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OPINION: ‘Some health facilities uphold DOH memo on Niqaab’ By Gamson Jr Mawallil Quijano

DAVAO CITY, the hometown of the 16th and current President of the Philippines, and the first from Mindanao – is truly one of the ‘Muslim-friendly’ cities in the country. Its government thoroughly supports – by all means – the Muslims community thereat by ensuring at all times they can freely and comfortably practice their Islamic way of life.

This has been affirmed during the dialysis training of my wife – Nur Aisa Husin, a registered Nurse – in one of health facilities in Davao City – the Nephrology Center of Davao located at Door 6, Carriedo Building, J.P. Laurel Avenue. According to her, from the day of her enrolment until she successfully finished her course, she never had experienced any discrimination from all her colleagues in work that compels her to take off her face cover during her entire course thereat. As a matter of fact, even after her training she has been accepted to work as a “reliever” and later on as a regular staff in the Center.

Mostly, some people see Muslim women wearing niqaab as a threat to them and will raise dubious behavior to the one who wears it. “Alhamdu Lillaahi, here, they graciously accepted me. My supervisor even said that – niqaab will never be a reason for us not to accept you in this work. That’s your faith and we will respect and uphold it. What matter here is that you perform your professional responsibilities well and that’s fine with us,” my wife told me.

“At first, the scrub suit that I wore is just short sleeves, so what I did was I just wore long-sleeved inside because I thought it’s not allowed to wear long uniform. Surprisingly, they even suggested me to just sew it so I can wear a long-sleeved uniform for my own comfort. I always go to my duty clad in abaya and niqaab. I wear face mask as replacement of my niqaab which I normally wore outside. And as a matter of fact, the Center even provides me spacious prayer room and a place for ablution where I can conveniently perform my salah. Hence, I am forever thankful to them for all the gracious acts they always showed me,” she added.

Indeed, true Muslims who adhere to the correct and authentic teachings of Islam can always live peacefully and joyfully with other faiths wherever they may be, even if they are only minority in that certain place.

Noteworthy to recall that in 2012, the Department of Health in Manila released a memorandum that protects and safeguards Muslim women’s religious right to wear the niqaab even inside the specialized areas within the health facilities – both private and public – across the country. The memorandum was addressed to ALL UNDERSECRETARIES, ASSISTANT SECRETARIES, REGIONAL DIRECTORS OF CENTERS FOR HEATH DEVELOPMENT, CHIEF OF SPECIAL/SPECIAL RETAINED AND RATIONALIZED HOSPITALS AND PRESIDENT/EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF ATTACHED AGENCIES for their information and guidance.

The memorandum reads: DOH Department Memorandum entitled “Addendum to the DOH Department Memorandum 2009-0107-A: Strengthening the Protection of Religious Rights of Muslim Workers, including but not limited to Students and Trainees in Health Facilities, issued by ROMULO A. BUSUEGO, MD, MHA, DPBS, FPCS, PSGS, Assistant Secretary dated December 12, 2012, DOH protects and safeguards the Muslim woman’s religious right to wear the niqaab even inside the specialized areas within the health facilities.

“In accordance to religious practice and Muslim culture, and as part of the stricter Islamic mode of dressing, Niqab (veil) a cloth covering the face except the eyes is hereby allowed to be worn inside specialized areas which require strict infectious control practices, rules and guidelines provided that, the following are adhered to: 1.) The Niqab must be freshly laundered and has not worn in the streets; 2.) Apart from the Niqab to be used inside specialized areas within the facility, another Niqab must be used for area within the facility but outside the specialized area; 3.) If used inside the operating room, the dangling portion of the Niqab must be tucked at least to the outer garment; 4.) A sterile mask or cap maybe used to cover the Niqab, if deemed necessary.”

“Further, only a female guard or female hospital personnel may verify privately and without the presence of any male, the identity of the female Muslim,” DOH strongly emphasized in the memorandum.

