In Penang, Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Abdullah Munshi, one of the Island oldest schools, has two powerful netball team, the under-15 and under-18. The elder aged team is favoured to reach the finals, while the younger girls are also expected to reach at least the semi-finals.
Fantastic and Maju Sukan Untuk Negara* and all that, but hey presto, we see instead both teams being withdrawn from the netball tournament.
* a Malaysian sports slogan meaning ‘Advance [or promote] sports for the nation'.
Needless to say, those poor girls were in tears by their school’s decision to withdraw when they were so confident of reaching the final stages of the tournament. They were potential champions. What a crowning glory could it have been for Sekolah Abdullah Munshi.
And what has been the reason for such a drastic turnaround? An outbreak of avian flu perhaps? Or the Orang Minyak was hanging around?
No, no, no! It was just a case of some school players removing their tudung [Muslim headdress for ladies] while playing the tournament opening game in tropical hot humid steamy sweaty Malaysia.
The principal Fazillah Shaharim made the decision to withdraw as the girls had broken school rules, which prohibit students from removing the tudung during school hours or in activities where they represent the school.
The New Straits Times reported that last week at least one [meaning there could be more] student was issued a warning after she removed her headscarf during the Penang schools Jelutong zone athletics championship.
The State Education Department is investigating the matter, and has demanded a report from the principal.
Department acting director Abdul Rahman Yob said schools could not compel students to wear the tudung. He stated "It is an individual’s prerogative or up to the parents to ask their children to wear the tudung. I have to check if schools here compel their students to wear the tudung."
Yesterday Education Minister Hishamuddin said: "According to education ministry rules and regulations, it is very clear there is no compulsion for students to wear the tudung."
What we have is an overzealous school principal who has allowed her own religious belief to override ministry rules and regulations. What we saw was an individual's religious interpretation imposing on the rights of individuals. What we feel have been the tears of wonderful, confident and healthy but now confused, frustrated and probably guilt-tripped young sportswomen, who had merely strived to Maju Sukan Untuk Negara.