Yogyakarta (AsiaNews) – An Indonesian Islamic state university faced criticism from Muslim groups and activists on Wednesday after it banned female students from wearing full-face veils, citing fears over the spread of radical ideology on the campus.
The Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University (UIN) in Yogyakarta City, Java island, said it had 41 students wearing the full veil (niqab, burqa). It plans to offer them counselling and ultimately ask them to take off the veil if they wanted to graduate.
University rector Yudian Wahyudi warned that radicalisation, as exemplified by the burqas, undermined learning. “Female students wearing the burqa, and radical groups, [. . .] are disturbing the teaching process,” he explained.
“We are putting moderate Islam forward,” he noted, adding that the policy was a “preventive action to save the students”. Students would be allowed to continue using regular headscarves that do not cover the face, he said.
The Islamic Defenders Front, a conservative group that campaigns against activities it deems un-Islamic, in a statement said that such a policy “did not make sense” and was in conflict with the country’s efforts to preserve diversity.
A women’s rights activist also decried what she described as a limitation on the freedom of women to wear what they want. “Using full-face veils is a choice and we cannot interfere in their choice and their freedom,” said activist Lathiefah Widuri Retyaningtyas.
The Ukhuwah Islamiyah Forum (FUI), along with the Yogyakarta Mosque Activists Forum and several other organisations, asked for a meeting with university administration.
They met university’s deputy rector Waryono and asked him that university not put restrictions on students wearing the niqab on campus.
Indonesia is home to the largest Muslim population in the world, most of whom practise a moderate form of Islam. However, recently, the country has seen the growth of conservative views.
Many see this trend as a threat to its long-standing reputation for religious tolerance and diversity, enshrined in the Constitution.
For their part, the authorities have repeatedly warned about the infiltration of radical Islamic ideas in student organisations and their activities on Islamic campuses and schools.
The government of President Joko Widodo has tried to contain the influence of Islamists. But a recent survey found that almost a fifth of Indonesian high school and university students support the establishment of a caliphate over the current secular government.