An Indonesian state Islamic university faced criticism this week after it barred female students from wearing full-face veils.
University officials say the veils were banned because of fears over the spread of extremist ideology at the school.
Many Muslim groups and activists object to the ban. They say the Quran, Islam’s holy book, requires women to cover themselves in public.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Religious experts say most Indonesian Muslims practice a moderate form of Islam. But the country has experienced a rise in the number of more conservative clergy and religious centers.
The full veil, or burqa, ban was announced at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta, on the island of Java. The university said it had 41 students who wore burqas. It said they would be offered guidance at meetings and asked to take off the veil if they wanted to graduate from the school.
Reaction to burqa ban
The Islamic Defenders Front campaigns against activities it considers un-Islamic. In a statement, the group said the policy “did not make sense” and was in conflict with Indonesia’s efforts to protect diversity.
At least one women’s rights activist criticized what she described as a limitation on the freedom of women to wear what they want.
“Using full-face veils is a choice and we cannot interfere in their choice and their freedom,” said activist Lathiefah Widuri Retyaningtyas. She spoke to the Reuters news agency.
Yudian Wahyudi serves as rector at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University. He said radicalization of Islam, as evidence of the burqas, was harmful to learning.
“Female students wearing the burqa, and radical groups, they are disturbing the teaching process,” he said. “We are putting moderate Islam forward.” He added that the policy was a “preventive action to save the students.” University students would be permitted to continue using customary headscarves that do not cover the face, he said.
The French news agency AFP reports that another Yogyakarta-based school, Ahmad Dahlan University, has also proposed a ban on the veils. But there would be no punishment for students who refuse it.
A school official added, "But during exams, they cannot wear it because officials have to match the photos on their exam ID (identification) with them, which is hard if one is wearing the [veil].”
A recent study showed that nearly a fifth of high school and university students support the establishment of a caliphate over the current government.
The finding has concerned many Indonesian officials. The government is struggling to contain the growing influence of both peaceful and militant Islamist groups in the world’s third-largest democracy.
George Grow adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from Reuters and Agence France Presse. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
veil – adj. a cloth worn by women as a covering for the face or head
practice – v. to carry out; to perform
graduate – v. to successful complete a study program
diversity – n. the state or condition of having many different forms or ideas; having people who are of different races or cultures in a larger group
rector – n. the head of a university or school; a member of the clergy
disturb – v. to interfere with
radicalization – n. to make people accept more extreme beliefs
headscarf – n. a cloth covering all or most of the top of a woman’s head
caliphate – n. a state or country under the leadership of an Islamic clergyman
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