Wednesday, November 02, 2005

International Islamic University: Tudung or Not To Don?

I have at least 15-20 draft blog posts to be written at this point of time. Unfortunately, it just gets humanly impossible to get rid of the backlog without becoming a full time blogger - I'm always amazed how Jeff does it. This is not helped by the urgent need to blog on the case Universiti Malaya plummeting down the world rankings table to raise awareness of the issue (yes, there's more to come!).

However, I thought I must put time aside to blog the equally important and long outstanding issue of International Islamic University (IIU) requirement that all female non-Muslim students must wear the tudung.

Recently, 25-year-old Foo Yueh Jiin, an International Islamic University law graduate didn't attend her convocation in August because she decided to make stand against the university's rule that non-Muslim undergraduates don a tudung like their Muslim counterparts for the ceremony.

As reported in Malaysiakini, Foo thinks the regulation is 'a shame' and should not be imposed on non-Muslim female graduates.
Foo was the only one among the ten non-Muslim female graduates in her batch who protested the regulation. She had applied for an exemption from the campus authorities but was instead told, "The other graduates before you could comply with the regulation, so why not you?"
Foo also added that her female juniors are facing pressure from the campus authorities compelling them to wear tudung irrespective of whether they were Muslims or otherwise.

This case has attracted plenty of response from all parties. Sisters in Islam has issued a statement that:
"Muslims who form the majority must not impose the 'tudung' on women, even if this takes the form of a university dress code. Islam urges its adherents to respect people of other faiths and their practices, and also not to use coercion in matters of religion. This is an important point to bear in mind in our multi-ethnic and multi-religious society."
Members in the opposing ends of the political divide, MCA Youth Chef Liow Tiong Lai and DAP's Member of Parliament for Batu Gajah Fong Po Kuan both expressed their support for Foo's stand and urged IIU to "re-think the controversial regulation".

Sdr Lim Kit Siang has raised in his statement that while the issue was raised in Parliament in 2003, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Dr Mahadzhir Mohd Khir gave the categorical assurance that non-Muslim students in IIU were encouraged but not compelled to don the tudung.
It would appear that the IIU Senate had subsequently in 2004 introduced the rule on the compulsory donning of tudung for non-Muslim for the IIU convocation in clear disregard of the parliamentary undertaking by the Education Ministry and the fact that Malaysia is a nation with citizens from diverse ethnicity, religions, languages and cultures.
Even an UMNO MP has pointed out that asking non-Muslims to have the option to decide whether to don tudung was most insensitive in itself!

Student leaders have now followed up with the issue and have demanded that IIU review the tudung ruling. Spokesman for presidents of IPTA student representative councils, Mohd Efendi Omar [who's also the president of Universiti Malaya's student representative council], said they were not taking sides but felt that it should not be made compulsory for non-Muslims.
“For Muslims there is no question about it, but there should be sensitivity when involving non-Muslims. If they (non-Muslims) feel comfortable wearing the tudung, then they should go ahead, but they should not be compelled to do so if they don't feel comfortable.”
Police reports have also been lodged by various NGOs against the IIU Senate as the ruling was deemed to have breeched the Federal Constitution.

Despite the overwhelming sentiment against the IIU policy, our minister in-charge of National Unity in the Prime Minister's department Datuk Maximus Ongkili, said the decision by the IIU earlier this year was "not a religious one, but merely part of university procedures". He was quoted in the Star on the 26th October:
In a multi-racial country, each community must respect one another. But at the same time we must respect the laws of the country, institutions and organisations to ensure there is no disturbance to the community. As the rule was approved by the university senate, it is not religious in nature but a matter of uniforms that must be followed. It does not breach basic human rights."
This report was also carried in the AFP news, which does not reflect well on the institutions of higher education in Malaysia and will not serve Malaysia's objectives in attracting more foreign students.

The rationale given by Datuk Maximus Ongkili is so lame. He has even added the remark in yesterday's report in the Star that “They were aware of this requirement before they chose to study in IIU.” So, it's the fault of Foo and her coursemates that they "chose" IIU to further their studies!

The comment by our minister in charge of national unity is insensitive and doesn't make sense. He might as well say that if my company decides to enforce a policy to wear the "kijab" for everyone, then everyone has to follow because it's my company's internal policies and the employees are made aware of the requirement prior to them joining the company! Does it mean that any organisation is able to enfore it's own ruling on dress codes as long as it is argued that it's the uniform and it's "non-religious" in nature?

In addition, Datuk Maximus Ongkili is correct in pointing out that "[i]n a multi-racial country, each community must respect one another." This means that non-Muslims should be tolerating, understanding and respecting Muslims. At the same time, Muslims should be recipocrating with tolerance, respect and understanding for non-Muslims. However, it appears to me that our educational institutions are preaching the need for non-Muslims to conform to Muslim practices, which goes against the principle of mutual understanding, toleration and respect for each other.

