More than 150 secular human rights activists, who comprise the group Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD), have condemned the “communal polarisation of student campuses” in context of the ongoing Hijab row in Karnataka, and have observed that “the veil is not mandatory in Islam.”
At the same time, IMSD has also disagreed with the claim of the agitating Muslim girls that their demand is in conformity with their Constitution-protected fundamental right to freedom of religion. “While this may be the belief of the orthodox and patriarchal clerics, any number of modern-day Islamic scholars, men and women, rightly maintain that hijab has nothing to do with the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet. The veil, in other words, is not mandatory in Islam,” said the group on Friday.
According to the group, the issue of whether Muslim girls should or should not be permitted to wear hijabs in those pre-university colleges where a uniform dress code is in place, is something to be sorted out between the agitating Muslim girls and the managements of the concerned colleges.
“IMSD accepts the principle of uniforms for schools/pre-university colleges so long as they are religion-neutral and non-discriminatory. We strongly suspect, however, that the unilateral and abrupt decision of some pre-university colleges to bar entry in the classrooms of hijab-wearing Muslim girls is not inspired by lofty principles but a capitulation to divisive politics.”
“All that the Quran asks of both Muslim women and men is that they dress ‘modestly’ and ‘decently’. Beyond that the Quran does not specify a particular dress code,” said the group.
IMSD said that it respects women’s right to choose how they dress. However, this choice cannot be counter-posed to the right of school managements to prescribe a religion-neutral, non-discriminatory uniform in their campuses.
When asked if the ongoing hijab row in Karnataka is a matter of religion or is it also an issue of one’s fundamental right to privacy and to choose what to wear, Islamic scholar professor Zeenat Shaukat Ali, one of the signatories to IMSD’s statement, told The Federal, “As far as the constitution of India is concerned, a woman is allowed to dress as she chooses. It is her fundamental right to wear what she pleases. We aren’t talking about banning the hijab—we are talking about entering an educational institution with religious symbology. We need to reduce the debate to this area. Right now, we are talking about educational institutions; the rest we will see when it comes up.”
“Educational institutions must be neutral when it comes to religious symbolism. I don’t mean don’t follow your religion in an education institution…but don’t flaunt your religious symbolism,” she added.
“The word ‘hijab’ is used seven times in the Quran—but nowhere is it used in the context of clothing. It is used more like a metaphor, such as a veil between good and evil, god and human, etc,” Ali concluded.
The signatories to IMSD’s statement include leading progressive secularists from across the country, namely, Javed Anand, Prof. Zeenat Shaukat Ali, Shabnam Hashmi, Teesta Setalvad, Prof. Ram Puniyani, Feroze Mithiborwala, Kavita Srivastava, Varsha Vidya Vilas, Shama Zaidi, Anjum Rajabali, Javed Naqvi, Firoz Abbas Khan, Fr. Cedric Prakash, Lara Jesani, Prof. Nasreen Fazalbhoy, Ammu Abraham, Anjali Monteiro, Annie Namala, Anuradha Kapoor, Aruna Gnanadason, Prof. Brinelle D’souza, Navdeep Mathur, Adv. Niloufer Bhagwat, Persis Ginwala and Vidya Dinkar among others.