CAIRO - A decision by a Bangalore university to deny a Muslim student a place over his refusal to shave his beard is sparking a storm of fury among Muslims in India.
"The actual problem started last year itself. I have completed my first year St Germain PU College (PUC) in commerce from this particular college and I was asked to remove my beard since then," 18-year-old M Zeeshan Ali told Bangalore Mirror on Friday, May 24."But I had refused that time too and, somehow, the one year was completed.
The controversy started over a year ago when Ali was in the first year in PUC.
At that time, he was told by the college authorities that he could not attend classes sporting a beard.
Though he completed last year, the college reopened to the issue this year, refusing to allow him for the second year without shaving his beard.
"As a precautionary measure I along with my father went and met principal Kanchana on Monday -the day college reopened after holidays, said Zeeshan.
My father requested the principal to allow me to retain my beard, but she asked me to trim it and return. Despite repeated requests she didn't allow me and told me to come on Wednesday. She assured she would consult college head Fr Jayanathan."
The young student said he tried to explain to the college vice-principal that the Sikh community keeps their turbans as it is their custom and on the same ground Muslims too should be allowed to sport a beard.
The vice-principal refused to relent, stating that it will hamper its secular credentials.
As the principal had assured I didn't go to college on Tuesday. I went alone on Wednesday and met her. Once again I requested her to allow me to attend the classes but she told me to come to college clean-shaven or take a transfer certificate, he said.
Muslims account for 160 million of India's 1.1 billion people, the world's third-largest Muslim population after those of Indonesia and Pakistan.
Wearing a beard is a Sunnah in Islam.
College officials rejected the bearded student's request to be allowed to attend classes, arguing that the rules apply to all citizens.
"This is a rule of the Archdiocesan Board of Education and it is followed in all the institutions. The rule is not for any one particular community, said Rev Msgr S Jayanathan, who heads the college management.
"This has been done keeping in mind the interests of students and it has already been communicated to all students.
"We have justified the rule and it is being followed since 2005. We are not discriminating against any particular community and every student has to follow the rule."
Yet, angry Muslims decided to hold parleys with the management of PUC college.
If the talks fail, their next step would be a demonstration against the college authorities.
Zeeshan has been studying in the college for the past year with a beard and now suddenly the management is asking him to shave it off, Tipu Sultan United Front's president Sardar Qureshi said.
We, along with some community leaders, will meet the principal on Friday and ask her to allow Zeeshan to attend class."We won't tolerate the discriminatory attitude of the college.