The United Nations (UN) has expressed concern over the fracas that occurred on Monday in Balaka District between some Muslims and Christians over disagreements regarding the wearing of headgear, Hijab, among female Muslims learners.
During the fracas, two people were injured and Anglican Church priest’s house and a mosque were stoned by the rival camps.
In a statement released on Tuesday night, UN Country Coordinator for Malawi, Maria Jose Torres, says the UN was concerned with increasing religious intolerance.
“The rights to freedom of expression and religion are fundamental rights that ensure human dignity and functional democracy. Preventing access to services such as education because students choose to wear an expression of their religion goes against these important human rights and international standards on freedom of education,” Torres says.
Torres says denying girls the right to wear religious outfits discourages them from attending classes, which is denying them the right to learn.
“The United Nations calls on all Malawians to respect each other ’s religious beliefs and engage in dialogue to resolve differences. We also call on State authorities to ensure that all people of Malawi are able to exercise their beliefs and cultural practices free from persecution and discrimination,” she says.
On Tuesday morning, Ministry of Education Principal Secretary, Justin Saidi, released a statement that they would engage Public Affairs Committee to come up with recommendations on the issue of wearing of Hijab in schools.
Saidi, says in the meantime, the government has taken a non-discriminatory approach to allow girls to wear Hijab.
But Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Upper, Brighton Malasa, has appealed to the government to consult widely on the matter.
For over five weeks, four schools in Balaka, three of which are primary, have remained closed as Christians and Muslims tussle over the wearing of Hijab in schools.
The Anglican Church owns Mmanga schools.