Kerala Muslim edu body bans face veils at colleges

Reuters file photo for representation

Kerala's Muslim Education Society (MES) has stoked controversy with a circular that bans face veils at a number of colleges functioning under it. MES President Dr P A Fasal Gafoor sent the circular to its colleges on April 17, instructing institutions to ensure that no female student enters campus with their face covered from the upcoming academic year.

DH has a copy of the circular in which Gafoor refers to a Kerala High Court order from December last year, which allows private-run educational institutions to prescribe dress codes for campuses. The circular said, "As per the above order (WP(C) No. 35293/2018), all colleges are instructed to prepare a non-controversial college calendar, including a law that prohibits women students from coming to classes covering their faces from the 2019-2020 academic year."


The circular issued by the MES President P A Fasal Gafoor.

One of the premiere Muslim bodies in Kerala, the MES runs 150 educational institutions, including medical colleges, engineering colleges, teacher training colleges and schools. Thousands belonging to various religions study at these institutions and working as teaching and non-teaching staffs.

"Aiming for the sociocultural upliftment of the Muslim community, the MES is mandated to make sure that the students at the institutions follow a modest dress code along with curricular and non-curricular activities," the circular said. "We have to discourage indecent trends at the campuses."

The circular said that all forms of dressing in the name of modernity or religion are unacceptable and asked the institution heads and the management to be vigilant about such trends.

The MES is known for its progressive outlook and has been active in Kerala's Muslim reformation for five decades. Dr P K Abdul Gafoor, father of current president Fasal Gafoor, established the society in 1964.

The Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, a conservative Muslim body, fiercely condemned the MES circular and said that the face veil has been a part of Islam since the inception of the religion. "Burqa is the attire of the Islam community right from its origin. MES should not be interfering in it," president of the organisation Sayyid Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal said.

"In our society meeting prior to the new academic year 2019-2020, we decided to include a modest dress code at educational institutions as part of the uniform at colleges," Gafoor told DH. "When the question of the face veil emerged, we followed the new High Court order that gives the authority to private managements to decide the dress codes. We have issued a circular in this regard ahead of admissions to the coming academic year to avoid any confusions in future," he commented.

Despite objections, Dr Gafoor was in no mood to withdraw the circular which stated that any attire unacceptable to the common public, either in the name of faith or tradition, cannot be accepted by the MES.

Dr Fazal Gafoor had taken open stands earlier too against wearing of veils, stating that it was a cultural invasion. He had also reportedly asked some girl students with face veils who turned up for admission at MES medical college, how they would treat patients with a covered face once they became doctors.

He said, "this circular is only applicable at institutions run by us. We have been following this for a long time and no one has raised protests against it. None of the 65,000 girls students in Kerala was wearing veils even now. That we managed to do through a 'surgical strike', The organisations like Samastha who make a hue and cry can decide the dress code at their institutions."

Dr Fazal Gafoor had taken open stands earlier too against wearing of veils, stating that it was a cultural invasion. He had also reportedly asked some girl students with face veils who turned up for admission at MES medical college, how they would treat patients with a covered face once they became doctors.

It is a rare coincidence that the MES circular came out close on the heels of Sri Lanka banning women from wearing face veils, a source familiar with the developments said. However, Gafoor rejected any links between the circular and the veil ban in Sri Lanka. "This circular has no relation with Sri Lanka's decision or call to ban the hijab," he said.

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