Sri Lanka to Ban Burqa, Shut More Than 1,000 Unregistered Islamic Schools: Minister

March 13, 2021 Updated: March 14, 2021

COLOMBO—Sri Lanka will ban the wearing of the burqa and shut more than a thousand Islamic schools, a government minister said on Saturday.

Minister for public security, Sarath Weerasekera, said the new policy was based on considerations for “national security” during a news conference on Friday.

“In our early days, Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”

The wearing of the burqa in Sri Lanka was temporarily banned in 2019 after the bombing of churches and hotels by Islamic terrorists that killed more than 250.

Salesman selling niqab
A salesman shows a full face veil, niqab, at a shop selling various kinds of coverings worn by Muslim women in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on April 29, 2019. (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Later that year, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, best known for crushing a decades-long insurgency by the Marxist militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country as defence secretary, was elected president after promising a crackdown on extremism.

Both Tamil leaders and Rajapaksa were accused by the United Nations human Rights Council and nonprofits of widespread rights abuses during the war. Rajapaksa denied the charges.

Weerasekera said the government plans to ban more than a thousand Islamic schools, or madrassa, which teach Islamic law and are not registered with the authorities. The minister said the schools were flouting national education policy.

“Nobody can open a school and teach whatever you want to the children,” he said.

The government’s moves on burqas and schools follow an order last year mandating the cremation of COVID-19 victims—against the religious wishes of Muslims, as well as some Catholics and some Buddhists, who bury their dead.

The government had said it was concerned burials could contaminate ground water.

This ban was lifted earlier this year after criticism from international rights groups and the United States.

By Waruna Karunatilake