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'Nowhere in Islam does it say women should cover their face'

By Shobha Warrier
May 08, 2019 09:18 IST
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'I don't believe the talk of free will.'
'They are either forced to dress like this, or indoctrinated.'

IMAGE: Muslim women from Mumbra, outside Mumbai, protest against Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut for his comment favouring a ban on the burqa, May 3, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

Dr Abdul Gafoor founded the Muslim Educational Society in 1964. He was a pioneer in many ways, having got his MBBS degree from the first batch of the University of Kerala in 1957 and an MRCP in neurology from Edinburgh before joining the Calicut Medical College.

Today, the MES group of institutions are run by Dr Gafoor's son, Dr Fazal Gafoor. The MES runs 35 colleges and 75 schools with more than a lakh students studying in them.

The institution was recently in the news for issuing a circular banning the use of face covering veils in all its schools and colleges.

"It was not a tough decision to make. We made the decision and also implemented it. We have already refused admission to students who insisted on covering their faces. Let's see what happens now," Dr Fazal Gafoor, below, tells's Shobha Warrier.


It surprised and angered many when you took a decision to ban face covering attire in all your educational institutions.
Was it the bomb blasts in Sri Lanka and the decision by the Sri Lanka government to ban the burqa in public places the reason behind your decision?

No, not at all. We had taken the decision on April 17, much before the blasts happened in Sri Lanka.

It was made before we start the next academic year admissions. We have the largest number of educational institutions under us, 35 colleges and 75 schools with a strength of more than a lakh students, out of which 65,000 are girls.

We saw this new tendency of making Muslim women wear face-covering dresses, which I feel is regressive, un-Islamic and against the principles of Islam.

Nowhere in Islam does it say that women should cover their face.

We sought the opinion of many experts here and they also agreed to this.

We are of the opinion that this is a rampant menace, and somebody should bell the cat.

Last year, a girl came for admission covering her face and we had objected to her dress.

There was another case of a girl who was denied admission elsewhere. She went to the Kerala high court and the court observed that a decision on the dress code rests with the management of the educational institution.

What we did was, we took this court judgment as the benchmark and incorporated it in our prospectus to issue an order to ban face covering dresses in all our institutions.

But this order has led to a controversy with some religious organisations in the Muslim community objecting to it.

An organisation called Samastha issued a statement saying what you did was un-Islamic.

What is Islamic, what is Hindutva... it all depends on your perception.

Would you say the decision you took was progressive, to set right something that happened in between?

Exactly. A kind of revivalism is going on now, and we thought we should fight this revivalism.

We also had the court verdict giving us the right to take a decision.

Of course, Ul-Umma and some other groups are up in arms against our decision. Let them fight it out. They can even go to court. Let the court take a decision then.

We never saw women wearing a burqa in Kerala till a few decades ago. But it has changed completely...

Nobody wore such a dress in Kerala before. Even my mother or grandmother never covered their faces. This is a humbug that was created recently.

Has it got anything to do with Talibanisation?

It has nothing to do with Talibanisation. It has nothing to do with ISIS. This is a form of religious revivalism.

Take, for example, Hindutva. It has nothing to do with the Hindu religion. Similarly, this has got nothing to do with religion or terrorism; but it has everything to do with revivalism.

Hindutva is also revivalism. These people are harping back to the past glory of Hinduism before the arrival of Islam. That is their basic concept. The talk of punyabhoomi and pitrubhoomi is pure revivalism.

We decided to fight this revivalism and all the other orthodox elements. Let us see what happens.

You said revivalism. Does that mean the practise of covering faces was there in the old days?

Never. You should understand that Islam is not confined to the Arab countries alone. Islam is practised by 180 crore Muslims all over the world out of which only 10 crore belong to the Arab countries.

20 crore Muslims live in Indonesia, 20 crores in India, and another 20 crore in Pakistan and also Bangladesh. It means 80 crore Muslims are in these four countries in Asia.

Now the Arab countries have shed this (purdah). Even Saudi Arabia says it is not necessary to wear this kind of dress. The Saudi economy and the entertainment industry have opened up to women. Women are allowed to drive there now.

While these kinds of changes are taking place there, people over here want to go back to the medieval era. That's why we decided to fight it out.

Was it a tough decision for to make? Did you feel it was essential for people like you to fight such regressive measures?

No, it was not a tough decision to make. We made the decision and also implemented it. We have already refused admission to students who insisted on covering their faces. Let's see what happens now.

It was reported that after this, you have been getting threatening calls from the Middle East and Kerala...

They are trying to threaten a lion with the dinner knife! Nothing is going to scare me.

In fact, many major Muslim organisations in Kerala are supporting us.

Is it because of this kind of revivalism that we see Islamphobia all over the world?

No. Islamophobia is because of two reasons. One is imperialism; both cultural and economic. When Britain left its colonies, it left all of them and the Arab world in shatters.

It has also something to do with the clash of civilisations where the fight is between the Christian world and the Islamic world.

It has nothing to do with Kerala.

It was reported that the bombings in Sri Lanka were hatched in Kerala and Kashmir. What is happening in Kerala?

Nothing is happening in Kerala. Kerala has got a large Muslim population of nearly 75 lakh to 1 crore. Naturally, you will see some elements who get carried away.

The problem today is the Internet. People are learning wrong things especially about religion, culture, etc and they share wrong ideas on social platforms. Unfortunately, we cannot curb this in India.

So, it is a free for all on the Internet with imbeciles, psychopaths and idiots roaming around on these social platforms.

Then, it is further fuelled by some in the Sangh Parivar's call to persecute Muslims. After the Ram Janambhoomi issue and Godhra riots, there is a persecution complex among the Muslims in India. So, there is a tendency to introvert.

But this is happening not only in India, but all over the world. Educated young Muslims are turning terrorists.

For this, you have to blame British imperialism and the creation of the state of Israel. That was the starting point.

With the decline of the Ottoman empire of Turkey, the Western world took over the entire assets of the Islamic world and then broke it into pieces.

Then they set up the illegitimate State of Israel in Arab land based on something that was written in the Old Testament which is fictional.

When NATO was formed, they thought it was best to form Israel and use that to control Arab oil.

It is like saying India belongs to the Buddhists because Buddha was born in Bodh Gaya.

The persecution of the Jews was not by Muslims, but by a Christian called Adolf Hitler. He was the one who persecuted the Jews.

What kind of role can an educational institution like yours play in stopping misguided Muslim youth turning to terrorism in Kerala?

I would say there is no ISIS here. There is no Taliban here.

Out of the 80 lakh people, there may be a few misguided youth. You can count that number on fingers. I am not sure who is financing them.

Among the one lakh students we have, not even one girl wears a face veil in our college.

One girl tried to wear it and we reacted with a legal order and threw out the person from our institution.

You should understand that India is a multi-linguistic, multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-ethnic country and there will be some friction between communities. We have seen such friction in many parts of the country.

See, now I am facing friction between me and my own community when I am heading the biggest Muslim organisation that has been in service for 60 years.

As I am talking to you, I see women fully covered except for their eyes here in this airport. They can see me, but I cannot know who they are.

Do you feel these women are forced to dress like that?

Of course. There is no doubt about that. I don't believe the talk of free will. They are either forced to dress like this, or indoctrinated.

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