Ling Liang Church E Wun Secondary School, a school in Tung Chung in Hong Kong had forbidden a number of Muslin girl students to wear headscarves at their school.
Earlier this week, Chinese newspaper Mingpao had reported about the case where four junior secondary school students were asked to go to the discipline room during lessons since they were wearing the Muslim headscarf, the hijab. The involved criticised the unfairness of this case which affected their studies.
Some of the parents naturally became dissatisfied with the discrimination the school was undertaking and so they reported the case to the Education Bureau. One said:
‘The school may have been infringing students on equal access to education, and violating the law of discrimination.’
The case was then passed onto the Equal Opportunity Commission and one of their newly elected members, Dr. Rizwan Ullah, took it upon himself to tackle this case. He was successful in closing the case with the students given their rights and stating the EOC will keep an eye on the school.
Muslim Council of Hong Kong got in touch with Dr. Ullah to provide further insight into the matter. He said:
“I strongly perceive this situation arose due to the school’s lack of training and understanding of cultural and religious needs of students with diverse background.
This led to to the school being quite firm with it’s values and in the process they neglected the practice of pluralism where you have to accept and respect different cultures, as long as they aren’t a threat to the safety and normality of the society.
I feel if anyone else in our community is facing such issues, then we are here to serve and make the lives better for the ethnic minority to make sure they are treated with fairness, justice and tolerance.
We urge anyone who faces such a situation in the future to contact Muslim Council of Hong Kong who will in turn liaise with EOC, specifically myself to handle case by case.”
It was a student who pointed out that the school forbade the Muslim students to wear headscarves . In light of this, the spokesmen did not mention who is the decision maker and whether students would have been allowed to wear the headscarves on the next school day.
Parents from the E Wun secondary school sent a letter to the newspaper complaining that the four students from secondary one and two were forbidden to wear headscarves to school, which they were told they had take off during lessons.
Knowing it is one of the duties for every female Muslim to wear a headscarf, the girls felt shameful due to taking off the headscarves, and they were naturally dissatisfied with being discriminated by the school.
Bibi and Sulaim, who are both Pakistanis, studying secondary one and two respectively, were the victims. They were not allowed to access to their classrooms since last Thursday, the 14th of September.
They were asked to sit in the discipline room during the lessons if they didn’t comply with the school’s command.
They were told if they wore headscarves to school, they will again not be allowed to have lessons. However, this has been nulified as the students have been given the permission under the watchful eyes of EOC to wear their headscarves.
The students remarked that the school’s discipline teachers said they were not allowed to wear headscarf because E Wun Secondary school is a Christian school.
They also mentioned that although teachers and even the Principal tend to let them wear headscarfs, the discipline teachers said “the chancellor does not allow.” And the students said it affected their studying when they were called to the discipline room
Sulaim emphasised that wearing a headscarf is “a part of their religion”, “and this is the instruction of the God”, as wearing a headscarf is the way to identify the identity of a Muslim woman.
She felt that the way the school had handled the situation has been not that good, as they had to go to the discipline room during lesson times when in fact they had nothing to do there.
At one point, out of frustration, she exclaimed to the teacher saying, “Why can you follow the rules of your religion, but why can’t we?” The discipline teacher replied, “We do not have an answer.”
Bibi’s father had a meeting with the school authority and another two parents also got involved last Tuesday. However, the principal only said they were not allowed to wear headscarfs providing no further explanation.
He mentioned that there was a parent who had complained to the Education Bureau, and he had received the call back from them in which it stated they felt the school is not doing the right thing. The parent made it clear that if the students were still not allowed to wear headscarves to school, he would continue to complain to the EB, and fittingly the complaint went to the Equal Opportunity Commission too
“We respect the religion of the school. But the school does not respect our religion.”
Sulaim’s father, Harmon was truly upset with the school’s action. He said he had requested the school by writing a letter to them saying they would allow her daughter to wear a headscarf or else he would change his daughter’s school.
He wanted the school to use such a letter to prove that her daughter had a need to change a school. But the school rejected the request continuously.
The sponsoring body of the school is Ling Liang Worldwide Evangelistic Mission Hong Kong Ling Liang Church. The website of the school points out that
“Ling Liang Worldwide Evangelistic Mission is a Chinese Christian organisation. The purpose is to perform evangelization to the whole world and do good to others by giving education and other social services.”
The senior lecturer of the Education University of Hong Kong and lawyer, Zhong Yiu Kwong, thinks that the school has violated the law of Racial Discrimination.
If there are a lot of believers from a particular race or a religion in a school and the school bans the actions required by the religion, this is classified as Indirect Racial Discrimination.
He also stated that as the school is a subsidized school and the resources are from the government, the school is regulated by the law of human rights.
“Hong Kong Bill of Rights” has stated clearly that religious discrimination is banned. He suggested parents of any similar affected students should complain to the Equal Opportunities Commission and apply for legal aid to have judicial review against the decision made by any schools. They should also complain to the EDB first.