Mandatory hijab rule in Padang public schools under scrutiny following non-Muslim student’s complaint

Illustration. Photo: Flickr
Illustration. Photo: Flickr

Education officials in the city of Padang, West Sumatra are under pressure to review a discriminatory rule after a student at public vocational high school complained that she was made to wear the hijab even though she’s not Muslim.

The complaint came to the public’s attention after the student’s parents went to complain to school officials and discreetly filmed the meeting. The parents brought a letter, signed by the grade 10 student, declaring that she rejects the discriminatory rule and refuses to wear a hijab in school.

Despite the complaint, the school official in the video remained adamant that the student had to wear a hijab as per existing school rules.

“How would you feel if your child was made to follow rules [from a private non-Muslim foundation]? If this was a private school rule, that would be fine, but this is a public school,” the girl’s father told the school official in the video.

Amid huge public backlash against the rule, Rusmadi, the school’s principal, apologized and said that the school has apologized to the student and has allowed her to dress for school in a manner that’s consistent with her religious beliefs. The West Sumatra Education Board did not deny the existence of the mandatory hijab rule, which they say was introduced by former Mayor Fauzi Bahar in 2005.

Fauzi was unapologetic when asked for comment, arguing that he introduced the policy for Muslim students at public schools even though non-Muslims have been made to adhere to the rule in practice.

“Why all the fuss about it now? The rule was made 15 years ago,” he said.

Nevertheless, the Education Ministry said it has issued stern warnings to all involved and pressed educators in the province to abide by the ministry’s 2014 decree prohibiting religious accessories or apparel to become part of uniforms at public schools.

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