Promoting diversity? Teacher wears full face Muslim veil, reads from Koran in Swiss school
“She [the teacher] came into class completely veiled without warning and started reading lines from [the] Koran out loud”, students from a vocational school in the Swiss capital told local 20 Minuten newspaper.
Though nobody is said to have left the class, the extraordinary move raised a few eyebrows. Some of the students claimed later that “it did not belong in a classroom,” the news outlet reports.
The video released by 20 Minuten claims to show the teacher in question wearing a niqab – a Muslim face-covering veil – reading passages from the Koran. Some of the words are bleeped out. The teacher, however, is not a Muslim and reportedly bought the niqab during a vacation in Egypt.
The school administration backed the lesson as promoting diversity. The teacher was discussing the book ‘The Kite Runner’ by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini. Set in the late 1970s, the book tells the story of the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy and the rise of the Taliban.
“Individual aspects were discussed in class, such as the history of Afghanistan or the Taliban,” Daniel Hurter, the deputy director of the school, said. “[This] Thursday [the class] was about Islam.” He even claimed students were “happy” with how the subject was presented.
The ‘Koran teaching’ lesson has nevertheless sparked controversy outside the walls of the school. Stefan Wittwer, from a local union of education facilities, said that if the teacher presented the topic without context, it would not be appropriate. He added that “realistic teaching is a good thing.”
Local politician Irene Kalin said the approach was “insensitive” and that it would have been better if the teacher had invited a Muslim woman to read the Koran.
Another politician, Matthias Aebischer, echoed her statement, saying the teacher should have just taken the niqab to class and shown it without wearing it. “To discuss Buddhism, she probably wouldn’t come and meditate in a monk’s robe.”
Around 350,000 of Switzerland’s population of 8.3 million are Muslim. In December 2017, Swiss authorities rejected a campaign sponsored by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) calling for a nationwide ban on face veils. The federal government referred the issue to individual cantons. It noted that Ticino and St. Gallen cantons opted for a ban, while the others were opposed.
Legislation banning full face veils has been adopted by a number of European countries, while in several others, laws are currently under consideration. France was the first EU country to ban Islamic face veils in public places in 2010, citing security reasons.
Earlier in June, the upper house of the Dutch Parliament finally put to a vote a controversial bill banning face veils in public places, including public transport and schools.
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