Ramallah: The Ramallah-based Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education has strongly criticised and attempted to nullify a decision taken by the management of Gaza-based Al Aqsa University requiring female students to adhere to Islamic dress codes on campus.
In Ramallah, the Palestinian Minister of Higher Education Ali Al Jarbawi sent an official letter to the university’s acting head informing him that the university’s women’s dress code decision was legally invalid and will be rejected as the decision cannot come into practice.
The board of Al Aqsa University, a public university in Gaza, on Sunday unanimously approved the decision which forces female students to adhere to a ‘decent dress code’, including the hijab while on campus, which was to be effective starting the next academic semester.
Al Jarbawi said in his letter that the Palestinian minister of higher education alone has the authority to issue the necessary regulations and the dress code law will therefore be scrapped. He stressed that the ministry had never been consulted before the decision was taken.
He argued that there has been no specific definition for ‘decent dress code’ in the agenda of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
The minister stressed that there will be no room for standards to be imposed on the clothing of the women students or moves to force them to put on uniforms, highlighting the importance of personal freedom, a natural right that is enshrined in the Palestinian National Authority’s (PNA) Basic Law.
Gaza, however, has been operating outside the jurisdiction of the PNA since 2007, when Islamist group Hamas seized power and expelled PNA officials.
The Cultural and Information Department of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) too denounced the procedures Al Aqsa University Council took.
The PLO branded the university’s decision as a “Taliban decision”, referring to the ultra-conservative Afghan group. which will have serious social and political consequences for Palestinian society, which, he said, should firmly confront the implementation of the decision legally, culturally and morally.
The PLO said in an official statement that the decision grossly violates human rights and Islamic teachings, which he said had left no place for forceful implementation. The PLO said that the decision also violates the university’s mission, which had been founded to develop the society and enhance the collective respect for human rights, the use of law, respect, tolerance, forgiveness and equality.
The PLO condemned in strong terms the verbal and physical violence female students are alleged to have faced at the hands of security personnel at the university for not adhering to the dress code. Security members are accused of having imposed the dress code already, harassing even those women who wear veils under the pretext that those women were dressed ‘indecently’ by not wearing closing that was loose enough.
The university elaborated on the directive saying that women’s clothes should cover “the entire body in an Islamic way”, adding that the decision was binding. The university administration rejected accusations that the decision is a violation of personal freedom.
The university’s decision is believed to be inspired by a major campaign launched by the Gaza-based Hamas Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs.