(Image used for representative purpose only)
Though the MES circular avoids the word “niqab” (the veil that Muslim women wear for religious reasons), in effect it prohibits veils of any kind. “The MES will not encourage any type of veils on its campus… Managers of each MES institution will have to ensure that girl students do not come to the campus with their faces covered. They are hereby asked to include this as a rule on the campus from academic year 2019-20,” says the circular issued by MES state president Fazal Gafoor on April 19 this year.
The institutions that MES controls include 10 professional colleges, 18 arts and science colleges, 12 higher secondary and 36 CBSE-affiliated schools.
Gafoor told TOI that the decision to ban veils was taken before the Sri Lankan government banned the burqa after the Easter Sunday bombings on April 21. “MES, which aims at the social and cultural progress of the Muslim community, insists that students, even while maintaining high standards in curricular and extra-curricular activities, do follow a certain decorum in dress code too… Under these circumstances, dresses that are unacceptable to mainstream society — whether they are modern or religious — cannot be promoted,” the MES circular says.
However, some Muslim organisations have come out against the ban on the MES campuses. Samastha Kerala Jem-Iyyathul Ulema state president Syed Muhammad Jiffiri Muthokoya Thangal questioned the MES’s authority to “pass diktats” on religious issues. “Women covering the face is part of our faith and it has been prevailing from the time of the Prophet. There are religious organisations to take decisions on matters related to faith and MES need not meddle in the issue,” he told reporters here.
Gafoor dismissed these objections. “The high court has given educational institutions the freedom to decide their dress codes. There is no need for any controversy over the issue,” he said.
Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation state general secretary Sathar Panthaloor warned that no one could stop a woman staffer or student at institutions run by MES if she decided to wear a dress that covered her face. He said the practice of women covering their faces exists in many parts of the world. “Many think it is imperative in the modern world,” Sathar wrote on his Facebook page.