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06 August 2012

Philippine Catholic school bans use of hijab; sparks protests, appeals among Muslim groups

thumb_20120804104400_0.jpgZAMBOANGA CITY  – The Catholic-run Pilar College in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines has flatly rejected appeals by various Muslim groups to allow its Muslim students to use hijab.

he National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and local politicians also appealed to Pilar College to allow students to wear hijab. 

NCMF Secretary Mehol Sadain, in an open letter to Pilar College, wrote: “I am writing, not to argue, but to enlighten; and not to object, but to appeal for your kind reconsideration and compromise, in behalf of the hijab-wearing Muslimah enrolled in Pilar College.” 

The school, run by the Congregation of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, has stood firm on its decision. In said the core of curriculum of Pilar College is Christian living and it is also the reason why it has Theology and Religious Studies subjects.

“Our origin is Roman Catholic and we cannot deviate from that origin. It is true we cater to students of different religions, but before they are officially enrolled, during interviews of student applicant, rules and regulations are explained to them particularly the non-wearing of the hijab or veil.”

“This way, we are giving freedom to students to choose a school which best fits them. They deemed to have agreed to the rule if after having been informed of the restriction, they still chose to enrol,” Pilar College said, adding it has the right to freely adopt its own policies, standards, regulations and sets forth its conditions for those wishing to join the community as students.

“This is part of academic freedom in connection with which the school has the right to choose whom to teach,” it said.

Pilar College said students are duty bound to follow the rules and regulations.

Sadain said while Pilar College claims the exercise of academic freedom, “such freedom must conform to law and the basic indices of justice and fair play, as well as the corresponding exercise by students of their equally constitutionally-enshrined right to religious freedom.”

“I hope that Pilar College can reconsider its policy in view of these very clear legal mandates and institutional policy of the Department of Education. Pilar College should realize that while educational institutions can formulate their own policies, the same should not run counter to existing laws and state policies,” he added.

Sadain was referring to the Department of Education Order No. 53 and the Magna Carta of Women which provides for the protection and promotion of the rights of women, particularly Muslim or Moro and indigenous women.

“Sensitivity of regular schools to particular Moro and indigenous practices, such as fasting in the month of Ramadan, choice of clothing, including the wearing of hijab,” he said, citing the implementing rules and regulation of the Magna Carta contained on the Republic Act 9710.

The Department of Education also decreed the protection of religious rights of students by providing. “Female Muslim school children should be allowed to use their veil or head dress inside the school campus. In Physical Education classes, Muslim girls shall not be required to wear shorts (pants); they shall be allowed to wear appropriate clothing in accordance with their religious beliefs. Muslim students shall not be required to participate in non-Muslim religious rites.”

Sadain said: “I admire your College for the noble purpose of its educational endeavors. And perhaps, a number of Muslim families in Zamboanga City harbor the same admiration, which is why they have sent their daughters to enroll in your College. In this context, I do not see how allowing your Muslim students to wear a hijab (that may be regulated and agreed upon) will prevent your College from teaching and guiding your students the way to God”, because the wearing of the hijab is by itself, a Muslim’s way to God, as the practice is part of religious studies which your College teaches.”

He said the wearing of the hijab is akin to the wearing of the veil which is practiced by Pilar College’s religious order.

Sadain said: “As a final note, I hope to disabuse your position that this is a mere issue of choosing schools according to one’s community because this position is fraught with perilous implications.”

“If we are to abide by this position and apply this indiscriminately, then we shall have schools banning students because they do not belong to their community. We shall have education apportioned to people of the same class and intolerant of others who do not belong to their class. We shall then be damaging the very ramparts of freedom and democracy upon which this nation was built.” (Mindanao Examiner)


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