Parents gather in front of Anuban Pattani School to call for the headmaster to allow Muslim girls to wear hijabs, May 18, 2018.
A court in Thailand’s Islamic-majority Deep South ruled Thursday that Muslim girls can wear hijabs at a Buddhist school housed within a temple where the principal had banned the religious headgear as part of the campus dress code.
In its decision, the Administrative Court in Yala province ruled in favor of parents who lodged a petition in 2018 after the head master at the Anuban Pattani School in Pattani province had enforced a policy requiring all students to wear school uniforms and banning hijabs, which he deemed as inappropriate on temple grounds.
“[The court] rules to revoke the Anuban Pattani School’s order … and allow Muslim children to dress according to Muslim customs,” a sheet from a court document stated.
Anuban Pattani School, a primary school, is located on the premises of Wat Noppawongsaram, a Buddhist temple in the Deep South where 80 percent of the border region’s 2 million people are Muslim. Similar concerns involving Muslim girls attending public or Buddhist schools have not been reported elsewhere in Thailand, which is majority-Buddhist.
A Muslim mother of a grade 4 student rejoiced over the court’s decision.
“The administrative court’s ruling today is what we parents have been longing for over four years. The judgment tells Muslim Thais that we have rights to dress according to Islamic code,” Assara Ratkaran told BenarNews.
Now all Muslim children can follow Islamic code when dressing for school, she said, noting Thailand is a land of many cultures.
School officials have 30 days to appeal the court’s ruling. BenarNews could not immediately reach school officials for comment on Thursday.
When the headmaster began to enforce the dress code in May 2018, the requirement for school uniforms also called for girls to wear knee-length skirts and boys to wear shorts.
The school’s dress code had been in place for years, according to the headmaster, but a protest by Muslim parents led Buddhist community members to launch a counter-protest. Nearly 2,000 students attend the school and 40 percent are Muslim.
The parents of 20 students filed a petition that led to an injunction allowing their girls to observe the Muslim dress code.
In June 2018, at the height of the controversy, the Ministry of Education in Bangkok published information in the Royal Gazette that spelled out rules and provisions for dress codes at schools nationwide.
Muslim students at non-Islamic schools were allowed to wear hijabs and could “opt” to wear uniforms or follow the dress code – except at schools located on temple properties, where it would be mandatory under certain conditions.
According to the notice in the Gazette, the requirement at schools located on temple grounds would depend on whether an agreement on a school dress code was made between the owner of the property – the temple – and the school.
However, in the case of Anuban Pattani School, it remains unclear whether the clergy in charge of the temple had ever agreed on a dress code and required it for the students.
‘The numbers game won’
A Buddhist resident in Pattani, meanwhile, voiced disappointment.
“The numbers game won over any rules there at Anuban Pattani School,” the resident who asked not to be named over security concerns told BenarNews. “The abbot hopes to unify children of Buddhist and Islam faiths by having them wear the same uniforms, but those Muslims accused him of rights violation. It’s a pity.”
Rukchart Suwan, of the Buddhists for Peace organization in Yala, said he and others have to honor the court ruling and concessions must be made.
The Deep South encompasses Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and four districts in Songkhla province. The Malay-speaking region has suffered over 7,300 deaths since Malay Muslim insurgents reignited their armed separatist movement 18 years ago.
Beginning in 2013, Thailand’s government has held peace talks with southern rebel groups and factions. Those talks have been with Barisan Revolusi Nasional, the region’s most powerful insurgent group, since January 2020.
During recent talks in Kuala Lumpur, both sides agreed to maintain peace in the region during Ramadan peaceful. PULO, another rebel group launched a double bomb attack that killed a villager and injured three police officers on April 15.