Islamic university in Indonesia reverses niqab face veil ban after barrage of criticism

This picture, taken on November 12, 2017 shows members of Indonesia’s “Niqab Squad” posing for a photograph after participating in archery and horse riding lessons in Bekasi. Photo: AFP / ADEK BERRY

Last week, Sunan Kalijaga Islamic State University (UIN) in Yogyakarta made headlines in Indonesia and around the world after the university’s dean made the controversial decision to ban women, including students and faculty, from wearing the niqab (Islamic face veil). After receiving criticism from sources ranging from feminists to politicians to Islamic scholars, the university issued a letter revoking the niqab ban.

“Based on the results of the University Coordination Meeting on Saturday, March 10, 2018, it was decided that Rector Letter No B-1301 / Un02 / R / AK.00.3 / 02/2018 on the Guidance of Students Using Face Veil be revoked in order to maintain a conducive academic climate,” read the letter as quoted by Republika.


The ban was first announced last week by the University’s dean, Yudian Wahyudi, who argued that the niqab was associated with radical Islam and that the policy was needed to prevent a rise in radicalism on campus.

“If they dare [to wear the niqab], then please leave the campus. If the policy is wrong, I’m ready to be fired,” he said as quoted by Viva.

The ban was heavily criticized by many, particularly Islamic organizations such as the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), which called the prohibition a violation of religious freedoms guaranteed by the Indonesian constitution.

Another school of higher education school in Yogyakarta, Ahmad Dahlan University, also recently introduced a prohibition on the niqab over fears of religious radicalism, although one less severe as students who violated it were not threatened with expulsion. They have not made any statements since Sunan Kalijaga reversed their niqab ban.

Although Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country in which a large percentage of Muslim women wear hijab (headscarves), the number of women who wear the niqab is relatively quite small (though there is evidence to suggest it is becoming somewhat more mainstream). But many who wear the face veil here say they are still looked upon with suspicion and are regularly asked questions such as “why are you dressed like a terrorist?”

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