British minister says veil teacher should be sacked


The British minister responsible for race and faith called today for a Muslim teaching assistant suspended for wearing a veil to be sacked, entering a growing row over integration.

Minister for Local Government and Community Cohesion Phil Woolas told the Sunday Mirrorthat 24-year-old Aishah Azmi's decision to wear a veil while teaching made it impossible for her to perform her duties.

"She should be sacked. She has put herself in a position where she can't do her job," he said.

Woolas was not the only government minister to pronounce on faith issues on Sunday. Cabinet Minister Peter Hain rubbished a decision by British Airways to send home a worker for wearing a Christian cross.

"Frankly I think British Airway's order for her not to wear her cross is loopy," the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told the BBC.

BA employee Nadia Eweida had refused to cover up her cross necklace under a scarf, which the airline said contravened its policy that jewellery and religious symbols on chains should not be on display.

The dispute over Azmi's veil is currently before an employment tribunal which is set to rule within days.

Yesterday Azmi told the BBC that the garment, which left just her eyes exposed, had never been a problem for pupils at the Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.

She said students had "never complained" and there had never been an issue about children having difficulty in understanding her talk through the garment.

She added that although she was unveiled during an interview for the job and that a man was present, her faith meant she could not be unveiled in front of male colleagues while teaching.

Woolas said Azmi's stance amounted to sex discrimination:

"By insisting that she will wear the veil if men are there, she's saying; 'I'll work with women, not men'. That's sexual discrimination. No headteacher could agree to that."

Azmi has said she was always willing to take her veil off in front of children, but had refused to do so in the presence of male colleagues.

The issue of Muslim women wearing veils was thrust into the spotlight over a week ago when Jack Straw said Muslim women who wore full veils made community relations difficult.

He said he would prefer that women did not wear them because they acted as a "visible statement of separation and difference."