Burqa – An Attire gone Controversial !!

My Alma Mater, St. Aloysius College, Mangalore has landed into a controversial debate after it’s decision to ban burqa inside the classroom and examination halls. Although I fully support this decision taken by the management of this prestigious institution run by the Jesuits, there are a few protests from the Muslim community blaming the college being racial and prejudice towards Muslim women. Some say that the decision by the college, in this context, is nothing but an infringement on the rights of Muslim women students. But I want to clarify to these narrow minded protesters that the decision of St.Aloysius College to ban women students from wearing burqas in classrooms/examination halls is driven by purely practical considerations. I had completed my schooling and college at St. Aloysius, and I have noticed that the Jesuits have always welcomed students of various religion and castes without being racial and prejudists. Hence portraying the Jesuits and the College management team as racial doesn’t make sense at all. Period.

The College still respects the Muslim women students, their culture, and also their desire to wear burqa. The college authorities have already clarified that they don’t have any objection to women students wearing burqas on the college campus. Hence, the decision can hardly be categorised as a malicious attack on the Muslim community akin to the anti-burqa law in France or Belgium. However, when it comes to student-teacher communication in a classroom environment the veil covering the face does pose an impediment. Similarly, students covering their faces during examinations can hinder identification. So one should agree that the decision by the college to ban burqa inside classrooms/examination halls is purely for a reason, and not against the Muslim faith or custom.

A comment posted on the mangalorean.com website by a reader from Arabian Gulf cites that the Jesuits and the College faculties are very partial towards Catholic nuns wearing their dress called ‘habit’ and veil, and no ban has been implemented on their attire. Equating the burqa/veil with the ‘habit’/veil doesn’t cut much ice. Unlike the burqa, ‘habit’/veil don’t pose an impediment to facial expressions or identification. However, there is a little merit in  the argument that the burqa ban would deter women from attending college. Given our aspirational society, the desire for education is immense allowing for matters of faith to be reconciled with practical considerations.

I do agree and understand that for many women coming from conservative backgrounds the burqa/veil is an essential element of faith or tradition. Nonetheless, studies have established that learning in a classroom requires that teachers establish a healthy rapport with their students. And facial expressions form an important part of communication. But for a faculty lecturing a veiled student there is no way of discerning signs of comprehension or understanding. And, without this, there is no telling if the student has grasped the essence of a lecture. When it comes to class participation or making student presentations, a burqa is an even greater handicap. Also when a burqa clad student takes an exam with her face covered, it’s very hard to figure out whether it’s the right person taking the exam — never know it could be a intelligent male personal disguised in burqa anwsering the test for a dull Muslim lady student. That’s possible!!

These days the burqa attire has been abused a lot, not by good Muslim folks but by culprits and terrorists. We have seen and heard about suicide bombers clad in burqas creating destructions and deaths. Yes, no doubt the veiled threat continues. Now, burqa clad women are using the concealing garb to steal jewelry from shops in some parts of India. That’s why some Indian jewelry shops are banning women in burqas from shopping there as inventory control precaution. That doesn’t mean these jewelers hate Muslim women, they simply don’t like a face covered dress which is a threat to their business. So wearing a burqa has been a tough choice for many Muslim women these days.

Undoubtedly, many Muslim women, compelled to wear the burqa, are unable to make fundamental choices about their lives. But equally, there are many of them, who are making an informed choice to wear the burqa as a symbol of religious and cultural assertion. So depending on their surroundings, their place of living and learning, etc; etc; the Muslim women should make their choices –adapt the changes and assimilate; or live a conservative life. Many American born and also foreign students in USA still identify themselves as Muslims by wearing a veil (with face not covered), but don’t prefer burqa — a good choice of assimilation. I think the Muslim women students at St. Aloysius should adapt the changes made by the college –since it’s time for them to assimilate.

Laws, rules, new changes should be obeyed by everyone no matter what. In United States you are not suppose to enter the courtroom wearing a hat/sports cap–and you can’t argue with the judge that wearing a hat is your family tradition. The judge will simply throw you out!! Similarly,when you visit a Hindu temple, you are suppose to leave your footwear outside the temple –you can’t argue with the priest/Swami that you don’t want to leave your $100 Nike shoes outside because someone may steal them. Either you enter the temple without your shoes or you go back!! A Hindu temple in Chicago, USA doesn’t allow any visitors clad in shorts — you can’t argue with the temple authorities saying that it’s summer and it’s freaking hot outside, so wearing shorts is your fashion. Sorry, either you cover your legs with the clothing that the temple provides you or no entry!! So every court/law enforcement offices, religious places etc; etc; have their own rules and regulations or they could make new rules or changes –and you have to follow and abide by the rules and regulations. Now that St. Aloysius College has made some new decisions on wearing a clothing called ‘burqa’ by the students, I think the Muslim women students should agree with the college decision without any hassels and controversies.

While I end this article, I would like to say to the Muslim community that I am not a racist nor a prejudicst towards Muslims. I do have lots of Muslim friends and I admire their faith and customs. This article was written to make the facts clear –and taken together all the facts, I finally say there’s nothing absurd about the St. Aloysius pragmatic decision to ban burqa in classrooms and examination halls. Got Burqa–it’s still welcomed on the campus!!


About The Author

Alfie D’Souza is a well know name in Ottawa, Illinois – a suburban community in the outskirts of Chicago.  He is the member of WriteTeam for “The Times”.  The Daily Times of Ottawa and The Times-Press of Streator have merged into a new newspaper called “The Times.” Alfie is a regular columnist for this newspaper who covers various stories of Indian and Western origin on various events.  He is also a regular contributor for the magazine “Mangalore Today” which is published from Mangalore.

Author: Alfie DSouza- Illinois