Banning ‘hijab’ on campus

FOR wearing hijab or the Islamic veil or headscarf, some Muslim students of Pillar College and Universidad de Zamboanga in Zamboanga City are reportedly barred from entering school campuses.

Last month, the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, also known as RVM Sisters, have found themselves in the center of controversy when Pillar College which they own and run banned its Muslim students from wearing hijab while on its campus in Zamboanga City.

Invoking academic freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, the RVM Sisters maintained that while they welcome students from other religions, they however inform them, upon enrollment, of the school’s no-hijab policy which they have to abide with inside the campus.

The controversy triggered online hate campaign against Pillar College, the oldest school in Zamboanga City founded in 1894 and has pioneered Catholic education the region.  Due to its policy, it is now unfairly branded as “an institution that hates Islam and Muslim.”

This week, it was the turn of another private school, Universidad de Zamboanga, which has reportedly banned a dozen of their Muslim students from attending classes because they were wearing hijab which is as a policy strictly prohibited inside the campus.

To settle the controversy, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) which is mandated to protect and preserve the rights and well-being of Muslim Filipinos and their beliefs, customs, traditions and institutions came to the defense of the hijab-wearing Muslim students.

NCMF Secretary Mehon Sadain said such school policy violates Section 32 (e) of Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta for Women, which “provides for the protection and promotion of the rights of women in general, and Muslim/Moro/Indigenous women in particular.”

He also noted Department of Education Order No. 53, series of 2001, which decreed the protection of religious rights of students, which allows, among others, female Muslim school children to use their veil or headdress inside the school campus.

There seems to be some confusion on which particular Islamic headdress is being banned in these two private schools.  Is the school ban imposed on the wearing of Islamic veil or scarf that covers the head only (hijab) or one that covers also the hair, ears, neck, nose and mouth as well (niqab)?

The distinction is crucial as certain safety and security issues must be considered.

Some people have however been asked to refrain from talking to the media about such policy against wearing of hijab or Islamic headdress inside the campus, for fear that it might lead to a conflict between Muslims and Christians.

But calling for a gag order is way out of line.  Getting the difficult truth out on the table for discussion is a necessary step toward action in a democratic pluralistic society like the Philippines where 5 percent of its population is composed of Muslims.

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