PA Fazal Gafoor: Why I banned face veils for Muslim women on my campuses
PA Fazal Gafoor, head of the Muslim Education Society in Kerala, which has imposed a ban on face veils for women students, discusses why this decision was made.
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Why we banned the burqa
Ours is a 52-year-old Muslim social organisation. We run 35 colleges and 72 schools, with 10,000 staff and one lakh students. There are more than two lakh people involved in the entire set-up. And we never supported this kind of veiling activity, in fact, indirectly, we routinely discouraged it. I have never believed in it. The whole issue came to the fore when an MBBS student came, wearing the face veil last year. Then, we objected to it and we told her that like this, we won’t admit you.
The issue went to the administration committee of the government of Kerala, where the committee said — if it is in the prospectus, then the student has to obey the dress code of the management. Individuals are obviously free to go and join any institutes where they have their own theological set-up.
When this year admissions started, we thought we will make the matter clear, so I sent a circular to all the secretaries of the schools and colleges, saying that this judgment has to be incorporated in the prospectus. This decision has not come after Sri Lanka banned the burqa. This notice was issued on April 17, when there was no such issue.
Clerics state this is part of religious practice.
But they should then build their own institutions and admit students who agree with their attitude towards life. So, it is upto them.
Clerics have their own perception of religion. We have our notions of how to live and learn. Let east be east and west be west. The twain need never meet!
'If clerics support the face veil, let them start their own educational institutions. Let students who agree go there.' (Source: Reuters)
There are different versions of religious rules.
In my view, the Muslim religion is not exactly uniform. You have Shias, Deobandis, Alawis — even in Kerala, there are three or four major sects which are called Sunni, Mujahid, Jamaat-e-Islami and so on and they all have their different set-ups. I don’t accept theocracy at all — I have never gone to a priest for anything in my life, nor will I go. This doesn’t make me an atheist. I have been a part of the Muslim coordination council. The problem is that a person who is coming from a deeply rooted community is challenging this practice.
There are, of course, people who are in favour of this move — there are some who are not. The ones who are in favour can join us. If they are not in favour, they will not get admission, that’s all.
What Muslim women students think...
The matter is very simple, there are one lakh students who are studying in our institutions, out of which probably 40,000 would be Muslim women — and there has been no protest from their side. This means that matters are clear. There is hardly anyone in our institution who is wearing a face veil. The protest is only confined to a certain section of the clergy. We are not anticipating any trouble. If women students had any objections, then they have their student union. It is a democratically elected set-up, all the colleges are affiliated to various universities like the Indian Medical Council, AITC, etc. If there was any objection, they would have raised their voice, but there has been no objection.
Some Western nations banned the burqa. We still go there, don't we?
The culture of a particular country, their rules, those have to be obeyed. Why do you want to go and study in Christian institutions if you don’t believe in their culture? Don’t go there, you can go and join institutes where your culture is strongly embedded. Why do you want to go and work in a Christian country? Don’t go there, go and work in Saudi Arabia.
You can’t have the best of both worlds.
'Why would you go and work in a Christian society if you don't believe in their culture?' (Source: Reuters)
I reject the cultural argument that a burqa is the identity of Muslim women.
I don’t accept any sort of face veil.
All the important people in the world, from Khaleda Zia to Benazir Bhutto and many others, they never wore face veils. Whether it is mandated or not in the texts is what the clerics are fighting over. Let them fight, we are not bothered about it. I don't think this is an issue for educationists to get into.
I am not afraid of any backlash either. This is not an Islamist republic — it’s a democratic republic, a sovereign country. I know threats and hostilities, all these things will be there. When the threat comes, we will face it. I will always face an enemy at the door, not inside.
I doubt anything is going to happen though. At the most, there may be some crank calls!
(As told to Rohit E David)