Sir Lankan government have announced that it will be banning Burqa and more than a thousand Islamic Schools (Madarsa). The minister of public security Sarath Weerasekera, in a news conference, revealed that the cabinet will soon approve the ban on full-face covering worn by women in the country, calling it a sign of extremism.
But why is Sri Lanka’s government banning Burqa and shutting down Islamic schools which will adversely affect the Muslims (minority religion) in the country? What is the reaction of the international community and what does it mean for the Sri Lankan Muslims?
Sri Lanka: Ban on Burka
In 2019 wearing of Burqa was temporarily banned; post the Easter Sunday bombing incident carried out by armed fighters and suicide bombers in churches and hotel which cost Sri Lanka more than 250 lives. The bomb attack’s responsibility was taken by the Islamic State Militant Group.
For tracking down the attackers and militants, the government put an emergency ban on covering faces, but only for the short term. Now the government is coming up with a ban on full-face covering which especially worn by Muslim women, and this time it is believed to be permanent.
Minister Sarath Weerasekera disclosed in a news conference that he had signed the paper, and the bill will soon be swiftly passed by the cabinet; as the government haves a two-third majority.
In defence, Mr Weerasekera said that the step has been taken in wake of national security. Adding to the justification behind the banning, he said, “In our early days, Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa. It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”
This ban will prohibit Muslim women from wearing Burka and Niqab. Women can continue to wear Hijab, Shayla, al-Amira and Khimar in the country. But right activists are criticising the government saying that the ban will snatch the community’s women’s right to practising their religion freely.
Ban on Islamic Schools (Madrasa)
While informing about the upcoming ban on Burqa; the minister of pubic security also revealed that the government is planning to impose a ban on more than 1,000 Islamic Schools (Madrasa) in the country.
Furthermore justifying the ban on Madrasas, officials say that the Islamic Schools are flouting Sri Lanka’s national education policy; “Nobody can open a school and teach whatever you want to the children” as put by Mr Weerasekera.
According to the government, most of the unregistered Madrasas only teach the holy Koran and Arabic language. According to Mr Weerasekera, this is bad for the future of students studying in these schools.
Muslim Council of Sri Lanka’s vice president Hilmi Ahmed in a talk with BBC over the announcement said; if the security forces want to identify the person behind Burka; they can ask them to show their face, no one will have any objection to that. He also said that wearing a face cover is a right of all the person regardless of their religions.
On the banning of Islamic Schools; Mr Hilmi Ahmed said that less than 5% of all the Madrasa in the country are unregistered and therefore do not adhere to the regulations. The actions must be taken against them and not against all of them.
Sri Lanka: The Controversy Surrounding the Country
Sri Lanka has been long criticized for controversially targeting the Muslim Minority in the country. Muslims just make up 9% of the country’s 11million Buddhist-majority population. 75% of the country’s people are a follower of Buddhism.
Last year the country has been in the headline for forced cremation of people who died of COVID. The government then claimed that burring victim’s bodies into the ground will contaminate the groundwater bodies; this created a year-long controversy. The government was later forced to back off and the mandatory cremation policy was abolished in early 2021. Now the government have chosen a remote island for the burial fo COVID victims.
Dissension is also encircling the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) (anti-terror law) by the Sri Lankan government. To deal with the religious extremism, the government have given sweeping powers for detaining the suspects for deradicalization. Under this, the suspect can be detained for up to 2 years.
According to Shreen Saroor, one of Sri Lanka’s peace and women’s rights activists criticise PTA to be “very problematic”; saying “Anybody can be arrested for saying anything.” The Rajapaksa government promised to repeal the PTA after winning the 2019 election but like the previous government, he has also drastically failed in keeping up with his words.
Sri Lanka has also been asked to deliver punishments for the human right abusers of the 26-year long civil war. The war started in 1983 and lasted till 2009 in this more than 100,000 people have been killed. But the government have denied the allegations and have asked the member countries not to aid the resolution