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Hijabs at Pattani Public School: Challenges in finding a solution together

A Muslim student gives flower to the director of Anuban Pattani School to thank him for allowing Muslims to wear hijabs in school (Photo from Benar News)
Images show Muslim students and parents giving flowers to the director and teachers of Anuban Pattani School as an expression of thanks that they can wear hijabs to class. This issue had made news in social media, that they couldn’t wear hijabs. This eventually led to the state stepping in to solve the problem by applying to Anuban Pattani School (a public school) Ministerial Regulations permitting Muslims to wear hijabs in school, before the issue became a flashpoint for more violence on the southern border, like the incident in Yala 30 years ago, when the then Yala Teachers College did not allow Muslims to wear hijabs to class.
The truth is that even though using national constitutional law and a ministerial regulation, which supersede school rules, to solve the problem is one solution, deep down the conflict of a win-lose feeling of each side with their own social media support teams is starting to smoulder and is ready to blow up if we cannot use a process of creative discussion. This conflict will be ready to become fuel for the southern fire at any time, like the statement of a group of Buddhists and monks that they will not yield and are ready to fight the announcement they see as lacking in legitimacy
Doctor Fhami Taleb made the observation on his Facebook page that there is something worth thinking about from this hijab incident at Anuban Pattani School. The first is the influence of social media. The issue of hijabs in educational institutions is not a new issue that just happened. Anuban Pattani School is a state school where most students are Thai Buddhists, as well as teachers. It is located in the heart of Pattani, across the street from a temple. The entire situation makes the school appropriate for the education of Thai Buddhist and Chinese children in the area. Muslim students that enrol here are likely to be middle class people from the city, the children of businessmen or government officials. My wife is also an alumnus of this school, and well understands the condition the school is in. Earlier Muslim students weren’t from Islamic conservative families. Conservative Islamic families or ordinary Muslim families in Pattani mostly looked for other options for their children’s primary school education. Several decades before this there had never been a problem since Muslim parents with children at the primary school did not expect much concerning hijabs, which depended on the level of strictness in each family. So there has never been this kind of problem, or there may have been but the parents who wanted their children to wear hijabs didn’t protest much.
Presently, there are more middle class Muslims as well as online religious teachings. Changes in religious strictness in the middle class through online media have also increased. So the matter of hijabs has become a question that parents pay more attention to.
The multicultural dimension that has been spoken of in the area for many years was also used in this complaint, but there is an important point that should be remembered. That is, every group of people is jealous of their own locality and power, and their reaction to protect their cherished area may not need to have any reason behind it.
For example, there is the case where a staff member or person related to Anuban Pattani School claims the rights of the school regulations or refers to the monastery grounds even though this reason is one that the side claiming the right to the hijab says is not a reason because there is a national law concerning regulations on religious clothing which is at a higher level. Their feelings see that the locations where they used to have power (school, community, central mosque) are being challenged by new players, and they instinctively block it, as can be seen. Therefore, permission for students to wear hijabs at Anuban Pattani School is not a victory for Muslims and is not a loss for Thai Buddhists in the area. Muslims have been given rights that do not affect the practices of Thai Buddhists. This is something very basic.
This phenomenon concerns only a few people: 7 students whose families and who themselves wish to wear hijabs according to their religious beliefs. They were given permission by the school and the school loses nothing. Teaching continues as normal. All the teachers perform their duties like normal. Creating a good understanding in complex matters such as this would need time. Good reasons would naturally win against those people with problems, with the appropriate time and methods, unless neither side can explain using good reasons and appropriate methods.
Angkhana Neelapaijit stated through her personal Facebook account that some human rights advocates and peace advocates are calling for the use of legal procedures for school regulations that are in conflict with the constitution. Personally she insisted that using legal methods alone will not be able to solve problems of relations in human coexistence, and may even create more conceptual conflicts, which cannot solve any conflict. So this matter should be dealt with using political science principles in negotiating and compromise, prioritizing the long-term benefits for the children.
All sides should provide a space so that everybody can express all their frustrations because there should be many issues that should be talked about between people of different religions to look for a way of living together that will be mutually respectful. People who have been following the problems in the southern border provinces would probably know that other than the violence that has been occurring continuously for over ten years, there is also the problem of the relationship between Thai Buddhists and Muslims in the area where they used to live together, depend on each other, trust each other and go through thick and thin together. But in the present, this relationship and positive feeling have disappeared and even changed into alienation, wariness and distrust. Children who used to have close friends from other religions learned the differences in culture, belief and religion. Today it is found that the new generation of children grow up studying separately and playing separately. Most Muslim children attend schools that teach Islam, while Buddhist children attend public schools, some of which have almost no Muslims at all.
