Religious intolerance needs curbing

The wave of violence that ensued in Liwonde demonstrates how much out of hand the intolerance is getting. It is bad that religious bigotry and animosity have grown to levels that we will all live to regret.

Reports indicated that Muslims and Christians engaged in a bloody fight over a decision by the education administration of the Anglican Church, under whose umbrella M’manga Primary School falls not to allow girls to put on hijab. The violence came a day after Anglican Diocese of Upper Shire (Adus) Reverend Canon Hopeson Odala Jailosi told a meeting between the church, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) and the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) that it would not allow girls at its schools to wear the Muslim headdress.

It must be noted that the ministry’s dilly-dallying with a clear-cut policy as regards to inclusive education when it comes to religion has partly contributed to the confusion. But, get me right, that is no reason to tolerate the Mangochi fracas.

The freedom to education and the freedom of religion and expression seem to be on a clash course in the public education system. For so long, Rastafarians have been fighting the education ministry to allow their children wear dreadlocks.

On May 7, the ministry’s Principal Secretary Justin Saidi wrote district education managers and principals of colleges, among others, not to exclude learners from school for dressing according to their religious rights unless the dress offends public morality and school discipline.

Ideally, the Anglican schools, like all grant-aided schools are under the Ministry of Education system. Which is why, one would think they would comply with the ministry’s direction on administrative issues even in the absence of a policy.

One would also think it is high time religious organisations working in the education sector had an umbrella body, as is the case with those working in health. Those in health operate under the Christian Health Association of Malawi (Cham), which helps them speak with one language.

In such a circumstance, the religious bodies would live to the spirit of Section 36 (3) (c) (III) of the Education Act. Enacted in 2013, the law states that: School or colleges shall not impose restrictions of whatever nature with respect to the admission of students, recruitment and appointment of staff.

While condemning the violent Mangochi acts, United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator Maria Torres spoke against the Anglican church’s decision to send away girls who choose to put on hijabs because of their religious beliefs.

In her view, such acts [discrimination because of religious beliefs] discourage girls from going to school, denying them the right to learn and actively participate in society, at a time when Malawi is focussing on ending child marriages and keeping girls in school.

As President Peter Mutharika was presiding over the first graduation ceremony at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must), one would have thought he would condemn the escalating violence, which has rocked the education sector, for one. But, again, he chose to keep quiet about it.

A strong voice from the President is needed on the growing religious intolerance. It is not so long ago that people believed to be Muslims vandalised  bottlestores in Mangochi. This violence, if not tamed, will sadly bear bitter fruits.

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