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School relents on use of veils by Muslim female students

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01:03 PM September 18th, 2012

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September 18th, 2012 01:03 PM

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—Pilar College, which is run by an order of Roman Catholic nuns, has agreed to allow Muslim female students to wear veils to school, after reaping widespread criticism for banning the wearing of veils on campus in July.

But Sister Ma. Fe Gerodias, Southern Mindanao representative of the Religious of the Virgin Mary who spoke on behalf of the Pilar College administration, said Muslim women students may wear the “hijab”— a veil that covers the hair and neck but not the face—to school starting in June 2013. The ban on the “niqab,” which covers the whole face will stay, however, she added.

Anne Piccio, dean of school’s College of Business Administration, told the Inquirer that allowing Muslim women students to wear the hijab was “not an easy or overnight decision.”

She said it was a product of a series of consultations with all stakeholders that, Gerodias said, “took us a month.”

Gerodias said the school administration was grateful to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, headed by Commissioner Mehol Sadain, for facilitating the dialogues.

Pilar College found itself in the middle of a controversy when it barred Muslim women students wearing hijabs and niqabs from entering the school. It cited security as main reason for the ban, which Muslim parents said was against religious freedom.

Upon reaching puberty, Muslim women are required by Islamic law to wear veils that conceal their hair, nape and ears.

Lawyer Yasser Apion of the NCMF  said the hijab “is not about fashion.”  “It’s obligatory, and girls reaching puberty have to wear hijab,” he said.

Piccio, whose husband is a Muslim, said that while the school’s administration has decided to allow the wearing of hijabs, “not all the parents and students, and even the staff, were amenable.”

But “we need to meet halfway and the way how to meet halfway is to educate everyone until we reach full acceptance,” she said.

Gerodias said the school’s administration will continue to conduct dialogues with various groups as they “need time to process attitudes, mindsets, sentiments, biases, and prejudices.”

Among the steps it will be undertaking before June 2013 comes around is to establish linkages with Muslim institutions to deepen the understanding of local Muslim culture and traditions, particularly in the areas of commonality and partnership opportunities with the Christian community; the inclusion of comparative religious studies in the school’s religious studies courses; the conduct of Marian (Sitti Maryam) dialogues and spirituality forums; regular updates on Christian-Muslim relations; and encouraging interfaith and intrafaith dialogues among Muslims and Christians.

She said the NCMF has committed to assist Pilar College in implementing the programs.

Piccio said the college’s administrator, Sister Nina Balbas, also “started studying Islam to make her fully understand everything.”

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