Indonesia bans forced religious attire in schools

Students attend a learning session at a school in Padang, West Sumatra province, Indonesia, in this photo taken January 4, 2021 by Antara Fo
Schools are no longer allowed to force students to wear religious attire

Indonesia has banned public schools from making religious attire compulsory, after the story of a non-Muslim student being forced to wear a headscarf in class went viral.

“This is an individual’s right… It is not the school’s decision,” Indonesia’s Minister for Education and Culture Nadiem Makarim said. The government has given schools 30 days to revoke any existing rules, they may face sanctions if they do not comply. The move comes after a non-Muslim student in a vocational school in Padang was repeatedly asked to wear a Muslim headscarf in class. She refused, and her parents were called to speak to school officials.

“Almost every day, my daughter has been summoned for not wearing a headscarf, and her answer is that she is not Muslim,” Elianu Hia, father of the girl said. “If I force my daughter to wear the headscarf, I will be lying about my daughter’s identity,” Mr Hia added. “Where are my religious rights? This is a public school after all.” The issue captured national attention when her parents secretly filmed a video of a meeting with a school official and posted it on social media. In the video, the school official insisted that female students must wear the headscarf according to school rules.

Amid backlash online, the school’s principal apologised at a press conference and said the student would be allowed to dress according to her own religious beliefs. At a media briefing on the decree, religious affairs minister Yaqut Cholil Qoumas was quoted as saying: “Religions do not promote conflict, neither do they justify acting unfairly against those who are different.” Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters news agency the decree was a positive step, given that schools in more than 20 provinces still make religious attire mandatory in their dress code.

“Many public schools require girls and female teachers to wear the hijab that too often prompt bullying, intimidation, social pressures, and in some cases, forced resignation,” he said. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but it officially recognises six religions and has enshrined pluralism in the state philosophy known as Pancasila.

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