Sunday 25th April 2009

It has ignited fiery debates among commentators, politicians and Muslims. The Muslim headscarf - or hijab - has provoked controversy in many western countries and last summer it hit the headlines in Ireland. At the centre of the media storm was fourteen-year old Gorey schoolgirl Shekinah Egan.

Shekinah, her three sisters and their parents, Liam and Beverly, are Muslims living in Ireland.

After spending several years in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the Egan family returned home to Gorey in 2007 and enrolled Shekinah in the local school, Gorey Community School. Like many Muslim girls who reach a certain age, Shekinah does not leave the house without wearing a headscarf, or hijab.

Last year, Nicholas Sweetman, the principal of the school, wrote to the Department of Education seeking guidance on whether or not Muslim girls like Shekinah should be allowed to wear the hijab in a state school like Gorey Community School, catapulting the matter into a national debate.

With exclusive access to the life of an Irish Muslim family, this documentary unravels some of the misconceptions about Muslim women. We hear from Shekinah and her parents who say that the hijab - far from being the symbol of oppression that many people in the west see it as - is a symbol of freedom for Muslim women.

"The Qur'an quite categorically gives the reason why we cover, " says Beverly, "it also shows that you are free; you are a free woman."

For some, the lines between a religious and political statement have become blurred. But for Shekinah and her mother Beverly Suad, wearing the hijab is a personal decision and a sign of their faith to Islam.

During the consultation process, the Minister for Integration Conor Lenihan chose to speak to 4,000 non-Muslim school principals and to the male leaders of the Dublin mosques. The Documentary on One goes to the heart of the debate, speaking to the people who are most directly affected by decisions made on wearing the headscarf - Muslim women and girls.

This is a unique insight into the life of a Muslim teenager growing up in Ireland and explores how a simple and otherwise innocuous piece of cloth becomes something else entirely when a Muslim woman wraps it around her head.

Presented and compiled by Nicoline Greer.
Production supervision by Peter Woods.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries