A debate has emerged in Kerala on whether to ban the burqa in colleges after one of the state’s biggest educational institutions, the Muslim Educational Society (MES), issued a circular banning covering veils from the upcoming academic year. Orthodox sections among Sunni Muslims have rebelled against the move.
Following on the heels of the Sri Lankan government’s decision to ban face veils after Easter Sunday serial bombings that killed 253 people last month, the circular has received country-wide attention. However, MES chief Fazal Gafoor told the Times of India that his decision had nothing to do with the Sri Lanka blasts.
The circular was issued on April 17, but came to the media’s attention on Thursday. It has quoted a 2014 Kerala High Court order on a high school student's plea to wear headscarves and full-sleeve shirts as opposed to the standard school uniform. The court had turned down the plea.
"According to the High Court order, female students should not wear garments that cover their face," the MES circular said.
“Dresses that are unacceptable to mainstream society, whether modern or religious, cannot be promoted," Gafoor told the Times of India.
A Sunni religious organisation in Kerala, the Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, has taken offense at the move. Its president, Sayyid Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal, said the MES had "no right to interfere in religious practices".
To this, Gafoor told reporters that the MES did not need the permission of religious outfits to for its burqa ban. "Covering the face of Muslim women is a new phenomenon in Kerala; 99% of the women here do not do that," he said.
The Kozhikode-headquartered MES is a pioneer educational institution in Kerala with a history of educating lower and middle class Muslims. It was founded by Gafoor's father P K Abdul Gafoor, a doctor in Kozhikode Medical College, in 1964 as an ambitious task to educate the underprivileged young Muslims of Malabar. Gafoor is also a doctor by profession and is known for his liberal streak.