A Muslim black student at the North West University’s Potchefstroom campus was allegedly asked to remove her hijab before taking her examinations and when she refused to, she was asked to sign an ‘irregularity’ form. The 18-year old student who was narrating her ordeal, said she was pulled aside the moment she entered to take her exams and was asked to get the scarf off her head.
She said the invigilator later told her she needed to check if it is allowed. After little delay, the black student was allowed to take her exams with her hijab on only to be presented with an irregularity form to sign, towards the end of the exams stating 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 not the only one with a scarf in that exam, but I did ask my Muslim friends and they were not asked to remove them.”
When asked if her being singled out is related to her colour as black, she said “I have no idea, but it seems like it.” Meanwhile, according to news24, the campus’ Muslim Students Association (MSA) which later received the report from the black student referred to her case as “racism through Islamophobia”. “Upon refusing to remove her hijab, she was victimized in front of the venue and made to sign a paper as well as state her refusal on paper,” The MSA’s Hasan Varachia said.
Varachia further stated that he had taken the matter up with the Student Representative Council (SRC), who allegedly told him that “this is a small incident and the invigilators are uneducated”. However, the SRC chairperson Paul Maritz maintained that the university still stands by the principles of freedom of religion and that the case has reached the university authority who are working to address the case. “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 realize that the scarf is religious headgear, and that the university follows the constitutional principles of freedom of religion.”
Meanwhile, the university’s spokesperson Willie du Plessis confirmed the institution has been informed on the complaint that was lodged with the campus’s SRC and the examination division of the Potchefstroom Campus plans to investigate it. “Please note that the NWU makes use of part-time invigilators at the examination halls,” he added.
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 promised to make a renewed effort to sensitize the invigilators on the issue of religious attire. Du Plessis said.