As the minister in-charge of national unity, Datuk Maximus Ongkili should definitely be more aware of the implications of the above ruling. These are the rulings which gives our public institutions a bad reputation which directly affects the sentiment of the Malaysian minorities. If these actions are not checked, it will not be surprising to find complete seggregation of our young Malaysians by institutions - which is the exact opposite aim of the minister's portfolio.

In primary schools, the non-Malays attend the vernacular schools, in secondary schools, the non-Malays seggregate themselves and are seggregated from the Malays through various informal practices and now, our universities will be seggregated by those which Muslims/Malays attend like IIU and Universiti Teknologi Mara, and those the others attend like Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). This is the perfect formula for national disunity.

Datuk Maximus Ongkili said that "if there were individuals who felt their basic rights were infringed by such rulings, they could lodge complaints to the relevant bodies." Isn't he the best person to lodge these complaints to? Or is this a case of shirking responsibility or avoiding tough "sensitive" issues by leaving to the others?

This negligence applies to the others as well. The deputy Higher Education Minister Datuk Fu Ah Kiow declined to comment when contacted by the Star - is his position threatened like his boss, Datuk Shafie Salleh as well?

Lest I be regarded as being a Chinese chauvinist intolerant of Muslim practices - I was one of those who expressed absolute disagreement with Singapore's recently enforced policies to forbid the wearing of tudungs in Singapore schools. It is my firm belief that Muslims should be allowed (but not compelled) to wear school uniforms in accordance to their beliefs. This will also promote a healthy understanding of Muslim practices by the majority Chinese in Singapore. However, being allowed to practice one's personal religious beliefs is completely different from enforcing one's beliefs and practices onto others.

Our ministers have often asked to be given "a chance" to do their jobs. This issue has been outstanding since early September already. Can you please take your "chance"?

14 comments:

Kian Ming said...

I agree with you that just as one shouldn't force a Muslim NOT to wear a tudung because of administrative reasons (like in Singapore), one shouldn't force a non-Muslim TO wear a tudung because of administrative reasons. I think one needs to be consistent here. I seem to recall that PAS was quite vocal in bashing the Singapore ruling. But sadly, it was and is not equally vocal on the IIU case. No wonder that PAS has not made inroads into the non-Muslim community

man_interrupted said...

1. "Everyone one else is doing it so why can't you"

Just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean they are right. If this was true we would still think the earth is flat and flight would be impossible.

2. A case can be made for requiring someone to wear a tudung on a contractarian approach

A contract generally speaking is an exchange of promises between the two parties, each having mutually agreed to meet their respective obligations. Much like if you don't have to get on the bus if you want to buy a ticket, students have the option to choose not to study at the IIU if they don't want to adhere to the dress code policy.

Just because it is a bad bargain does not make it an invalid contract. For example, my offer to sell you my brand new Ferrari for RM 1 (clearly a bad bargain for me) doesn't change the fact that if we both are serious (!) and the buyer and seller both agree it will be a valid enforceable contract. Similarly if both the student and the IIU freely agree to respectively wear a tudung at convocation and provide the student a place, there is nothing wrong with that! Sure, the university may lose potential students and income, make Malaysia look bad, be seen as oppressive and suffer the wrath of liberals everywhere but that is the price you pay for offering a raw deal.

3. Can the IIU get away with this?

a. They can't - Either because the 'agreement' is illegal, much like an agreement to repay gambling debts or a contract killing assignment is illegal because it contravenes the Federal Constitution and this is declared as such in a court of law, or the IIU wakes up and recognises that this just turns away potential talent and casts Islam in a bad light by making them look intolerant.

b. They can - The courts could well declare the practice of IIU legal, and the rationale might look something like this.

"Schools and employers determine the dress code for students and their employees and so too do university administrators for university students, adjusted for various historical or environmental factors. It would be no different from the requirement at Oxford for students to wear sub fusc to be worn at examinations or during matriculation."

Outside the legal arena, the IIU can get away with this if we do not put enough pressure to show them that this is unacceptable. We must make the cost of the raw deal they are offering so high they will be forced to abandon this policy.

4. A call to action

Write your MP. Forward this blog link to your friends. Tony if Education Malaysia could put up an e-mail address to the IIU with a form letter we can fill in so bloggers can fill their inbox with protests that would be great. It is very positive that statements have been made by various interest groups to show their support. Fellow readers, let's do something as a community to show we are prepared to act on what we believe!

rational thinker said...

