Indonesian universities ‘ban’ niqab over fundamentalism fears

For many Indonesians, the niqab is an unwelcome Arab export and some associate it with radical Islam, which the country has wrestled with for years. (AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Indonesian universities ‘ban’ niqab over fundamentalism fears

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia: A pair of Indonesian Islamic universities are pushing female students to ditch niqab face veils — with one threatening expulsion for non-compliance — as concerns grow over rising fundamentalism in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation.
Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University said it issued the edict this week to more than three dozen niqab-wearing students, who will be booted from school if they refuse.
Although niqabs are common in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states, they’re rare in secular Indonesia, where around 90 percent of its 260 million people have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam.
For many Indonesians, the niqab — a full veil with a small slit for the eyes — is an unwelcome Arab export and some associate it with radical Islam, which the country has wrestled with for years.
“We are a state university ... we’ve been told to spread moderate Islam,” the school’s chancellor Yudian Wahyudi told a press briefing this week.
The school, based in Indonesia’s cultural capital Yogyakarta, has some 10,000 students.
Another Yogyakarta-based institution, Ahmad Dahlan University, has also introduced a new prohibition on the niqab out of fears it might stir up religious radicalism, which has seen a resurgence on many of the nation’s university campuses.
There will be no penalty for those who refuse, it added.
“But during exams, they cannot wear it because officials have to match the photos on their exam ID with them, which is hard if one is wearing the niqab,” university chancellor Kasiyarno, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told reporters Wednesday.
Indonesia’s reputation as a bastion of progressiveness and religious tolerance has recently been tested by a government push to outlaw gay and pre-marital sex. The conservative lurch comes as once-fringe Islamic political parties move into the mainstream.
The niqab has been at the center of a heated global debate over religious freedom and women’s rights, with France the first European country to ban it in public spaces.
Backers of the schools’ new rules said wearing a niqab is not a religious obligation.
“Education should be about dialogue — open and progressive — and if you wear a niqab it interferes in that dialogue and the teaching-learning process,” said Zuhairi Misrawi, head of the Jakarta-based Muslim Moderate Society.
But others saw the anti-niqab appeal as trampling on individual rights.
It’s “a matter of personal preference and the university has to respect that,” said Fadlun Amin, a spokesman for the local chapter of the Forum Ukhuwah Islamiyah, part of top clerical body the Indonesian Ulema Council.
Several Indonesian universities have issued niqab bans in the past.
Last year, a private Islamic high school in Java was reprimanded by local officials after images went viral online that showed a classroom of sitting female students wearing niqab, violating a national regulation on acceptable school uniforms.


Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

Bangladeshi policewomen stand guard outside the office of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). (AP file photo)
Updated 10 December 2018
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Bangladesh party says hundreds of supporters held before polls

  • Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s opposition party Sunday said nearly 2,000 of its supporters have been arrested on trumped-up charges in a crackdown aimed at derailing its campaign just weeks from a general election.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is seeking to unseat Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on December 30, said at least 1,972 party officials and grassroots campaigners had been detained since the election was announced a month ago.
The arrests are yet another blow for a beleaguered opposition whose leader Khaleda Zia has been jailed for corruption and barred from running against arch-rival Hasina, who is seeking a third consecutive term.
The opposition boycotted the 2014 election, saying it was rigged against Zia in favor of Hasina and her ruling Awami League party.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed told AFP the majority of party cadres rounded up since late November in the police sweep were still behind bars.
“They have filed hundreds of ghost, or fictitious cases, against our party workers and leaders,” he said.
Another party official said at least 11 opposition candidates had also been detained before official campaigning begins Monday.
“Six of them are still in the jail,” said the official, who declined to be named.
Police have said those arrested had outstanding warrants or were wanted over alleged connections to ongoing cases.
Ahmed denied this, saying the crackdown was a political “blueprint” by the ruling party to intimidate its opponents.
“The government wants to hold a lopsided election. These arrests are just to create fear among the people, so that they don’t go to vote,” he said.
The opposition also accused police officials in Chittagong, a southern city, of campaigning on behalf of the Awami League. Police in the port city denied the allegations.
The arrests further hinder an already battered alliance of opposition parties, led by the BNP, which have seen their core leadership jailed on charges they say are fabricated.
Zia, a two-time former prime minister and friend-turned-foe to Hasina, was last month ordered by a court to stay behind bars for a decade for graft.
Her supporters say the charges are politically motivated to stymie Hasina’s chief political threat.
Zia’s son, a potential heir to the BNP throne, was sentenced in absentia to life behind bars while hundreds of other loyalists have been arrested or jailed, party officials say.
Just a month from the polls, the BNP has not announced an alternative candidate to run against Hasina, whose rule has been marred by allegations of rights abuses and intolerance for dissent.
Bangladesh has been led by either Zia or Hasina since the 1990s and the two powerful women have turned from close allies to fierce enemies.
Hasina has refused to allow a caretaker government to oversee the country during the campaign period.