Muslims in Thailand rally against religious crackdown, call for religious freedom

SHAFAQNA – Protesting the violation of their religious rights, the Muslim community of Wisutsri Yungpongsapat, southern Thailand, have decried barring Muslim students from wearing hijab in school.

“You cannot force Muslim students not to wear the hijab, because the doctrine of Islam commands all Muslim women who are above 7-years-old to wear the hijab,” a leading Muslim representative said.

“There is no exception. In schools, women must wear hijabs. If they do not do so, it’s a sin,” Waedueramae Mamingi, director of the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand (CICOT) in Pattani, told Khaosod.

Waedueramae, who sees Muslim rights have been violated, has been discussing the hijab ban with state officials in Phang Ngao province. He added that he hoped other school directors will understand that such a ban is unacceptable and violates both state regulations and the Islamic faith.

Office of the Basic Education Commission (OBEC) secretary general, Kamol Rodklai, told reporters yesterday: “I believe that the school director was new in her post. She did not have understanding about identity, so she imposed the ban and caused protests in the area.”

Kamol said the school director has been transferred and the ban, which drew protests from local Muslim residents and activists, has been repealed.

He added that state regulations allow Muslim students to wear hijab in public schools, as long as the cloth is a plain color, not longer than 120 cm in length, and pinned together under the chin of the wearer.

Earlier, Wisutsri Yungpongsapat, who held the post of director of Baan Nai Yong School, was reported saying that the traditional Islamic head covering was against state regulations for student uniforms.

Yungpongsapat, who granted an interview to White News, a Thai TV channel, ascertained that the ban was necessary to prevent “divisions” at the school.

“Muslim children can veil their heads at home. When they are at school, they have to obey the school regulations,” Wisutsri was quoted by White News. “Don’t bring divisions to my school. Nowadays, there are already problems in the three southern provinces, isn’t that enough?”

Wisutsri was referring to the decade-long insurgency in Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat — a region known as the Deep South — where militants have been battling with security forces to form a breakaway Islamic state. More than 6,200 people have been killed in the Deep South since the separatist violence broke out in early 2004.

The school, known as Baan Nai Yong School, is located in Phang Nga province of southern Thailand, which has a large population of Muslims in contrast to the rest of the Buddhist-dominated country.

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