Indian Muslim Seminary Bars Coeducation

Lucknow, India - One of South Asia's most influential Sunni Muslim seminaries has issued a religious edict against teaching girls and boys at the same schools past age 10, claiming it is against Islamic law, an official said Sunday.

``Coeducation is against Islam and therefore Muslims should refrain from sending their children, particularly girls, to coeducational schools,'' Mohammed Asumin Qazmi, an office bearer of the Dar-ul-Uloom Sunni seminary in northern India, told The Associated Press.

The edict, or fatwa, said boys and girls can study together until they are 10.

``Islam forbids women to meet men who are not their father or close relatives. Therefore, how can one expect that Islam allows for coeducation,'' he said.

The fatwa was issued last week following an e-mail from a follower asking whether Islam allows a female to attend coeducational institutions after reaching puberty.

The seminary routinely receives e-mail questions, especially those pertaining to the Islamic way of life. It did not disclose the name of the sender of the e-mail.

While the fatwa is only a religious guideline that cannot be legally enforced, it's likely to pressure some conservative Muslim parents into removing their daughters from coeducational schools.

Dar-ul-Uloom is in the town of Deoband, about 80 miles north of the capital, New Delhi, in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state. About 3 million of the state's 180 million people are Muslim. It is also one of the poorest states in India, with an overall literacy rate of 56 percent and about 42 percent for women.

Men and women study together in most public schools and universities in India.

Several Muslim scholars and teachers contested the fatwa.

``Islam has set certain parameters and coeducation within those parameters is not un-Islamic,'' said S.Q.R. Ilyasi, spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

``There is a proper dress code (in Islam) and women studying in coeducational institutions should stick to that dress code,'' said Shayista Ambar, the head of the All India Women Muslim Personal Law Board.