IIU has argued that its rules state that non-Muslim students are required to respect the Islamic code of conduct, comply with university rules and not act in any way that may be interpreted as being disrespectful to the religion. The public has responded such practices in essence makes non-Muslims subservient to Muslim practices, and the practice of mutual tolerance and respect is hence disregarded.
Thankfully, reason won its day in the Cabinet and it was announced that "in matters of religion, choice and not coercion should be the preferred way".
It is agreed that wearing of tudung be made optional for students in all universities and higher learning institutions in the country. This also applies to students at the International Islamic University... All of us believe that there should not be coercion involved in the dress code, [T]he Cabinet also agreed that wearing of tudung be made optional at graduation ceremonies or convocations.This matter was raised to the Cabinet by the Minister in-charge of National Unity, Datuk Maximus Ongkili. However, it is regrettable that the minister did not have the moral courage to make his stand known at the point when the controversy was raised in Parliament. He even went to the extent of defending the authorities at IIU, before agreeing to submit the issue for deliberation by the Cabinet. It was equally (but unsurprisingly) disappointing that the Minister of Higher Education made the same defence that the tudung was part of the university attire. We expect our ministers, particularly in respect to matters relating to their portfolios, to show greater leadership and moral courage in carrying out their responsibilities.
My concern now is whether IIU will take the cabinet directive in a positive manner. As it is, even certain cabinet minister's response appears more than a tad ambigious, as reported in the Sun. The last time this issue was raised, the same decision was made. However, IIU clearly ignored the directives, once the issue was no longer in the spotlight. As quoted in Malaysiakini, former IIU student and MP for Batu Gajah, Ms Fong Po Kuan highlighted that:
"When I raised the issue in Parliament in 2003, I was told by the government that the university only encouraged non-Muslim undergraduates to wear the tudung, it was not compulsory... I am very sad that the problem still going on. This shows that the university is insensitive to other cultures and religions."Additionally, there is also not much point if the university "amends" it's formal rules and regulations to make the tudung optional, but continue to apply societal and peer pressure on its minority non-Muslim students to conform to Muslim practices. Blog reader "Lulu" raised that the necessity to conform comes often not from "written rules" but entrench bias and practices of many lecturers. Is IIU sincere in encouraging mutual respect and tolerance? If it is, it should govern the conduct of its lecturers by such standards and not let them set "standards" of their individual whims and fancies.
For those keen to find out more about life in general studying at IIU and some of its pressures in conformity with Islamic practices, please read Ms Fong Po Kuan's blog where she "chronicled" her years in IIU in 4 parts - Part I, II, III and IV.