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College accused of student discrimination in niqab row

Hijabs are common in the Maldives, but the niqab is less frequently seen and has even sparked controversy.



Avid College has been accused of denying a student her graduation certificate and treating her differently because of her niqab.

The family of Fathimath Maeesha said she completed a primary teaching diploma and took part in the graduation ceremony, but later discovered her graduation file was empty.

She also paid the graduation fee after her name appeared on the Malé school’s list of graduates, her sister said in a Facebook post.

The student completed all modules except the primary teaching one due to a civil service regulation, but the college was aware of the omission.

“What is the reason to announce her name as a graduate and give file on the ceremony, which was broadcasted live on the media, if they wouldn’t give her the certificate? What is the reason to show off?” asked her sister.

“Just because she wear a face veil you do not get the permission to treat her like that.“

The college denied any wrongdoing in a statement issued Thursday, asking that teaching institutions and staff not be made into pawns for political or social infighting or “in disputes between different sects and groups within the community.”

It was sad and regrettable that a student was allowed to take part in the graduation ceremony without having completed all course components, said the college, but its academic audit process was “sufficiently robust enough to deny issuing her a certificate of graduation.”

Maeesha’s family called the statement invalid and said it warranted a lawsuit.

Hijabs are common in the Maldives, but the niqab is less frequently seen and has even sparked controversy in the past.

Last August a teacher was sacked in Mathiveri, Alif Alif Atoll, for refusing to remove her niqab in compliance with a civil service dress code. The niqab is banned under the guideline, which states that civil servants “must be dressed in a manner that makes them easily identifiable”.

A group of clerics previously challenged the constitutionality of the niqab ban at the High Court. The lawsuit followed an uproar over the Education Ministry sacking a teacher for wearing the face-covering veil to school.

In early 2017 the Islamic Ministry published an action plan at the conclusion of a three-day religious conference, which stated that “wearing the niqab, growing the beard and keeping one’s lower garments at ankle-length are permitted in Islam and do not constitute extremism.”

In 2016 several immigration officers were sacked for refusing, on religious grounds, to trim their beards and lower the hem of their trousers below the ankles.