A huge step has been taken in allowing Muslim students to wear the hijab, or headscarf, in all educational institutions. This follows a memorandum of understanding on the dress code that has been signed by the religious groups at an event that took place at Mount Soche hotel and had Education Minister Agness Nyalonje and Civic Education Minister Timothy Mtambo as guest of honours. The event also saw National Unity Minister announce that plans are underway to establish a Peace and Unity Commission that will be key is solving Unity issues in the country.
The issue of wearing the hijab has long been a point of contention in Malawi,especially in Christian-run schools where female Muslim students have not been allowed to cover their heads in class.The controversy reached its peak in October when suspected angry Muslims in Machinga torched the office of a Catholic primary school head teacher who had turned away pupils wearing the garment.
The standoff forced several Christian primary schools in the Muslim-dominated region to close.As a result, the Ministry of Education together with the Ministry of Civic Education requested that the quasi-religious Public Affairs Committee, or PAC, help resolve the matter.
The newly signed Memorandum that was led by PAC has concluded that no child in Malawi should suffer, or have any moment when their right to education or religious participation be infringed in any way. Speaking to Malawiana Times, Civic Education Minister Hon Timothy Mtambo whose ministry has been at the forefront of trying to find a common solution to this problem said , the MOU is a great milestone and thanked all that were involved for putting differences aside for the common good of the country. “Muslim children will now be allowed to wear hijab in state sponsored christian schools, I had to be here as a civic education Minister and my colleague minister of education Agnes Nylonje as these problems were happening in the education sector” said Mtambo.
Speaking when he addressed participants at the signing in ceremony Hon Mtambo said the signing of the memorandum brings to an end a conflict that has threatened the exercise of the right to education and the right to religion fro certain sections of the Malawi population. The Minister also thanked PAC for the role it has played in finding long-lasting solutions to the conflicts
The minister was also quick to point out that other sectors of the society that have been having similar concerns also need to be accommodated . He cited the example of Rastafarians who have long been urging the government to allow their children to go to school with dreadlocks among other things ” The MOU signed today today only addresses issues specific to wearing of hijabs in Assisted Christian Schools. However, concerns over school dress code are not limited to the Moslem faith only, but also other faith groups including Rastafarians and bible believers and many more ” argued the Minister Mtambo also took time to acknowledge the recommendations that PAC has made to his ministry to develop and implement programmes that enhance common values and unity among different faith groups. He took the opportunity to give an update that his ministry has so far started consultations with faith leaders and that the ministry is championing the establishment of the Malawi Peace and Unity Commission which will ultimate responsibility for promoting peace and national unity in the country.