Moreover, sister Shameem Jailani, a registered Medical Technologist, and who just recently graduated from her Medicine course in Our Lady of Fatima University, was being rotated for junior medical internship in many major hospitals across Metro Manila such as Jose Reyes Memorial Medical, Center Dr. Jose Rodriguez Memorial Medical Center, Quezon City General Hospital, Tondo Medical Center, Pasay City General Hospital, Quirino Medical Center and San Lazaro Hospital National Center for Mental health.

She elatedly shares her experience in wearing niqaab while studying medicine in Manila. “I’ve never felt more respected, from consultants down to medical staffs of every hospital I’ve rotated in, everyone was very adaptive and respectful with regards to our practices. Although I have had encounters with some private institutions that ask me to wear masks instead of the cloth within the premises, either way I was not placed in a situation where I have to compromise religious practices such as removing my face-cover. I also appreciate that even the value of prayer time was also recognized. And in one institution, while I was assisting a medical surgery, I was told to scrub out not because of anything negative but because it was already maghrib time and it was a very heart-warming experience that they respect us that much including our time of worship,” Shameem said.

She added: “In school, well for identification purposes, which is totally understandable, I allow female proctors to look at my face for examination purposes. Although majority of my professors, those who have known me by my eyes, voice, height, skin tone and gestures as they have said so, no longer inspect me as they are very much sure that it’s me. But again, I have never been placed in a situation where I had to compromise my religion. Not even once. Although, of course, this is not a fairy tale, that it’s a perfect story. The criticisms are very much inevitable as well. The negative comments and impressions were always present, especially, when our identity has been negatively portrayed by some media as terrorists. However, it is our responsibility to educate them with sound knowledge that Islam has taught us. Some, would also associate Niqab as a part of Mindanaoan traditions like that of “Dayang-Dayang of the Tausug”, “Bai of Maguindanaoan,” but Niqab is not a cultural tradition instead it is a part of our identity as a believing Muslim women just as equally the same as Hijab is. And I keep saying that everywhere I go.”

And furthermore, it is also noteworthy to remember that in 2012, Professional Regulation Commission or PRC also allowed Muslimat Niqaabi to take PRC Licensure Examination despite being fully clad in Niqaab by virtue of PRC Memorandum No. 2012-02 Re: Wearing of Veils of Muslim Women Taking Licensure Examination dated January 24, 2012 issued by Commissioner Alfredo Y. Po, OIC PRC, provided that:

1.) At the time of filing of application to take the licensure examination, the Niqaabi Muslim women shall be required to have her photos taken showing the whole face with complete name tag. The photos shall be pasted on the application form, permanent examination and registration record card (PERRC) and Notice of Admission (NOA). A female application processor or issuing officer shall view the face of the applicant.

2.) During the licensure examination, inside the examination room, a female room watcher/proctor shall view the face of the Niqaabi Muslim woman and compare the same with the pictures on the PERRC and NOA to ensure proper identification.

This order is applicable to all Muslimat Niqaabi across Philippines and in all courses that require taking licensure examinations in PRC.

Indeed, as said by Warina Sushil Jukuy, of Hijab Niqaab Advocacy Network: “The right to freedom of religion and the exercise of it is entrenched in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and Article 18 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In the Philippines, Islam, as a comprehensive ad–deen or way of life is also a deeply significant part of the cultural and ethnic identity of the Bangsamoro people. As such the Muslim Filipinos’ freedom of religion is protected as both a cultural right by Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and as a right of minority groups by Article 27 of the ICCPR which states: In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”

Lastly, it is exhilarated to realize there are still institutions and citizens of this Republic who respect the dignity and inviolable rights of fellow human beings regardless of religious affiliation. Indeed, true Muslims who adhere to the correct and authentic teachings of Islam can always live peacefully and joyfully with other faiths wherever they may be even if they are only minority in that certain place and we are always thankful to Allaah for all of these. (Gamson Jr Mawallil Quijano)


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