University restores niqab use after criticisms greeted its ban

University restores niqab use after criticisms greeted its ban

An Indonesian university whose ban on niqab face veils made global headlines has reversed the policy following criticism that it trampled on personal choice.

Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Indonesia’s cultural capital Yogyakarta issued the edict last week to more than three dozen niqab-wearing students — and warned they could be expelled for non-compliance.

The school, which has about 10,000 students, had said the now-cancelled rule was aimed at countering religious extremism in the world’s biggest Muslim majority country.

“The guidance concerning students using a face veil will be revoked in order to maintain an academic climate that is conducive to fairness,” said a statement issued by the university at the weekend.

Backers of the new rules said wearing the full veil with a small slit for the eyes was not a religious obligation, but critics saw the anti-niqab appeal as impinging on individual rights.

Another school in Yogyakarta, Ahmad Dahlan University, has also urged students not to wear the niqab — without penalty for non-compliance — while several Indonesian universities have issued niqab bans in the past.

Although niqabs are common in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states, they’re rare in secular Indonesia, where around 90 percent of its 260 million people have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam, and are often seen as an unwelcome Arab export.

Indonesia’s reputation as a bastion of progressiveness and religious tolerance has recently been tested by a government push to outlaw gay and pre-marital sex.

The conservative lurch comes as once-fringe Islamic political parties move into the mainstream.

The niqab has been at the centre of a heated global debate over religious freedom and women’s rights, with France the first European country to ban it in public spaces.