The Muslim Educational Society (MES) has issued a circular preventing female students from wearing religious veils at its educational institutions in India. The Kozhikode-based MES, which was founded in 1964, runs 35 colleges and 72 schools. It's one of the largest educational organisations in India, with one lakh students in their system.
According to the circular, issued by MES President PA Fazal Gafoor, students in institutions run by the MES will not be able to wear religious veils that cover their faces. "Institution heads and officer-bearers of the local management of the institutions should be vigilant," it states.
Fazal Gafoor has in the past openly opposed the niqab or veil. In 2014, he had said that the niqab was un-Islamic and was a western import. He had also strongly opposed the use of niqab saying that blocking sunlight on the face by wearing it continuously can result in Vitamin D deficiency in Muslim women.
"This is not Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. This is India where there is freedom of speech.I have all the right to speak against the custom. We may have differing views on various matters. But we have the freedom to express our opinion. Covering of face cannot be considered as Islamic. Nowhere in Islam is it stated that faces should be covered," he had said at the time.
The circular, which was issued on April 17, surfaced this week and has since been widely reported in local and national media.
The MES's decision comes in the wake of a Kerala High Court order from December 2018. Two Muslim female students belonging to Christ Nagar Senior Secondary School in Thiruvallam in Thiruvananthapuram had filed a petition seeking to wear headscarves and full-sleeve shirts, even though the school had a student uniform. The High Court had refused to intervene the school's refusal of the students’ request. While upholding the school’s right to refusal, the High Court had said, "when there is a priority of interest, individual interest must yield to the larger interest."
PA Fazal Gafoor's views on the veil is well-known and it seems the High Court order has helped him to introduce the rule in his educational institutions. However, it is unlikely that many leaders of the Muslim community will accept this. Malayalam channels have reported that the Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, the largest Muslim organisation in Kerala, has already rejected it.
Quoting the High Court order, the MES circular says, “According to the High Court order, female students should not wear garments that cover their face. This should be implemented without giving way to controversy," the circular states. The direction in the circular must be implemented beginning in the 2019-20 academic year. It also directs institutions to incorporate the new rule in the academic calendar.
MES was founded by Fazal Gafoor’s father, PK Abdul Gafoor. It has institutions throughout Kerala, neighbouring states and in the Middle East.
"The MES has no right to interefere in relgious practices. Unlike Samastha, they're not an organisation entitled to make those kinds of statements," according to President Sayyid Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal.