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India Court Bans Muslim Students From Wearing Hijabs in Class

Courtesy of Faizal Riza MOHD RAF (Flickr CC0)

An Indian court upheld a ban on Muslim students wearing hijabs in class in Karnataka state. The prohibition set off protests from parents and Muslim students in India and counterprotests by Hindu students. The disagreement erupted in the Udupi district after a government-run school restrained six teenage students from sporting hijabs inside the classroom.

The students will be permitted to wear their hijabs on campus, but they must remove their hijabs inside the classroom, according to the college. But these girls started a strike outside of school, arguing that they should also be permitted to wear their hijabs in the classroom. The objection soon swelled to other schools, and the state shut down colleges and schools for a few days. These girls filed petitions arguing their right to wear their hijabs that it reached the high court.

In this high-profile case, a high court in India pronounced that wearing hijabs is not essential to Islam. Consequently, the dispute led to criticism of marginalizing a community that accounts for 13% of the Hindu-majority in India’s 1.35 billion people.

Before the verdict, authorities in Karnataka, India, closed schools and colleges and levied limitations in some parts of the state to avert public gatherings that might become violent.

Students challenging the ban in court assert that wearing the hijab is an essential Islam practice. Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, and Muslim politicians labeled the court ruling deeply disappointing.

Karnataka Courtesy of deepgoswami (Flickr CC0)

Amit Shah, the Federal Home Minister, said he prefers students to stick to school uniforms rather than any religious apparel. Students who contested the banning in court argued that sporting their hijabs was their right under the constitution of India and an integral Islam practice.

Karnataka’s ban attracted criticism from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United States, as it sparked demonstrations in parts of the country. Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi said,

We are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith.

Awasthi added that the government has the authority to specify uniforms.

Federal Home Minister Amit Shah said that he wants students to stick to school uniforms. Presently, no significant ruling on school uniforms across the country, but the Karnataka rule could encourage more states to impose such guidelines.

The Students Islamic Organisation of India said they worry that the Tuesday ruling would motivate more states to restrict the wearing of hijabs in class. The national secretary Musab Qasi said they want the judgment overturned and will approach the Supreme Court.

Karnataka ministers urged the students to respect the judgment and go back to school.

The 129-page order quotes from Islam books and the Quran stated that the hijab is not an obligatory practice. The order quotes say:

There is sufficient intrinsic material within the scripture itself to support the view that wearing hijab has been only recommendatory if at all it is. What is not religiously made obligatory therefore cannot be made a quintessential aspect of the religion through public agitations or by the passionate arguments in court.

The court’s ruling could be appealed in the Supreme Court.

Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware


NBC News: India court upholds state’s ban on hijab in class; by Reuters
Reuters: India court upholds state hijab ban in schools, could set national precedent; by Krishna N. Das
CNN: Hijab verdict: Karnataka high court upholds ban in schools and colleges; by Imran Qureshi

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Faizal Riza MOHD RAF’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of deepgoswami’s  Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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