On the 12th of September, students wearing niqab were banned from BRAC University, one of the topmost universities in Bangladesh. This was declared as being due to violation of the dress code issued by the university in question. BRAC University authorities imposed the ban by blocking the ID’s of the said students.
According to a disciplinary sanction issued by the university to a student of the university, the ‘niqab’ was seen as a violation of the dress code of the university. Below is the letter sent to the ‘defaulter’ student.
It is mentionable that BRAC University advises its students to comply with a dress code conforming to ‘its’ cultural and academic ethos and stipulates its students not to wear:
1. Face mask or hood of any kind that makes the individual unidentifiable
2. Shorts of any kind, including three quarters
3. Mini or midi skirts
4. Bathroom slippers (except for cleaning staff)
5. A dress item that contains offensive slogan, picture or sign
Moreover, university authorities claim that they do not bar any department/Institute/School from prescribing any dress or attire considered necessary for the execution of their academic programmes, in effect leaving space for compromise in special cases, one of which can and should be the ‘niqab’. So as we see, the university dress code circular itself has provisions for facilitating students who wish to conform to the niqab.
Ethos regarding a Niqab Ban:
It was but a few days ago that a niqab ban was overturned at Birmingham Metropolitan College, a large further education institution. The ban had come to light when a teenager tried to enrol for an A-level course, to be told she could not wear her niqab, because of security concerns. This decision, at a college where a large proportion of students are Asian, prompted a huge social media campaign, including a petition signed by 9,000 people, and plans for a demonstration. The college decided to reverse its decision before that protest took place, a move welcomed by Birmingham Ladywood Labour MP Shabana Mahmood, who said otherwise "a group of women ... would have potentially been excluded from education". It is worth noting Muslims make up only around 4.8% of the UK population – and it has been estimated that only a tiny percentage of that population veils their face.
If such a mentality can prevail in a Muslim minority country, one expects a lot more from Muslim majority societies, a lot more. We need to remember that women who wear the veil are trying to observe their religious convictions. Since there is no state ruling by the government of Bangladesh to explicitly ban or impose the niqab on women, debating against it citing ‘oppression of the fairer sex’, especially in institutions of learning, is tantamount to making them feel that they are somehow imposing on the whole of society and that they are the biggest problem at the moment. And of course, that isn't conducive to integration, belonging and a positive atmosphere. Absurd steps by BRAC University such as banning students on the basis of wearing niqab in a Muslim majority country is more than bad publicity, its expounding a mentality of institutionalized Islamophobia.
A Sad State of Affairs:
When this issue was first raised by BRAC University, a group of students were extremely supportive towards the students who were subject to this episode of inexplicable institutionalized harassment due to them wearing the niqab. So, they started a campaign in protest. Almost 1100 students of BRAC supported the cause through signature campaigns. Sadly, their support was discouraged by BRAC University authorities.
A more alarming feature of the problem is that the media has been relatively silent on the issue, unlike on potentially less hazardous matters like “Oishee repenting through prayers” or “Allama Shafi comparing women to tamarinds”. Few would be able to contest the fact that BRAC is among the most powerful institutions in Bangladesh, with the result that it has significant clout in all manner of circles, be that the media or the government. Indeed, the silence shown by leading media regarding a matter of such deep rooted social and religious magnitude is more than telling. It’s a blatant display of complicity.
What can be done NOW?
A thoughtful comment-cum-plea by the facebook page “Anti-Niqaab Protocol by BRAC University” is enough in this regard when it says, “What cause does Brac University have to feel so threatened that they would need to block niqaab-wearing students? Universities around the world [including universities in the West] have students who wear the niqaab. Is their security not threatened? Airports around the world have security issues to be worried about more than BRAC University. Have any of you ever heard or seen that the travelers or passengers have been asked to take of their niqaab? There is a private room with female security guards to check the identity. How hard is that we ask?”
Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
The heartfelt comment of the aggrieved student should be a wake-up call enough for BRAC authorities, “BRAC works to enhance Human rights and empower women. Is this how they want to empower ME? By unveiling me? Funny concept of empowerment, Don't you think?”
We demand an immediate end to this masqueraded fiasco churned by BRAC to suppress religious freedom and values. We demand BRAC to behave responsibly and remove this absolutely absurd niqab ban immediately in order to allow our niqab wearing sisters to attend the university without any further hindrance and harrassment.
And the Almighty knows best.