Black Muslim NWU student allegedly told to remove hijab before exam

(iStock)
(iStock)

Potchefstroom - A black Muslim student at the North West University's Potchefstroom campus was allegedly told to remove her hijab (religious headscarf) before an examination on Monday, and then forced to sign an "irregularity" form when she refused to do so.

"I entered my exam room and was pulled aside immediately and asked to remove my scarf," the 18-year-old student, who did not want to named, told News24.

She said the invigilator told her she needed to check if it is allowed, and the student carried on with the exam with the hijab on.

After she had completed, she was presented with an "irregularity form" to sign, saying that she refused to remove her hijab.

"It kind of stung. Also other Muslim girls were not being asked to remove their scarves [at other exams]. I was the only one with a scarf in that exam, but I did ask my Muslim friends and they were not asked to remove them."

'Racism through Islamophobia'  

When asked if she felt she was picked out because of the colour of her skin, the student said, "I have no idea, but it seems like it."

She eventually brought the matter to the attention of the campus's Muslim Students Association (MSA).

The MSA's Hasan Varachia told News24 that the student was a victim of "racism through Islamophobia".

"Upon refusing [to remove her hijab] she was victimised in front of the venue and made to sign a paper as well as state her refusal on paper," he said.

He said he brought the matter up with the Student Representative Council (SRC), who allegedly told him that "this is a small incident and the invigilators are uneducated".

The SRC told News24 that the university stood by the principles of freedom of religion.

Investigation

"It is a matter that the university is looking into, and we are addressing it as soon as possible. It is a major issue. We also stand by the constitutional principles of freedom of religion," SRC chairperson Paul Maritz said.

"The invigilators come from outside the university, and it's possible they were briefed that no headgear is allowed [in the exam venues], but did not realise that the scarf is religious headgear, and that the university follows the constitutional principles of freedom of religion."

The university's spokesperson Willie du Plessis said the institution was aware of the complaint that was lodged with the campus's SRC.

"It will be investigated by the examination division of the Potchefstroom Campus. Please note that the NWU makes use of part-time invigilators at the examination halls," he said.

"The university has principles in place on how to accommodate students with cultural and religious needs. Apart from the fact that this specific incident will be investigated, the NWU will make a renewed effort to sensitise these invigilators around the issue of religious attire."

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