Thursday, December 01, 2005

International Islamic University: Tudung or Not To Don? (Update)

In a very belated update to the "International Islamic University (IIU): Tudung or Not To Don" controversy blogged here, readers may be pleased to know that common sense has prevailed. In a report carried by the New Straits Times, the Cabinet has ruled that "no Malaysian undergraduate should be compelled to wear a tudung".

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.


Anonymous said...

Not to be an idiot but this seems to be the case in the entire world.

If you are the minority, they will say that you do not respect their law and religion
When they are the minority, they will say you mistreat there isn't much to comment, is it?

Anonymous said...

Our Malaysia country leaders, not necessary meaning the prime minister, but overall people in power, people of authority, etc have no integrity, no moral, no self respect and most of no accountability and responsibility.

Let's not compare with other countries, as no countries have perfect leaders, but what they have is integrity.

When they do something wrong and they know it is wrong, nobody need to tell them to resign, they won't say our Malaysia usual line "Nobody can resign me except the prime minister" - we should call this the ball-less line.

If you have integrity and honest enough, you should just resign.

John Lee said...

Fong Po Kuan has been blogging about her university days (see; apparently there is a lot of social pressure to don the tudung.

Anonymous said...

With the directives from the cabinet, I wonder whether the IIU will lower its intakes of Non-Muslim students in the future, or make it a standard procedure when admitting non-Muslim.
We have a clear example-UiTM...

Anonymous said...

Actually, IIU does not enforce the tudung rule during the ceremony if wearing it is against the religion of the non-muslim in question. male Sikh's last time who had attended the ceremony did not have to wear the Songkot. Other than that, the tudung is just part of the ceremonial attire for the non-muslim female. Just to make sure everyone wears the same thing on that night =)

Anonymous said...

what nonsense..just to make sure everyone wears the same thing? *snort*

Anonymous said...

i think the cabinet's decision was probably a carefully chosen one.

otherwise they would not have the right to defend the rights of muslims in other countries (e.g. france) who insist on wearing the tudung although the school/university regulations clearly say no headgear (for the sake of unity and conformity amongst students).

Anonymous said...

Well the difference with the one in france and the one in IIU is that IIU really do respect the non-muslim's religion. (i.e in the case of the Sikh students) Just a small (repeat, SMALL) comparison is if I dont choose to wear the mortar board (whatever its called) in a graduation at a western university, surely I wont be allowed to go on stage, right? IIU is an ISLAMIC university.. therefore, it has traditions that differs from other universities. I dont see why its a problem to have the "tudung" as part of the ceremonial uniform, seeing how its part of the Islamic theme in the first place. Im sure if other universities (lets say.. a possible International Hindu University) are Religious based, the ceremonial gowns would be based on that religion. Its part of the required attire.. thats it. Every institution would have some sort of required uniform for such an occasion.. right? Whether its western based, or traditional based.

Anonymous said...


Check on Page 7 where the late PM Tunku Abdul Rahman made a clear statement in respond to S.O.K. Ubaidulla

Anonymous said...

so meaning to say, malays cannot have their way, whether in malaysia or singapore?

malays really do have given wee bit too much to the chinese, dont you think?

imagine if a malay goes to a chinese ceremony and not only refuse to wear chinese traditional clothes, but out loud says that he is not chinese so he shouldn't be enforced to wear it. It's like implying that the chinese are people who like to force their cultures on others.

come on, we all have to learn to respect each other. we live in a multi-racial country, and malays as the original people of the land has compromised so much- to the extent of letting go singapore (before you guys argue, please read back history- singapore belongs to kingdom of johor previously. singapura is a malay word, temasek is a malay word and if it is sanskrit derived then so be it- that's how malay language is-rich in sanskrit then since malays were hindus before they became muslims and then become heavily influenced with arabic words when they convert to islam).

dont think that only chinese have to compromise, sacrifice, etc. even malays too. go to china and see how much freedom do the muslims get over there? there is even problems to have an arabic name. in singapore, girls cannot wear tudung yet in malaysia chinese girls can wear pinafore in a national school widely dominated by malays.

i understand all your concerns dear chinese friends, and i do agree there is much to be reformed in our country's systems. the peer pressure thing is real and even malays who are coming from city/ modern/richer/mixed blood etc than their other malay peers faced tremendous peer pressure to the point of hatred- *even if* the hated victims wear tudung etc-jealousy is real in malay culture.

that said, if we want a change for our country, let's stop generalising people. everyone wants a change whether chinese, malay, indians etc. everyone has something to complain about. so to pin point on a race is really not a good idea.

race-bashing (for the lack of a better word) creates resentments and barriers instead of opening doors for people to start talking. it makes people defensive.

just to add a personal story that really happened to me. i was sitting with a group of my chinese classmates and they were bashing malays. I was so naive at that time (just 18) and i asked the chinese girl next to me, "It seems you guys really hate malays. But you do know that I AM malay, dont you?" (with a m honestly quizzed look- i was honestly puzzled at that time because i have no idea how much chinese hate malays.. i have never thought of such thing happening..). She looked embarressed and then said to me, "Oh... but you're different. You're the only malay friend we ever had". But that sure do make her felt uneasy. (They say I don't look malay- maybe thats why they "accidentally" backbite malays in front of me).

So yes, I'm one proof that not all malays are so "kampungan" or narrow minded (nothing wrong with the kampung but the narrow-minded thing is wrong). Many malays are educated and exposed to outside of their culture. The malays that are very judgmental towards others even towards their own people are those who are not too exposed to outside culture, have only malay friends, born and bred in one same place etc (trying my best not to use the word kampung here). And those type of judgmental people who thinks if you dont do as them you are a bad person- exist in all races and cultures. I'm sure, even in chinese culture.

personally, as a malay, i feel like i'm not accepted anywhere on this land. Not fully accepted by malays, not fully accepted by chinese. It feels like walking on eggshells, and i'm sure many other innocent malays feel this way.

So please.... enough already. Let's focus on the sin, the wrong instead of go race-bashing.