accepted to remove it while in class with her pupils. She said students had “never complained” and there had never been an issue about children having difficulty in understanding her talk through the garment.
“If people think it is a problem, what about blind children? They can’t see anything but they have a brilliant education, so I don’t think my wearing the veil affects the children at all.”
The issue of Muslim face cover was thrust into the spotlight over a week ago when former foreign secretary and leader of the House of Common Jack Straw revealed that he asked Muslim women visiting his constituency office to show their faces.
The umbrella Muslim Council of Britain said Woolas should not have interfered. “This is an extraordinarily reckless intervention,” said MCB media officer Inayat Bunglawala.
Woolas also came under fire from Labour peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed.
“It’s unprecedented – in fact quite extraordinary – that a minister can be calling for a sacking of a school classroom assistant,” he said.
Lord Ahmed added that the minister should be concentrating on “discrimination in the Muslim community” rather than attacking it.
Azmi’s lawyer has called for Woolas to withdraw his comments, which he warned might influence the classroom assistant’s imminent employment tribunal.