“Hijab is a Right, Not an Obligation”

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Every time we enter a new school year, there are almost always noises about the existence of “coercion” on students to wear headscarves in public schools. However, the latest and most grabbing public attention is what is happening in the DI Yogyakarta and DKI Jakarta areas.

As reported by various media, a student from the State High School (SMAN) 1 Banguntapan, Bantul, Yogyakarta, felt compelled to wear the hijab. The incident occurred on July 26, 2022. That day, the student was summoned to the Guidance and Counseling (BK) teacher’s room (BK previously was called BP, aka. Guidance and Counseling). There, the BK teacher asked her to wear a headscarf.

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Feeling depressed, the girl locked herself in the school bathroom, sobbed, and contacted her parents via cell phone. To her parents, the student asked to be picked up and did not want to go to school anymore.

At almost the same time, the same thing happened at the 46 State Junior High School (SMPN), South Jakarta, DKI Jakarta. In this incident, a student claimed to be asked by her teacher about her religion. After the student claimed to be Muslim, the teacher still asked again why she didn’t wear the hijab. The girl then reported this incident to her parents. This incident also received comprehensive coverage in the mass media with the headline “forcing the use of the hijab”.

In this incident, the Governor of DI Yogyakarta Sultan Hamengkubuwono X has taken firm action. As a result, the head of SMAN 1 Banguntapan and three teachers involved in the case of forcing the headscarf were temporarily non-active. This action was taken because there is a consideration that they have violated the Regulation of the Minister of Education and Culture Number 45 of 2014 concerning Uniforms for Elementary and Secondary Education Students. Meanwhile, for a similar incident in Jakarta, it is considered that there are no cases because what happened is considered “just to remind fellow Muslims”.

Power-Religion Relations

We know this is not the first time this has happened. And maybe just an incident that happened to be caught by the media. But, in previous years, in almost every new teaching, similar events occurred in several areas.

Why do cases like this keep happening, keep repeating themselves? Because, in religious relations, we are often in the wrong position, offside, outside the proper line. The picture is something like this. For example, suppose we require a student or female student to wear a headscarf in Islamic boarding schools, madrasahs, or private schools established by religious institutions. In that case, it is still relevant and may not be a problem; Since these students are in a particular religion.

However, it’s different if we require students, even though they are Muslims, to wear the hijab in public educational institutions, such as SDN, SMPN, and SMAN or SMKN. Then, of course, it will cause problems. Why? Because these public educational institutions are public, public schools are established by the state and financed from public funds—people’s taxes. And the public or the people of Indonesia have various religious backgrounds. Therefore, all must obtain the same position and rights in public institutions, including educational institutions.

Including even though the students studying at SDN, SMPN, and SMAN or SMKN are Muslim women, it is still offside or inappropriate if we require them to wear the hijab. Because, here, the law applies that the veiling, considered part of carrying out religious orders based on belief, is a right, a human right, but not an obligation. Therefore, forcing someone to exercise their rights is as forbidden as the other way around. Forcing or requiring a student to wear a headscarf is the same as prohibiting a student from wearing it.

Maybe it’s true that what happened at SMAN 1 Banguntapan was just a “tutorial” on wearing a headscarf against a student. It may be true that what happened at SMPN 46 South Jakarta was simply “reminding each other among Muslims”. But don’t forget that there is a power relation, a power relation wrapped in religion.

In the teacher-student relationship, the school-student, the holder or controller of the power, is the first party—meanwhile, the students’ position as subordinates in the relationship. Students are always under the shadow of the power of the teacher or school.

In power relations like this, “tutorial” can mean coercion, and “to remind” can mean to command or to oblige because a student will feel under threat if they do not heed the “tutorial”. That’s why, in this case, an expert calls “psychic violence”. Because there is a power relation, it’s different if parents give the “tutorial” at home. It’s different if “reminding fellow Muslims” is done by a friend while playing marbles. There sonder power relations.

Mistakes in placing positions offside like this need to be corrected. Because, if not, cases like this will continually be repeated and can become fried material for certain parties. It will be full of pejorative framing material. For example, there will be accusations of an anti-hijab or Islamophobia movement. There are already several groups that provide support for what the principal and teachers of SMAN 1 Banguntapan are doing. The student that received the “tutorial” began to be bullied by those groups.

That’s not what happened, though. That, before the republic and before public law, carrying out religious orders according to their respective beliefs is a human right of every person. This means that before the republic and general law, including in public schools; carrying out religious orders according to their respective beliefs was not an obligation they could force—whatever the mode. What is prohibited is suppressing or restricting every citizen from exercising their rights. Thus, for example, forcing students to wear hijabs in public schools is the same as forbidding them to wear them. And vice versa.

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