Singaporean withdraws daughter from school to protest headscarf ban

The parents of an 11-year-old girl who was told to leave school for wearing a banned traditional Islamic headscarf said Tuesday they would educate her at home in protest against the Singaporean government.

Azhar Ali accused authorities of denying his daughter, Nur Ashikeen Azhar, the freedom to practice her religion after Eunos Primary School officials sent her home twice last week for wearing the traditional scarf, known as a tudung or hijab.

He said he would not let them turn her away a third time.

"I know what they are going to say when she shows up in a tudung, so why bother?" Azhar said. "It is pointless."

The government of multiethnic Singapore banned headscarves from schools out of fear the scarves brought religious differences into the classroom.

Azhar, a deputy youth chief for the opposition Singapore Malay National Organization, said he will write both the school and the education ministry, asking them to overturn the ban.

The ministry said in an e-mailed reply to questions from The Associated Press that Nur Ashikeen had not been suspended. The ministry hopes that her father will change his mind and send her back to school wearing the prescribed school uniform, the statement said.

But Azhar said he was adamant it was the ministry that should alter its stance.

About 15 percent of Singapore's population is Muslim. The ban only applies to schools — many Muslim women, including government employees, wear headscarves to work.

The debate over headscarves in schools flared up last year after four girls were told to stop wearing them. Three withdrew from school while the fourth returned without her scarf.

One of the three girls was sent to a religious school in Melbourne, Australia, while the other two are being schooled at home.