Malaysian court upholds school ban on Muslim turban

A court in mainly Muslim Malaysia has upheld a ban on schoolboys wearing a serban, a turban that has become a symbol of Muslim piety, in a new twist to international controversies over religious dress in schools.

Malaysia, where just over half the population is Muslim and Islam is the state religion, has joined non-Muslim nations in upholding the right of state schools to restrict religious dress.

The Court of Appeal upheld a Government appeal against a 1999 ruling and found that a state school in the countryside outside Kuala Lumpur was within its rights when it expelled three Muslim boys in 1997 for wearing the serban, local media said on Tuesday.

The three were aged between 10 and 13, newspapers said.

The appeal court ruled the case had nothing to do with the fundamental right to practise Islamic teachings and called it a disciplinary problem of pupils refusing to follow school rules.

"If the courts were to interfere, we might as well manage the schools," appeal court judge Gopal Sri Ram was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times newspaper.

Malaysia's Government is wary of Islamic fundamentalism.

With non-Muslims making up about 40 per cent of the population, and one main opposition party calling for an Islamic state, one of the Government's top priorities is to maintain stability.

In June, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a ban on Muslim headscarves in state schools did not violate freedom of religion and was a valid way to counter Islamic fundamentalism.

In the same month, a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Britain lost a legal battle for the right to wear full Islamic dress in class.

About two years ago, an 11-year-old girl was sent home from a school in one of Malaysia's neighbours, Singapore, for wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf.