A Muslim educational group in Kerala has banned its students from covering their faces with clothing on the campuses of its institutions.
The Kozhikode-based Muslim Education Society (MES), which runs several educational institutions and is among the country's largest, issued a circular urging its students not to attend classes wearing any face-covering attire.
As the dress code triggered protests from orthodox Muslim organisations and scholars, the MES maintained that covering women's faces was a new trend and had not been in practice in the community in the state earlier.
In the April 17 directive, MES Institutions president PK Fazal Gafoor said the move should be implemented from the 2019-20 academic year without triggering any controversy.
"Without creating any controversy, the institutions must make sure to implement from 2019-20 academic year that students do not come to the class wearing any attire covering their face," it said.
The circular, addressed to the secretaries and the principals of the MES institutions, also asked them to include the dress code directive as a new rule in the college calendar for the new academic year.
Facing demands for withdrawing the move, Mr Gafoor held his ground on Thursday.
"According to the High Court order all managements retain their right to decide on dress code. We will not allow students or teachers to cover their faces with face veil from the coming academic year," he told NDTV.
"Covering the face is not inherent to the culture in Kerala, the tradition and practices of faith followed here. Students cannot even be recognised with their face veils nor students can follow the teachers well if they wear face veil. If any other Muslim organisations have issues with this decision, they can allow for face veils in institutions under them," Mr Gafoor added.
Mr Gafoor said the MES was not ready to implement the dress codes being imposed in the name of "religious fundamentalism".
"We have freedom to ban such attires on our campuses. There is no need to consult with religious outfits for that," the MES president said.
Criticising the MES, Samashtha, an orthodox outfit of Muslim scholars, said the circular was "un-Isalamic" and it should be withdrawn.
"As per the Islamic rules, the body parts of women should not be shown out. The MES has no right to issue a circular banning the attire covering the face of women. Islamic rules should be followed," Umar Faize, a Samastha scholar, said.
A fresh debate over face veils was triggered last month after the Easter Sunday bomb blasts in Sri Lanka, following which the government there banned the burqa and masks on grounds of national security.
(With inputs from PTI)
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