National

Hijab battle goes to court

Justin Saidi

Some concerned Muslims have obtained a court injunction, restraining the Anglican Diocese of Upper Shire or its agents from stopping female Muslim learners from attending classes while wearing a headgear known as hijab.

Upper Shire Bishop of the Anglican Church Brighton Malasa said the diocese had tasked its lawyers to challenge the court order considering that the injunction is against what the government and the church agreed on dress code in schools which are under the government subvention but were constructed by different churches in the country.

The injunction, which we have seen, has been filed to the claimant’s lawyers at Chidothe, Chidothe and Company.

The order has three claimants namely Sakina Nembo and Sumaya Jawadu who are guardians to their children who have been failing to attend classes due to the issue.

The third claimant, who is representing all parents and female Muslim students, is Sheikh Ismael Mtiko.

In the injunction, Father Mphatso Bango of M’manga Parish in Balaka District, Hopeson Odala Jailosi who is diocesan Education Secretary and the Anglican Church have been indicated as the defendants.

“Yesterday, we were served with an injunction restraining the teacher or the church from sending away pupils when they come in Hijab. Our lawyers are handling the matter and we will contest it in the High Court,” Malasa said.

The Bishop appealed to other churches to stand in solidarity with the Anglican Church, indicating that the issue is not between his church and Muslims, but it is a national matter which borders on Christian values which has been upheld since time immemorial.

When the issue first surfaced last year, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology issued a statement which clarified the government’s stand on wearing of hijabs in public schools.

The statement said the government had taken a non-discriminatory approach to allow all learners to wear religious attire in line with school uniform colours.

Secretary for Education, Justin Saidi, tasked Public Affairs Committee (Pac) with leading dialogue on the matter.

However, Malasa while indicating to have met Pac during the just-ended school holidays believes that the quasi-religious body is not well positioned to handle the matter.

“I am quick to say that Pac is not in a better position to handle this matter, but Acem [Association for Christian Educators in Malawi] which has a joint position of the Churches in Malawi on wearing of Hijab by learners. At the moment, our church has not reviewed its stand on hijab,” he said.

However, Acem Secretary General, Reverend Paschal Mtuwala, could not be reached for a comment yesterday.

For eight weeks last year, four schools in Balaka were closed due to disagreement over wearing of Hijab.

At the height of the disagreement, some Christians and concerned Muslims engaged in a physical brawl when some learners were sent back from M’manga Primary School in Balaka.

Both institutional and personal properties were damaged during the fight between the two camps.

However, the schools remained closed up to the end of the first academic term in December last year.

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