The Muslim Educational Society in Kozhikode has issued a circular prohibiting female students from wearing veils in its institutions across the country, The News Minute reported on Thursday. The group runs 35 colleges and 72 schools, and has around one lakh students on its rolls.

Muslim Educational Society President PA Fazal Ghafoor issued the circular on April 17, but media reports emerged only on Thursday. The circular, while banning veils that cover faces, adds: “Institution heads and officer-bearers of the local management of the institutions should be vigilant.”

The circular quotes a Kerala High Court order from December 2018, which dismissed a plea filed by two female students of Christ Nagar Senior Secondary School in Thiruvananthapuram, seeking to wear headscarves and full-sleeve shirts. The High Court, upholding the school’s refusal to grant permission for such clothing, said in its order that collective interest must supersede individual interest.

“According to the High Court order, female students should not wear garments that cover their face,” the Muslim Educational Society circular said. “This should be implemented without giving way to controversy.”

The circular said it is necessary to discourage all “undesirable practices on the campuses”, The Times of India reported. “Dresses that are unacceptable to the mainstream society, whether modern or religious, cannot be promoted,” it added.

Ghafoor told The Times of India that the circular had nothing to do with the Sri Lankan government’s decision to ban face veils in the aftermath of the serial bombings that killed 253 people. He said the decision to ban veils was taken before the Sri Lankan government’s order.

The circular said that the new rule should be implemented from the 2019-’20 academic year.

President of religious organisation Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, Sayyid Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal, opposed the circular. “The Muslim Educational Society has no right to interfere in religious practices,” he said. “Unlike Samastha, they’re not an organisation entitled to make those kinds of statements.”

Ghafoor had courted controversy in 2014 by claiming that veiling was un-Islamic and a western import. He had also said that wearing the niqab continuously can cause Vitamin D deficiency in Muslim women.

On Wednesday, an editorial in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana had called for a ban on face coverings throughout the country, arguing that this might pose a danger to national security. However, the party later distanced itself from the editorial.