A Roman Catholic school in Birmingham is at the centre of a row after it banned a four-year-old Muslim girl from wearing the traditional Islamic headscarf, or hijab, to school.

The controversy involving St Clare's School in Handsworth erupted after the girl's father took the matter to Birmingham City Council's Labour cabinet member for equalities Coun Waseem Zaffar.

The school reportedly asked the parents of the girl to stop sending her in the traditional headscarf to lessons as the school has strict uniform rules. But Zaffar, following the father's complaint, insisted that the school change its policy and allow the girl to wear hijab to school.

In a Facebook post, Zaffar wrote that he had met with the head teacher at St Clare's and conveyed his objection to the ban. He also told her that their move was against the equalities act.

"I'm insisting this matter is addressed asap with a change of policy," he wrote.

However, his cabinet colleague Coun Majid Mahmood backed the school's decision, saying that the ban maybe within the school's rights "to insist upon a particular dress code" just as a Muslim faith school "may require girls to wear headscarves".

Schoolgirls wearing hijabs
St Clare's School in Handsworth, Birmingham is at the centre of a row after banning a 4-year-old Muslim girl from wearing a hijab to school - File photo Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Dr Mashuq Ally, a former head of equalities for Birmingham City Council, echoed Mahmood's views noting that a faith school has the right to set its own uniform policy and is also legally exempted from discrimination charges.

He also said that the Muslim parents "would have thought very carefully about sending their child to a Roman Catholic school and considered the uniform policy" and that they should have cleared the matter with the school instead of dragging it in the "public and political arena".

Fuelling the row on social media, campaigner Gina Khan accused Zaffar of backing male parents who use dress codes as a means to control their children, especially girls, the Birmingham Mail reported.

"Hijab isn't compulsory for a child in Islam, but patriarchal biraadari power used to control Muslim school girls," Khan wrote on Twitter.

Councillor Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children, families and schools, also spoke on the issue and assured that they are working with school authorities with regard to setting dress codes for schools.

"Each school's governing body is responsible for the creation and implementation of its own uniform policy. However, the local authority is supporting the school to ensure its policy is appropriate, in line with legal requirements, and we are engaging with all schools to remind them of their responsibilities when it comes to setting school uniform policies," Jones reportedly said.