IIU is already considered one of the most 'liberal' universities in Malaysia compared to many other public unversities. Despite its draconian tudung ruling and some other general "decency" rulings..IIU is actually IS one of the best academic universities in Malaysia.

Compared to many universities' requirement for its students to wear formal attire or wear batik ..or in comparison with UTAR requirements to wear the black graduation gown (ala western's country).. i don't see how tudung can be such a big issue.

My point is..at the end of the day..there are so many important things on a larger scale. The lady made a point by skipping her convo. Great. The uni should just abolish such draconian ruling. However, before we all go and hentam IIU with spam mails..let's be sensible and look at IIU as a whole. it's a Islamic university..what's wrong if it is insistin to have some identity? Chinese should show to the rest of Malaysians on how to be tolerant and wear the tudung as if it's part of the graduation gown.

Lulu said...

words for rational thinker:
i m a guy, actualy, so i m not aggressive in commenting it.i get ur point, its realy rational.
But pls, do consider others feeling, be empathy, sometime things not as what we seen, jz bcos u were not in the situation, u won't able to know how exactly it feel.
i used to reckon it thoroughly, initially i thought exactly like wat u did:
ok...its not good wearing i tudung, but wat so big, right?there r so many stuff tat require our priority.....sort of...

BUT, put urself in her shoe, if u were guy, can u really bear tat if ppl keep inflicting u wearing songkok to class EVERY SINGLE DAY,FOR 4 YRS?tell all of us, how would u feel then?and mind u, putting a tudung is even worse than songkok,jz cover urself for hours, n feel it.

i believe everything must be kept in balance, over tolerance is not tolerance, there's a time for tat, n there's a time to remind other tat its our limit, pls stop here, its wat we suppose to do in real life.unless n until u know exactly how the whole things going, DO NOT COMMENT IN FAVOUR OF ANY PARTY,its not fair, n definitely not rational.
the main point is, we don critic IIU, neither the religion, indeed there's lot n lot of precious we can deduce from it, but ,no compel pls.tat would be fair, within certain circumscribe(pakaian sopan)don u agree?
my intention is not to offend any ppl, jz in case it does, i apologize for tat.

rational thinker said...

hi lulu.

If the idea of commenting only if we have life experience regarding the matter..then none of us should be talking about UM coz we haven't been studying there. None of us should talk about prime minister coz we are not him.

Of coz it is not fair to force people to don a tudung everyday, but ain't we talking about the graduation ceremony alone.

Oh by the way, surely i have no idea how does it feel to be a girl with a tudung (i am a guy too), but i am sure such indifference experience do allowed both you and me to have a more rational look at it - rather than talkign purely based on emotion.

rational thinker said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lulu said...

hi rational thinker, and whoever read this:
in some way u r right, but it doesn't render critic sacarstically valid under the name of "comment".Just for u guys to know how things going there, actually.IIUM used to imposed non-Muslim gal to wear tudung, but after some fighting,(of cos its not ec)they eventually approved a scarf,rather than tudung.everythings fine, right?but...can u imagine some PROF can simply stop a non-Muslim, questioning her(who actually wore exactly how they told to):why u r not covering this, n not covering that?in front of whole class?
or some DR., told the female student that i feel like want to rape u, because of ur wearing!!!
those cases happened, on those who wearing in proper attire,legally, even with a scarf,long sleeve, long blouse,long skirt.so, what do u think?
even our lady, Miss Foo, when she went back to Uni,graduated, as a visitor, a lecturer yelled at her, ordered her to put on the scarf!
even some foreigner student,i met one from China, he claimed that he want to bring the matters to IIUM's authority simply because he think that its ridiculous for IIUM to allow the non-Muslim wearing scarf,instead of tudung.
well, i post the facts, and u, think of it.tolerance,is that the right word?

aa said...

to rational thinker...
u mentioned tat the iiu non muslim gal ought to be tolerant....i defy u to define "tolerate" to justify ur claim...would u be kind enuff to state to wat extent one should tolerate and under wat circumstances one is justified not to tolerate...

Anonymous said...

so Tony & Kian Ming, how's da gal now, did she graduated. I really hope u guyz can follow up da story. U guyz are doing a great job, but it'll be sad to see this issued died out without being resolved.

I dunno about the rest of da guyz, but personally i'm sick of Msian attitude of bringing an issue up, discuss it but not resolved. This happens so often to the "politician" in tis country. Sickening! It's time common ppl like us taking the action. No hope of waiting for those ppl to act to us.

I really hope da gal can graduted without bowing to IIU demand. Go gal!

Anonymous said...

