— At least three Islamic schools in Great Britain are requiring girls to wear the burka or a full headscarf and veil known as the niqab, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported.
Moderate followers of Islam told the London-based newspaper that enforcement of the veil was a "dangerous precedent" and that children attending such schools were being "brainwashed."
The Telegraph said the compulsory veil policy applies when girls are walking to or from school at Madani Girls' School in east London; Jamea Al Kauthar in Lancaster; and Jameah Girls' Academy in Leicester.
All three are independent, fee-paying schools only for girls ages 11 to 18, the Telegraph said.
Critics told the paper that the spectacle of burka-clad pupils entering and leaving the schools at the start and end of the day could damage relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
"It is absurd that schools are enforcing this outdated ritual – one that sends out a damaging message that Muslims do not want to fully partake in British society," Ed Husain, co-director of Quilliam, the counter-extremist think-tank, told the Telegraph. "Although it is not the government's job to dictate how its citizens dress, it should nonetheless ensure that such schools are not bankrolled or subsidized by the British taxpayer."
He also told the Telegraph that forcing young girls to wear the niqab is not a mainstream Islamic practice.
"It is a desert practice which belongs to another century and another world," he told the Telegraph.
Dr. Taj Hargey, an imam and chairman of the Muslim Educational Trust of Oxford, told the Telegraph, "It means that Muslim children are being brainwashed into thinking they must segregate and separate themselves from mainstream society. The wearing of the burka or niqab is a tribal custom and these garments are not even mentioned in the Koran."
Philip Hollobone, the Tory Member of Parliament who has attempted to bring in a Private Members' Bill to ban wearing of the burka in public, also condemned the schools' uniform policies.
"It is very sad in 21st century Britain that three schools are effectively forcing girls as young as 11 to hide their faces," he told the paper. "How on earth are these young ladies going to grow up as part of a fully integrated society if they are made to regard themselves as objects at such a young age?"
The Telegraph said none of the schools responded to its questions.
Madani, which has 260 pupils, charges fees of 1,900 pounds (approximately $3,000) a year cash only, the Telegraph said.
School uniform rules listed on the website have been deleted but an earlier version, seen by the newspaper, stated: "The present uniform conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing. Outside the school, this comprises of the black Burka and Niqab."
The admission application form warns girls will be "appropriately punished" for failing to wear the correct uniform, the Telegraph said, noting its website adds: "If parents are approached by the Education Department regarding their child's education, they should not disclose any information without discussing it with the committee."
Explaining the school's ethos, the Telegraph reported that Madani's website says: "If we oppose the lifestyle of the west then it does not seem sensible that the teachers and the system, which represents that lifestyle, should educate our children."
Jamea Al Kauthar is a 2,500-pound-a-year (nearly $4,000) girls' boarding school, which accommodates 400 pupils in the grounds of Lancaster's former Royal Albert Hospital, the Telegraph said.
The Telegraph says the school states on its website: "Black Jubbah [smock-like outer garment] and dopatta [shawl] is compulsory as well as purdah (veil) when leaving and returning to Jamea. Scarves are strictly not permitted."
The website also lists a wide range of banned items, including family photographs, and warns: "Students must not cut their hair, nor remove hair from between their eyebrows. Doing so will lead to suspention (sic)."
Jamea Al Kauthar was rated "outstanding" by Ofsted earlier this year.
In Leicester, Jameah Girls Academy, which charges 1,750 pounds (almost $3,000) a year for primary-age pupils and 1,850 pounds (over $2,900) for secondary, states in its rules: "Uniform, as set out in the pupil/parent handbook, which comprises of headscarf and habaya for all pupils, and niqab for girls attending the secondary years, to be worn during journeys to and from The Academy."
Anastasia de Waal, deputy director of think-tank Civitas, said: "We now have a scenario where schools such as these will be able to apply to become free schools, under the Government's policy, and therefore receive state funding. We need absolute clarity on what the position is going to be on such applications."