NAFISAH NAKHID, a graduate mechanical engineer, was awaiting responses to job applications, so she volunteered to offer her skills in science to secondary school students.
The only avenue for entry as a part-time teacher in a public school is through the Labour Ministry, so Nakhid, 23, of east Trinidad, applied via the on-the-job trainee programme.
Accepted and assigned to Lakshmi Girls’ Hindu College, St Augustine, her entry on Monday was short-lived when she was stopped and told she would not be allowed to teach while wearing the hijab.
Nakhid expressed regret that a few inches of cloth on her head determined that Lakshmi Girls’ students should not have the benefit of her knowledge in science.
“I’m disappointed I did not have the opportunity to share and interact with the students because I was judged primarily on my religious garment; a piece of cloth on my head,” Nakhid told Sunday Newsday.
Today, attorney Farid Scoon will meet with a battery of lawyers headed by Fyad Hosein SC to discuss Nakhid’s case to file legal action against the school and it’s governing body the Maha Sabha. Maha Sabha secretary general Sat Maharaj defended Lakshmi Girls’ dress code, and denied the policy discriminated against Nakhid.
Nakhid is due to give a detailed account to the attorneys of what transpired at the school and a description of the hijab and photos would also be presented in order to distinguish the hijab (head and chest covering) from a niqaab (face covering). Scoon told Sunday Newsday the country already has the 1999 judgement of retired Appeal Court judge Margot Warner on the case of Form One student Summayah Mohammed who was debarred in 1994 from attending Holy Name Convent, Port of Spain, on her very first day at the Catholic school.
In 1995, High Court judge Justice Melville Baird ruled that Holy Name’s decision was in contravention of the Education Act which guarantees an education for all without regard to sex, creed or religious conviction.
Holy Name appealed and Warner ruled the school acted “unreasonably” on the basis of Mohammed’s religious wear. In those court proceedings, Islamic scholars and clerics had testified that it was not only a right but a requirement that women dress modestly.
Nakhid yesterday said based on Mohammed’s victory, she is looking forward to a High Court declaration on the wearing of the hijab in the workplace and is standing her ground.
She said, 18 years after the Mohammed vs Holy Name ruling, the world has seen millions of Muslim women wearing the hijab in Trinidad, the US and Western Europe.
She added that Muslim women who worked in the White House and the House of Commons also wore the hijab, as well as in the protective services in the US, North America and Europe.
Nakhid was born into the Islamic faith and has been wearing the hijab since age nine. She attended the University of the West Indies and graduated with a BSc degree in mechanical engineering. Her goal is to pursue a masters degree in the same field. She said her constitutional right to cover her head was founded in the Qu’ran, and the hijab was not a symbol but a modest dress code. The covering of the head is compulsory for women, especially in the presence of men they can marry, she said.
The wisdom of Qu’ranic law, she explained, is likened to that of a diamond, “You wrap it to keep it protected.” Nakhid is unconvinced the ban is the Maha Sabha’s official position and offered words of advice to Maharaj.
“The values embodied in our reputation through our religion include self-love and self-respect, and, the way we dress daily is an ever-present reminder that we shine through our characteristics, traits and modesty. As a proud member of the Muslim faith, we believe in setting a standard in representing ourselves well, and in the ways we treat each other.”
Nakhid has since produced two YouTube videos– Easy Hijab styles for any occasion and Modest Inspo Look Book – in which she demonstrates modest clothing for young girls to wear at school and at work.
She said when the case was ventilated in the courts, it would no longer be an issue about her, but about modesty which was lacking in today’s society.
Education Minister Anthony Garcia, on Thursday, said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi would ask the court for a determination on Nakhid’s case. Garcia hit the ban as a “direct attack” on a person’s religious rights.
The issue has now festered into a political fallout as Maharaj, on Friday, withdrew an invitation to Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to attend Wednesday’s Indian Arrival Day celebrations at the Maha Sabha headquarters in St Augustine, where Lakshmi Girls’ is also located.
Persad-Bissessar had commended Nakhid for choosing to follow a god-fearing and diligent path in life by wearing the hijab and called on the school to reconsider their ban.
But Maharaj launched a stinging attack on the Opposition Leader and went as far to say that she was not guaranteed the Hindu vote.