COMMENTARY: Uphold Terwasurnajwa’s Right to Wear Hijab!

MANILA (MindaNews / 26 August) — Her youthful voice sounded tearful as she narrated her hijab case when she called me up today. Fifteen-year old Terwasurnajwa Anni Matugol is a Grade 9 student at Notre Dame of Siasi in Sulu province.

According to Terwasurnajwa, her right to wear hijab, albeit a fundamental and inalienable right in the context of religious freedom, is at the moment endangered because she and her classmate Sheena K. Muharram were called to the office of the school Prefect Mr. Jul I. Halun in the presence of Academic Coordinator Gemma Quiniano last August 22, 2019.

They coaxed and implored these girls to take off their khimar (head veil) just on September 6, 2019 the occasion commemorating Notre Dame Day earlier than its regular day which is normally every 8th of September.

Stricken, Ms Matugol tried to explain why she cannot abide by their request because wearing hijab is not like wearing a hat or an occasional dress code but is part of her modesty prescribed by Allah to cover a female’s juyubihinna/awrat which means private parts excepting only the face and the hands from the wrist to fingertips. She badly wanted to convey why mere exposure of hair or arms is tantamount to nudity. However, to no avail because she was interrupted midway in her reply by said officials’ persuasions and appeal to reason.

Prefect Halun is a Muslim but he advised them to enjoy life while young by participating in the school dance show live program and that anyway it is only on September 6 that they are required to take off their head veil and to dance because it would be unfair to the others if they don’t.

Further, he pointed out that the Muslim girls must be thankful that Notre Dame of Siasi is allowing them to wear hijab to school unlike some schools in Zamboanga City that disallow it.

The girls’ trepidation rose when they were warned that if they won’t comply they would be given zero point for said compulsory extra-curricular activity. I suggested to Ms Matugol if she and her parents can dialogue on how to meet halfway regarding the mandatory dance such as donation of refreshment or taking active part in any other committees involving the event. After all, in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding amidst diversity, there’s more to “inculcating transformative education” towards holistic peace and development than mandatory dance!

Since Grade I, Terwasurnajwa has been a Hijaabi. She further reported that she goes to school clad in hijab wearing school uniform using arm bands to cover her bare arms but Notre Dame disallowed it. Ingeniously, she takes off her arm bands when in school but managed to cover her arms using scarves.

Her case was brought to our attention by Director Alnajib B. Maujon, my co-pioneer in the Hijaab Niqaab Advocacy Network (HAN), and Overall Chairman of Federation of Muslim Students Association (FMSA) in Manila. Ameer Maujon was informed by Ustadz Sidan who is proactively reporting it to Siasi Mayor for peaceful intervention.

We have given them copies of pertinent legal memoranda, circulars, orders from National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) collated through the efforts of former NCMF Commissioner on Youht (now Judge) Edilwasif T. Baddiri. It includes those executed and signed by DepED, CHED, DOH, NBI, and the Civil Service Commission.

Ustadz Sidan prudently believes that it must resolved internally with the timely and relevant intercession of the local Mayor, the Mufti via dialogue with Muslim parents, Notre Dame PTA and Reverend Randy, the school principal.

These two students will not opt to absent themselves and feign sickness on September 6. But they chose with the support of their pious Muslim parents and Muslim religious sector in the spirit of Bridging Leadership, to proactively collaborate with local leaders and various stakeholders to shed light on this hijab issue transpiring in Siasi, Sulu.

Meantime, Ustadz Alzad Sattar is willing to resonate such documented hijab case to the BTA (Bangsamoro Transition Authority) in order to take appropriate action as much as I am (now working with Youth Commissioner Samer Allong), amplifying it for  policy advocacy to Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan and to NCMF which is mandated to preserve, promote and develop the culture, tradition and well-being of Muslim Filipinos.

Why is disallowance of right to hijab happening despite and inspite the fact that there is no dearth of laws in respect to  right to religious freedom? Why can’t we respect, promote, uphold and fulfill the right of Muslims to religious freedom?

According to the Philippine Organic Act of 1902: “No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, and that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.”

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Warina Sushil A. Jukuy is a correspondent of Riyawa and is the WesMin BaSulTa (Western Mindanao Basilan Sulu Tawi-tawi) Coordinator of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates]