Since the fall of Suharto’s New Order regime, more and more Indonesian women have chosen to use the hijab as a way to outwardly express their Islamic faith and identity. But in many parts of the increasingly conservative country, the choice has turned into a requirement as sharia-influenced bylaws have been passed in many regions which require Muslim civil servants and students to wear them. In some areas like Aceh, even non-Muslim females are required to use the hijab.
Such a law doesn’t exist in Bayuwangi, the easternmost of Java’s regencies, but that didn’t stop a middle school in the city of Genteng from denying a student entrance to the school on the grounds that she was a non-Muslim who did not want to wear a hijab as required by the school.
The regent of Banyuwangi, Abdullah Azwar Anas, said he was shocked and angry upon hearing the news that SMPN 3 Sempu had denied the girl her educational rights and said he would sanction and evaluate the school’s principal.
“I got the information and was shocked. I called Pak Sulihtiyono (the head of the regency’s education department) and asked for him to check it out. It turned out that the (hijab requirement) was the initiative of the school leadership. Frankly, I am disappointed. We are trying to uphold the harmony of society, but how can we if there is still a paradigm like this? If it is for Muslim students, it would not be a problem, but it has been generalized without looking at the background of the student’s religion,” Anas told reporters yesterday as quoted by Detik.
The incident was first reported to authorities by the student’s father after he went to enroll her in the school and purchase her uniform. School officials handed him the fabric for a hijab and told him his daughter had to wear it as a requirement to attend the school.
The father reported the incident to the Regency’s Department of Education, which was, fortunately, able to place his daughter in another middle school. The department also demanded that SMPN3 immediately revoke their regulation forcing non-Muslim students to wear the hojab.
However, the acting principal of SMPN 3 claimed that the non-Muslim student’s rejection was just a “miscommunication” and that the enrollment board had been acting on “incomplete regulations”. He said the school board actually did not require non-Muslims to wear hijabs, but that part of the regulations somehow hadn’t been communicated to the enrollment committee when they were enrolling this year’s students.