Catholic schools in Kenya prohibit Muslim head covering

Published August 23, 2011

“Anybody is welcome…but there are rules and regulations that are to be followed,” says a Catholic bishop on the banning of hijab in Kenyan Catholic schools. Photo: Javarman

Nairobi, Kenya –  Muslim leaders in Kenya say they will continue to oppose a decision by Roman Catholic bishops, announced on Aug.19, that students in Catholic schools may not wear the hijab, or head covering, worn by many devout Muslim girls and women.

The bishops cited long-existing church tradition, discipline and philosophies when announcing the rule. "We do not wish to discriminate against anybody. Anybody is welcome to come to the Catholic schools, but there are rules and regulations that are to be followed. If you want to send your child to a Catholic school, then follow the rules," Bishop Maurice Crowley of the Kitale diocese told a news conference in Nairobi on Aug. 19.

Although a court case by a Muslim parent demanding that the hijab be allowed was defeated in July, Muslim leaders say they are quietly watching the developments. "Muslims will never accept this position. It sets us to fight against each other. The [Kenyan] bill of rights also warns against denial of rights and freedoms," said Sheikh Khelef Khalifa, a director of Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri) in an interview with ENInews.

However, Christian religious leaders cite matters of faith. "We cannot be forced to accept traditions which do not agree with our faith. The Muslims are free to start their own schools, but for now they have to go by the rules in our schools," Anglican Bishop Julius Kalu of Mombasa told ENInews in a telephone interview on Aug.22.

"All children are the same. You may say to me; why would they [students] then wear the rosary. If a school wants to ban the [wearing of the] rosary, they can ban it," said Crowley, who chairs the Kenya Episcopal Conference’s Commission for Education and Religious Education.

Muslim leaders have been urging the government to help end the Christian schools’ ban. The leaders warn of serious repercussions if rights and freedoms are denied Muslim girls and women.

The Muslim leaders accuse the church schools of discriminating against their students on religious and cultural grounds, but church leaders say they have provided spaces and water for the students to practice Muslim worship rituals.

Out of Kenya’s 15,000 public primary schools, the Catholic church sponsors 5,301 and owns 325. Of 3,560 secondary schools, the church sponsors 1,731 secondary schools and owns 163. The schools admit children of all faiths.

With more than 80 per cent of 42 million Kenyans professing to Christianity, Anglican bishops are backing the Catholic Church’s position. Muslims are about 10 per cent of the population.


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