A British Muslim who applied for a job as a nursery teacher in Kuwait was told she would have to remove her hijab because it is ‘an English school’.
Fouzia Khatun, 23, hoped to work at The English Playgroup in the Muslim-majority Gulf state – where she felt she would be ‘more accepted’ than in the UK.
But after applying for the job, she got an email from the school’s HR staff reading: ‘Parents don’t want their children taught by covered teachers. It is an English school’.
It added that Fouzia would not be allowed to wear her headscarf on the premises if she wanted the job at the fee-paying school – and that this was ‘non negotiable’.
The English Playgroup Educational Company has since claimed the comments were ‘by a new employee’ and said it ‘proudly employs’ hijab-wearing staff.
The school’s website said children are ‘taught by the very best trained English specialist teachers’ using the ‘English National Curriculum’.
Fouzia, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, who currently works as a teaching assistant, said the email was ‘offensive’.
She said: ‘When I received that via email I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
‘It might sound unusual, but to me being asked to leave the house without my hijab is like being asked to go out without a top on.
‘It doesn’t represent my religion – it is part of me.
‘I am a loud, bubbly, chatty, normal British girl and my hijab is part of that same identity.
‘To have them suggest that British parents or an English school wouldn’t want me to wear it is very offensive.
‘I was born in England and I am English.
‘I have never experienced any Islamophobia in my life, living in England, so it is bizarre to experience it for the first time – in the context of a country which is 99 per cent Muslim.
‘I thought if anything I would be more accepted there.
‘It has made me feel very blessed to have grown up in England, where we are clearly so much more accepting.’
After she applied for the job at the firm – which has more than 20 schools and playgroups – she received an email from a recruitment worker which said she had gained an interview.
But she was told she’d need to removed her Hijab, she claims.
The worker wrote: ‘I do need to ask you if it would be possible to remove your hijab whilst teaching in the Early Years Nursery school as our Kuwaiti parents like British Teachers but not wearing hijab.
‘I know this is a delicate area and hope you do not feel offended in any way.
‘Please have a think about it and let me know if you would like to proceed to interview.’
Fouziua asked for clarification about whether her success hinged on the removal.
The reply said she could wear the scarf for her first interview – but ‘probably’ not for the second interview or for a photo taken for ‘management purposes’.
It added: ‘Just for your reference, in the Early Years Schools, there are only female staff.’
Fouzia replied to say she was ‘confused’ because Kuwait was a Muslim-majority country.
The reply from the school said: ‘The customer (the parents) do not want their children taught by covered teachers. It is an English School.
‘You can wear the hijab whilst not on the school premises but not in the school.
‘If this isn’t acceptable to you I wish you every success.
‘This is non negotiable.’
Fouzia posted the screenshots of the email exchange online, where it was liked by 1,800 people.
She said: ‘There is enough discrimination against female Muslims from non-Muslim countries so it’s extremely sad to see a school in a Muslim country like Kuwait also demonstrate this kind of discrimination.’
The English Playgroup blamed the emails on a ‘new’ employee and said allegations of discrimination were ‘untrue’.
Bosses did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement posted on Instagram, the firm said: ‘The English Playgroup and Primary Schools employ qualified teachers from all nationalities, religions and backgrounds who serve students as excellent and caring teachers.
‘Allegations of discrimination against hijab-wearing staff are untrue. Our schools proudly employ many hijab wearing teachers and administrators across our schools.
‘The allegations against the school have been disseminated by an unsuccessful overseas job applicant who was refused employment because of inappropriate behavior as illustrated on her social media platform.
‘The opinions expressed by a new employee in the HR department are against company policy and necessary disciplinary action has been taken.
‘The celebration of Islamic values is a cornerstone of the English Playgroup and Primary School’s mission and the school reserves the right to pursue legal action against slanderous third parties.’
The English Playgroup then released several images on their Instagram of teachers wearing a hijab as they taught.