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Election of Muslim girl champions diversity

Sara was “automatic choice” for head girl, her friends Francesca, Martina and Jacqueline agreed.Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Sara was “automatic choice” for head girl, her friends Francesca, Martina and Jacqueline agreed.Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

A girls’ secondary school has championed the diversity cause by appointing a veil-wearing Muslim girl to head her form.

Fourteen-year-old Sara Ezabe is proof of what Blata l-Bajda’s St Ignatius College Girls’ Junior Lyceum headmaster Victor Agius insists is important for the school – diversity and tolerance.

After two years working in the students’ council, Sara, who loves politics, was voted in by her fellow students as head girl, breaking the xenophobic and racist trends creeping into some schools.

To her friends, she was the “automatic choice”, gaining a total of 97 votes – 40 more than the girl who placed second.

“To me the veil makes a difference only in terms of appearance. Obviously my religion is different, but the core values are shared,” Sara said.

Born and bred in Malta, she is the daughter of a Maltese woman and a Libyan. Her mother, who converted to Islam after getting married, only started wearing the veil two years before Sara.

The veil is important to Sara, because she feels it is an important part of her religion.

“I believe that even if my mother didn’t wear her veil, I would still have worn one because I have strong faith,” the fourth former said. “The first time I wore it was on the first day of senior school and I felt a bit weird, especially because it was September and I remember feeling really hot,” she said.

Sara eventually got used to wearing her veil. Her friends, who also spoke to the newspaper, admitted they were intrigued at first.

Fellow fourth-former Martina Cuschieri said: “The first time I saw her, I admit wondering to myself what sort of person she was as she looked foreign. But after we spoke I thought she was a wonderful person and in fact we’re friends.”

As time went on, Sara herself started learning to live with the veil. She admits, as do her friends, that it comes in handy when her hair does not want to stay in place.

According to the Muslim religion, she can only remove the hijab in front of men she definitely cannot marry, like her brothers and uncles.

In summer, she has to make an extra sacrifice and swim with all her clothes, including the veil, so she tries to find secluded spots not to draw too much attention toherself.

“When you see a person outside the only thing you can go on is appearance. There are people who judge me badly. For example, sometimes I’ll be boarding a bus and when they notice I’m a Muslim the bus keeps going,” Sara said,evidently frustrated.

The same cannot be said in school, however, where the girl not only forms part of the crowd, but stands out for the right reasons.

“At school everyone welcomes me. I never had a case where someone excluded me because of my religion,” she said.

“I think you must believe in yourself for others to have faith in you. For example, if you want to form part of something, no one is going include you if you don’t put yourself forward,” she said.

Three of her friends – Francesca Grech, Martina Cuschieri and Jacqueline Grech Licari – who spoke to The Sunday Times said it was character that mattered.

They all pointed out that Sara had been working for the student council for a number of years, and everyone knew she was the best girl for the job. And this is a characteristic which makes headmaster Mr Agius proud. He said the school was inclusive and catered for people with different religions, as well as atheists.

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