The MES has deemed face-veils un-Islamic and a form of cultural invasion, perhaps hinting at the Wahabbi/Salafi cultural influence exerted by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations in West Asia and the Gulf region, a preferred destination for many migrants from Kerala.
A Kerala-based minority education group, the Muslim Education Society (MES), has banned students from wearing the face veil on the campuses of its 150-plus institutions. This comes in the wake of the Sri Lanka terror attacks and the country ordering a similar ban, though the group insists its decision has nothing do with the attack. In fact, it draws from a 2018 Kerala High Court judgment that holds that the management of an educational institution has the right to decide a dress code and enforce it, and such dress codes have nothing to do with religion. The MES has deemed face-veils un-Islamic and a form of cultural invasion, perhaps hinting at the Wahabbi/Salafi cultural influence exerted by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations in West Asia and the Gulf region, a preferred destination for many migrants from Kerala.
The MES’s decision has not gone down well with the Sunni clergy in the state, and a pressure group has said that the group has no right to impede the religious freedom of the students. The clerics’ line makes the various forms of veiling/covering—like the burqa, niqab and hijab—as integral to Muslim identity and religious freedom. It isn’t difficult to see why, in the burqa/hijab-ban debate in various countries, the decision to wear the garment is made out to be a matter of freedom of choice and expression. With increasing marginalisation of the community, especially in the West, the assertion of Islamic identity has also hinged upon burqa/hijab, often the first overtly “Islamic” identifier to be attacked in nations insisting on cultural assimilation. At the same time, it is necessary that the debate pay adequate attention to the larger reality of veiling being an instrument of oppression in many nations—from the enforcement of compulsory donning by the infamous veiling police of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to the mutaween (anti-vice squad) of Saudi Arabia that had allegedly prevented girls from fleeing a burning school in 2002 because they were not wearing abayas and headscarves—15 died and 50 were injured.