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Angry parents hounded a woman out of her job at a Muslim girls school because they believed she was a man.
Shifa Patel, a 28-year-old secretary, was accused of hiding her masculinity beneath a traditional headscarf and robes.
The hate campaign started when photographs of a short-haired Miss Patel wearing a shirt and trousers were spotted on Facebook. They were copied and emailed to dozens of concerned parents as ‘proof’ that Miss Patel was a man.
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Place of learning: A mob of parents besieged Al-Islah Muslim girls school to demand that governors sack Shifa Patel immediately (file photo)
In a bid to defuse the rumours, she underwent a humiliating medical examination to prove that she was in fact a woman. But parents refused to believe the results and the headteacher resorted to writing to all parents assuring them the secretary wasn’t a man. Miss Patel was finally forced to quit after a mob of parents gathered at the Al-Islah Muslim Girls School in Blackburn and demanded governors sack her immediately.
Police were called to the school last Monday and had to disperse the more than a dozen parents at the gates.
Last night a distraught Miss Patel said: ‘I have irrefutable medical evidence that I’m a woman. The people who have done this to have hurt me so badly. I will never forgive those who did this to me and spread these lies.’
Miss Patel said she wore a hijab, a headscarf which shows the face, and a jhaba, a full-length robe, while working at the school.
Last night, Fatima Patel quit as the school’s acting headmistress in protest at the secretary’s treatment. She said: ‘When some parents approached me I told them I will take the Koran in my hand and swear to tell the truth. But they were more concerned about obtaining a GP’s certificate for Shifa. What does that say about some people?
‘Some of the parents have been very supportive. It is very disconcerting that this has happened during children’s exam time. This incident has affected me and Shifa and it will take a lot to get her confidence back. We must add that some parents have come and supported us.’Â
A lesson at Al-Islah: Teaching assistant Shifa Patel (not pictured) underwent a humiliating medical examination after a petition demanded she prove her gender
Al-Islah Muslim Girls’ School is privately-run and has nearly 200 students
The school’s governing body also backed Miss Patel saying her ‘unquestionable work ethic and professionalism had never been in doubt’. Sergeant John Rigby of Lancashire Constabulary said: ‘Police were called to the school after reports that people were trying to damage school doors. When we arrived a group of ten to 15 people were outside the school. I must point out neither the school nor the mosque was raided.
‘This is an entirely internal school matter and police were simply there to calm the situation down.’
The Â£1,000-a-year independent school, which opened in 1995 in a mosque complex has 160 girls aged 11 to 17. It claims to ‘nurture the intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual growth of Muslim children with the hope of producing confime-dent, competent individuals who can go out into British society and contribute positively without compromising their beliefs and practices’.
At its last inspection in 2007 it was criticised by Ofsted for its lack of a science laboratory and for failings in teaching the curriculum. Inspectors said however that the standard of teaching was generally good and educational achievement was satisfactory.