A young Muslim woman living in the Valencia region has been missing classes for a week over her refusal to remove her headscarf.
Takwa Rejeb, 22, who was born in Spain and has Spanish nationality, has been told by the education center that internal rules forbid students from wearing any type of head covering, whether for religious motives or otherwise.
Benlliure High is a public school and they make me feel like an oddball. But why should I be an oddball?
But Rejeb says that her veil is part of her religious identity and she feels that she should be allowed to wear it.
“It’s a contradiction. They tell you to be free, yet on the other hand they don’t let you be free,” said Rejeb in statements to EL PAÍS. “They place you between a rock and a hard place. Either you take it off or you don’t study.”
The Valencia school where Rejeb is following an evening course in tourism studies says that it’s a matter of internal school rules that were approved by the faculty in 2009.
The issue has reached the regional education department, which recently said that schools have the power to make their own rules on proper student attire.
Valencian authorities said that it is up to the center to decide whether it makes an exception in this case. If not, it suggests that Rejeb be transferred to another school that does not ban head coverings.
But the non-profit group SOS Racismo believes the school should backtrack, noting that Rejeb’s parents came to Spain for political reasons and that her father has since passed away.
“This is a shocking situation that I never thought I would have to go through,” says Rejeb. “I am the first person to oppose imposition, but this is my choice and I am proud of it.”
Sources at the Valencia education department said the rules were made with other types of headgear in mind, such as baseball caps or balaclavas. But making an exception with the hijab would mean that teachers could not uphold the rule anymore, say officials at Benlliure High School in Valencia.
The only exceptions that are contemplated is for cases of illness, such as students undergoing chemotherapy.
Valencian authorities said that it is up to the center to decide whether it makes an exception
Rejeb says she never had problems with her veil while in high school at a different center in Malilla, a neighborhood of the city of Valencia.
“They teach you to help others, to put yourself in their shoes and respect them. And then you get this,” she said. “They insist on comparing it with wearing caps, but it’s not the same thing, this is a symbol of my identity.”
Lawyers for SOS Racismo have taken the case to Spain’s Ombudsman and to the regional equivalent in Valencia, the Síndic de Greuges.
The school principal, Josep Cuenca, told EL PAÍS that the rules are not made to discriminate anyone, that they are “reasonable and widely accepted” by students, and that there are no plans to change them.
The headgear ban was introduced in 2009 for “reasons of homogeneity and even health,” said the principal, citing the fact that high school students have gym classes.
Cuenca also notes that there were three prior cases of students with hijabs at the center. One was transferred to a different center, another one took off her veil, and a third dropped out of high school.
The same vocational training studies are available at a public school in Mislata, near Valencia. But Rejeb refuses to even consider transferring there.
“It may sound easy to them, but for me Mislata is very far away. And I think I have the right [to wear the hijab]. Benlliure High is a public school and they make me feel like an oddball. But why should I be an oddball?”
English version by Susana Urra.