Another private school here has come under criticism for banning Muslim women from wearing “niqab,” a veil that covers the entire head except the eyes.
Yasser Apion, chief of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos legal division, said about a dozen Muslim students had not been able to take their classes because of the ban at Universidad de Zamboanga (UZ).
“One poor student recently failed to secure her transcript of records because she wore the niqab. She had to authorize another person to secure her own document,” Apion said.
He described the school’s policy as “an outright violation of the students’ rights to education,” coming in the heels of yet another unresolved controversy at Pilar College, which has banned the wearing of “hijab,” a veil which only covers the hair, ears and nape of Muslim women.
Dianna Jean Cruz, UZ public affairs head, told the Inquirer by phone that the school has banned only the full face covering similar to that worn by Muslim women in many Arab countries.
“Basically, it’s a security issue not just for the school but for them, too. We are for the common good of the majority,” Cruz said, stressing that no right was being violated.
UZ allows Muslims students to wear the hijab, she said.
Cruz said the policy was not related to the death of the school’s president. On April 1, unidentified men shot and killed UZ president Arturo Eustaquio III, a Muslim convert, while he was driving a motorcycle from his house in Barangay Sta. Maria.
The victim’s family owns the school.
A UZ statement sent to the Inquirer on Thursday by Cruz said the school could not compromise on the ban on niqab. “The case of niqab is entirely distinct, separate and different from hijab,” it read.
The wearing of niqab is being banned “not only because of the inconveniences it caused but more so on the matter of security, health and maintenance of academic excellence in our program offerings,” it said.
“It has been observed that the wearing of niqab has created added burden in our security protocol as these students refused to abide by the guidelines,” the statement said.
“The checking of the true identity of the person behind the veil every time they get into the campus with special and extra effort by female security guard in an exclusive guard room to see/check on their faces and in every class and examination day in all subjects by the teachers undoubtedly placed our instruction in delay if not in jeopardy,” it added.
Contrary to Apion’s claim, only three students were affected by the ban, UZ said.
Apion said a complaint had been filed against the UZ ban at the Commission on Higher Education in Western Mindanao.
Laisa Alamia, director of the Commission on Human Rights in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said the school should not ban students just because they were wearing niqab.
“Anybody has the right to wear anything provided it will not harm anyone, provided it is in accordance with public policies,” she said.
In the case of Pilar College, Apion said its officials had asked for a dialogue with students on the hijab ban.