CAIRO - Getting itself outside hot water, a Philippine Catholic high school has overruled an earlier decision to ban hijab (headscarf) on campus in respect to religious freedoms of Muslim students.
Allowing Muslim women students to wear the hijab was not an easy or overnight decision, Anne Piccio, dean of school's College of Business Administration, told The Philippine Daily Inquirer on Tuesday, September 18.
She said the decision was the fruit of a series of consultations with all stakeholders that took us a month.
Pilar College in Mindanao had earlier banned female Muslim students from wearing hijab in the school premises.
Though the city council has passed a resolution questioning the policy, the Catholic school, one of the oldest academic institutions in Western Mindanao, stood firm by its ban.
But the ban drew condemnations from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) which criticized the school's policy on hijab.
The hijab ban also won flaks from human rights advocates for violating the right of Muslim students to practice religion, including the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA).
Rights activists also called for an online campaign to gather one million signatures for a boycott of the Catholic College.
In response, the school overturned the ban, allowing Muslim students to wear hijab as of June 2013, Sister Ma. Fe Gerodias, Southern Mindanao representative of the Religious of the Virgin Mary, said.
Gerodias, however, said that the school would maintain its ban on niqab or full face-veil.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil.
Scholars believe it is up to women to decide whether to take on the niqab or burqa, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.
School officials say they were keen to engage in dialogue with Muslims to end disagreement on hijab on campus.
While the school's administration has decided to allow the wearing of hijabs, not all the parents and students, and even the staff, were amenable, Piccio, whose husband is a Muslim, said.
But we need to meet halfway and the way how to meet halfway is to educate everyone until we reach full acceptance, she said.
Gerodias said the school's administration will continue to conduct dialogues with various groups as they need time to process attitudes, mindsets, sentiments, biases, and prejudices.
Getting the assistance of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, the Catholic College is planning several groups to establish linkages with Muslim institutions to deepen the understanding of local Muslim culture and traditions.
The school would also include comparative religious studies in the school's religious studies courses which would add to regular updates on Christian-Muslim relations.
It would also encourage interfaith dialogues among Muslims and Christians.
The college's administrator, Sister Nina Balbas, also started studying Islam to make her fully understand everything, Piccio said.
Muslims make up nearly 8 percent of the total populace in the largely Catholic Philippines.
The mineral-rich southern region of Mindanao, Islam's birthplace in the Philippines, is home to 5 million Muslims.Islam reached the Philippines in the 13th century, about 200 years before Christianity.