One could of course view the 'tudung' as part of the convocation uniform regardless what it's supposed to stand for, couldn't one?

fatboy said...

hmm, frankly, i don't really see much of an issue if the tudung during convocation is part of the uniform. i mean, why wear the robes, or cloak etc? it's hardly reflective of our everyday clothing, but we don't object to wearing the robes and mortar board for the occasion. the whole entire outfit is uncomfortable anyway, so what's another piece of cloth.

Anonymous said...

My sister went to IIUM and she graduated in 2000 and I can tell you one thing, the admin is totally ridiculous and is not even tolerant.

I remembered visiting my sister with my aunt and we both have to cover our hair with scarf, and I was only 7 at that time. My aunt who wear shorts obviously can't find anything to wear at that instant and so she settled for a rain coat in order to enter the campus. I think all of these requirements are ridiculous.People wear head scarf if they want to. Yes it is required by Quran but I always believe that if you want to wear then you should be sincere.

Having said that, my father is a very religious person but he never imposed us to wear anything that we don't want. He always said we should wear it when we ready and it's true. I start wearing head scarf now because I wanted not because of some ridiculous school requirements.

Heck we're in college,we should have some freedom!

Anonymous said...

To everyone who rants about the tudung issue:

I am a woman who dons a tudung, and in accordance to the federal constitution, in contradictory I believe that I would agree with some people's lamenting on how unjust the university policy was towards non-Muslims who might find wearing the scarf as somehow intimidating their belief.

I think even according the true teachings of Islam, the non-Muslims aren't forced to wear it, despite the Islamic nature of the educational institution.

However, as the writer remarked that he personally disagreed with Singaporean policy of banning tudungs among Muslims as minority in the country, I will clearly put my stance, too. The Government shall not, by any chance, violate their own policy of valuing freedom, individual liberty and human rights.

One might wonder how dare I say such thing. Well, partly because of my personal encounter with some intolerant, ignorant and snobbish Singaporeans that wrinkle their noses when they see me dressing modestly (not even the Arabic tent-sized clothing, just a decent-looking pair of jeans and long-sleeve shirt) with a tudung, covering my hair. A woman even shot a glare on me, expressing her perhaps hatred on Malays who wear tudung. Little did she know that I'm not even a Malay; I am a Dusun from Sabah, of the same ethnicity with the devout Christian, Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili.

In another occassion, living in a Chinese-based town Kuching, Sarawak posed another tougher challenge - as these young students do not mix with a person with such appearance as mine. They can't tolerate seeing girls that don't sport skimpy skirts or boxer shorts and sleeveless, cleavage-exposing tops to class.

I would like to offer a sincere apology to those who are slightly offended by my comment. But I swear these are my real encounters of the reality. And I wonder how unfair some people can be on some innocent people just because of political things in debate.

I just wish Malaysians can accept one another, and not blinded by preconceived notions that they're much superior than the others in terms of civilisation, intelligence and appearance. Understand what 'Don't judge the book by its cover' means?

Anonymous said...

To everyone who rants about the tudung issue:

I am a woman who dons a tudung, and in accordance to the federal constitution, in contradictory I believe that I would agree with some people's lamenting on how unjust the university policy was towards non-Muslims who might find wearing the scarf as somehow intimidating their belief.

I think even according the true teachings of Islam, the non-Muslims aren't forced to wear it, despite the Islamic nature of the educational institution.

However, as the writer remarked that he personally disagreed with Singaporean policy of banning tudungs among Muslims as minority in the country, I will clearly put my stance, too. The Government shall not, by any chance, violate their own policy of valuing freedom, individual liberty and human rights.

One might wonder how dare I say such thing. Well, partly because of my personal encounter with some intolerant, ignorant and snobbish Singaporeans that wrinkle their noses when they see me dressing modestly (not even the Arabic tent-sized clothing, just a decent-looking pair of jeans and long-sleeve shirt) with a tudung, covering my hair. A woman even shot a glare on me, expressing her perhaps hatred on Malays who wear tudung. Little did she know that I'm not even a Malay; I am a Dusun from Sabah, of the same ethnicity with the devout Christian, Datuk Dr Maximus Ongkili.

In another occassion, living in a Chinese-based town Kuching, Sarawak posed another tougher challenge - as these young students do not mix with a person with such appearance as mine. They can't tolerate seeing girls that don't sport skimpy skirts or boxer shorts and sleeveless, cleavage-exposing tops to class.

I would like to offer a sincere apology to those who are slightly offended by my comment. But I swear these are my real encounters of the reality. And I wonder how unfair some people can be on some innocent people just because of political things in debate.

I just wish Malaysians can accept one another, and not blinded by preconceived notions that they're much superior than the others in terms of civilisation, intelligence and appearance. Understand what 'Don't judge the book by its cover' means?