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"?