Muslim parents protest in front of the school (Photo from Benar News)
Not long ago, there was a case of Thai Buddhists in the area being concerned that a large hospital in Yala announced that all food in the hospital would be halal with a single halal kitchen. The reason they gave was “everyone can eat halal food”, but if patients wished to eat normal food they would have to bring food in containers themselves. This may seem like a minor matter but it did create a feeling of injustice amongst non-Muslim patients and relatives, since in fact the hospital could have two separate kitchens, both a halal kitchen and a general kitchen. One would have to admit that patients are likely to have no appetite or feel like eating food that they are used to, which they have a right to. It also has to be admitted that not all patients have relatives visiting every day or are able to send food for every meal. Many patients have relatives visiting only once in a long while since it may not be convenient to travel or because of other expenses. This still doesn’t include the “bring people home” project where just recently the villagers of Sukhirin district, which are mostly Thai Buddhists, came out to protest and are against welcoming people “coming home” with a different religion.
Dr. Suchart Setthamalinee, a Muslim academic from Payap University, sent a LINE message saying that he agrees with the writer that solving the problem using the law alone is not enough and not sustainable. It should be the Muslims themselves and the people of different religions or the two sides in the conflict who should calm down and discuss to search for a solution.
From experience … no matter if Buddhists or Muslims … solving the problem by referring to the rights of one’s own side, by not using hikmah (wisdom) and by not caring about the feelings of the other side, they will never be able to bring prosperity to their own religion.
I once gave various examples related to a community in Indonesia before the Islam era which was a Hindu community. The imam at that time called on the Muslims to not eat beef since even though it was a right of the Muslims, it would hurt the feelings of the Hindus. Muslims then changed to eat the meat of buffalos instead, and eventually, due to the beauty of Islam and the ways of Muslims in that community, the Hindus changed their religion to Islam and became a Muslim community that rarely eats beef up to today.
What I’m saying doesn’t mean that in the case of Anuban Pattani School, the Muslim children must be made to throw away their identities or stop wearing hijabs. I only want to say that both Buddhists and Muslims shouldn’t start talking to each other by using their “rights” as the starting point, but talk to each other with love and reason. Right now the Buddhist side stands firm on their “rights” and thinks that “for a school located on temple land, to allow Muslims to cover their hair is the destruction of the core of Buddhism”, according to words in a video clip of a monk who is the vice president of the Buddhist Federation of the three southern border provinces. It is a very weak argument. How can covering the hair of Muslim children destroy the core of Buddhism? Buddhists shouldn’t accept the narrowness of this definition since it will only damage Buddhism more, since the Buddhism I understand is open-minded and peaceful to all religions without being attached to their own atta (ego).
I think that this situation is worrying since it has become a war of feelings where each side aims to win rather than talk with reason. Also, there is the tendency that it will expand and escalate, increasing the hatred between the religions. There should be a team that quickly starts talks to come to an understanding. We have to think together using hikmah so that they would accept us without feeling that they are losing face or losing rights, and turn back to accepting each other…
Another friend, who wishes to remain anonymous and who works on seminars solving conflicts, explains,
“If we can understand them, our feet can touch the first step of the stairs. If we don’t understand them, the advantage is that we are able to know why they can’t understand us. It can be found in ourselves. If we are serious we’ll start to understand the important matters. Understanding is the first chapter and an important emotional strength.”
No matter how the relationship between the state and the people develops in the future, the people would still be with the people. If they can talk to each other using their hearts, eventually they may join together to use power since there is another type of power called shared power. Shared power is deciding by using shared power, born from mutual understanding, mutual agreement and mutual consent.
Even though right now it looks like it’s too late, maybe it’s not too late since all kinds of problems and all types of injuries are what warns us to start solving problems in the right way.
Religious and cultural rights don’t mean any religion or culture can be above other religions and cultures, but all religions and cultures are equal in practice according to one’s own beliefs. Islamic principles respect the rights of minority groups in Islamic states, without exploitation or oppression, and believe that this is the principle of all religions as well. If we let this kind situation of misunderstanding to continue, we probably have to accept the truth that “multicultural space” in the southern border provinces is still a challenge.
I hope this diversity of opinions will lead us towards a bright path in solving problems in the southern border provinces and Thai society in general.
About the writer: Ustaz Shukur is a member of the Civil Society Council of Southern Thailand (Shukur2003@yahoo.co.uk)