As the battle against and for the wearing of hijabs in public schools rages on, the Minister of Civic Education and National Unity Timothy Pagonachi Mtambo has made an impassioned appeal for patience among Muslims who are protesting the decision by public schools to bar their children to attend school in hijab.
The Muslim communities in Machinga recently issued a 21-day ultimatum against Mpiri Catholic Parish, demanding that the church should vacate the 'Muslim territory' for denying female Muslim faith learners their right to education while putting on a hijab--a gear covering the head and the neck worn by Muslim women and girls in public places.
The communities, led by Yusuf Bwanali, described the restriction on hijabs in Christian schools--including Catholic--as "discriminatory and a disgrace" to them considering that they are a mainly Muslim community.
They vowed that they would use whatever means to force the church to vacate the area, especially if it failed to bow down to their demand.
"Islam is like a culture here. If they [Catholic Church] don't want to respect that then they should leave our community," said Bwanali.
But Mtambo assured the Muslim community on Tuesday that the quasi-religious body, the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), is making good progress towards addressing their grievances.
"PAC was tasked to handle this issue and as government, we have full confidence in the capacity of the Committee to address this just like they did on the billboard issue last year. We just need to give them time and support to enable them do their job professionally," he said.
The minister said the government is saddened with the ultimatum the Muslim communities have issued against the Catholic Church, stressing that it runs counter to the spirit of national unity.
He said the ministry is in touch with the leadership of both Christianity and Islam in the Eastern Region in trying to find a lasting solution to their differences; hence, he appealed to the Muslim community to desist from taking the law into their hands.
"Let us wait until PAC finalizes its work. I wish to assure our Muslim brothers and sisters that we have not forgotten them, NO! We are working very hard to have this matter addressed once for all," he said.
PAC publicity secretary Bishop Gilford Matonga said the committee will be finalizing its work soon.
Meanwhile, the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) General Secretary Father Henry Saindi has called for calm among the Catholic community as the Catholic Church in Malawi has referred the matter to PAC.
Previously, the communities attacked teachers and burnt some property in church-aided public schools for barring female Muslim faith learners from putting on a hijab--a gear covering the head and the neck worn by Muslim women and girls in public places.