EDITORIAL NOTES

Why the noise over Jakarta governor's direction on Muslim headscarfs?: The Jakarta Post

In its editorial on June 13, The Jakarta Post says schools must instill pluralism

The free expression of identity is one of the new-found freedoms to have emerged since the fall of the New Order regime.

Among other results this has led to burgeoning Islamic fashion, particularly catering to women.

Uniforms became modified for Muslim female civil servants, workers in the private sector and lately even for police officers who wished to wear the headscarf or jilbab.

Increasing human rights awareness made employers conscious of the need to be flexible.

But the joyful welcome of such freedom has also been tainted by a hint of intimidation from those who wish to impose so-called Islamic modes of dress on all females even in state-run educational institutions. 

Recently controversy was stirred by a remark made by Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama to a group of school principals to the effect that state schools should not oblige female students to wear the headscarf during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Angry commenters claimed that Ahok, a Christian, had no business teaching people about Islamic practices and that on the contrary, Ramadan was a good time to instill Islamic values in young Muslims.

The controversy has become the latest grist to the mill of those who wish to stop him from running again for office.

But Ahok was referring to state-run schools - one of our national institutions reflecting Indonesia's diversity - not private religion-based schools.

Therefore while all schools should provide religious instruction for students of all faiths, imposing Islamic clothing rules on Muslim students does not facilitate freedom of worship for all.

Instilling Islamic values should not be made through regulations in state schools, which accommodate students of all faiths.

Non-Muslim students are indeed free from the obligations of Islamic uniforms, but such rules are discriminative nonetheless.

As a few non-Muslim students have said, the rule makes them stand out among their Muslim friends, making them feel uncomfortable. 

Some school managements have denied they have such a rule, saying Muslim uniforms are only compulsory every Friday, when males must perform Friday prayers. 

Our state schools are among the last bastions of Indonesia's diversity and should be safeguarded, mainly by principals and educators.

As such their main responsibility should be to make students respect schoolmates and school staff irrespective of their background, including religion.

With more students attending religious-based private schools than in earlier generations, state schools should remain a national space ensuring non-discrimination. 

More than 10 years ago, non-Muslim students were already subjected to a bylaw in Padang, West Sumatra, obliging all students in public and private schools to wear Islamic uniforms.

Such bylaws were tolerated by the central government under then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - inspiring similar policies by other local administrations and schools, citing their Muslim majorities. 

The role of state schools in instilling Bhinneka Tunggal Ika - our national motto of unity in diversity - has become particularly crucial amid so many incidents of intolerance and even potentially discriminative policies.

Jakarta's schools, particularly the state-run ones, must therefore become models in fostering respect and tolerance among the young in their diverse nation.

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The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.