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Gaza schools impose hijab to students' dismay

A decision to impose the veil on secondary school students in Gaza schools was rejected by both students and their parents who view this measure as an encroachment on personal freedom.
Palestinian students congratulate each other after receiving their test results of those accepted into the Bashir El Rayes women's secondary school, Gaza City, Gaza Strip, July 19, 2003.

With the beginning of the new school year in the Gaza Strip, the issue of the hijab and a dress code for secondary school students resurfaced once again.

Gaza schools have opened their doors with new measures, imposing on female students to don the veil according to Sharia, much to the dismay of students and their parents who argue that schools have turned into religious seminars instead of educational centers.

In more than 70 all-girls secondary state schools spread across the Gaza governorates, preachers and sheiks, in agreement with the school administrators, have been visiting schools every morning to preach to students the need to wear the hijab — a measure seen by many as a restriction of personal freedoms.

Saber al-Awadi, one of the preachers who is active in visiting all-girls secondary schools, told Al-Monitor, “This state of ‘open-mindedness’ that has been prevailing among female secondary school students, which is the most dangerous for young women, prompted me and a colleague to organize groups of preachers and to launch social awareness and guidance campaigns in schools to urge female students to stick to religion and avoid indecent clothing.”

He said, “Schools are the only and appropriate place through which religious sermons can be spread to a large number of girls. A majority of school administrations help us in our religious project, by carrying out continuous inspection and follow-up campaigns with female students.”

Awadi pointed out that the awareness campaign has recently faced several obstacles, including the indifference of a large proportion of female students to guidance sessions, particularly in schools in Gaza City.

“The community culture in this area is more lenient with young women who do not comply with decisions to abide by the veil compared to the more committed rural areas,” he said.

Esraa Hamed, a student at one of the all-girls state schools, expressed her strong dissatisfaction with the decisions that her school administration is trying to impose on students who wear loose clothes, despite the commitment to the school uniform by all students.

She told Al-Monitor, “The sheikhs’ visits to schools are unacceptable as every girl has her personal freedom and knows what is appropriate or not for her, as long as she is committed to the school uniform and school decisions.”

Hamed noted, “It is difficult to force female students to wear the Islamic veil in a diverse social and family environment, and this is the situation experienced by a large proportion of female students at the Gaza schools, who now suffer from an infringement of their personal freedom.”

Several years ago, the issue of preaching and religious guidance in schools had spread in an unprecedented manner and caused a state of aversion and rejection. In 2016, the Ministry of Education in the Gaza Strip issued a circular prohibiting state school administrations from allowing those who wished to carry out religious preaching or any other religious activity to enter the school premises.

The circular came after a group that called itself The Preaching Rescue Ark held a preaching seminar at a secondary school in the Gaza Strip, where it provoked a state of anger, resentment and controversy over the way the group attempted to invite students to “return to God.”

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