Bay of Plenty school renames ‘mufti’ day due to cultural insensitivity

A Whakatāne secondary school has dropped the term “mufti” day amid concerns the word is culturally insensitive.

Trident High School opted for the term “kakahu kainga” for its non-uniform fundraising day for animal charities last week, as staff and students felt the term mufti was inappropriate.

A spokesperson for the Human Rights Commission said the word ‘mufti’ was an Arabic word used to describe a Muslim scholar of high standing but in the course of colonisation, the term was appropriated.

“That appropriation has a history of degradation and racism.”

A Muslim scholar said although he did not have an issue with the word being used in the school context, it was preferable to use a different word if they could.

Sheikh Mohammad Amir is chairman of the Religious Advisory Board of the Federation of Islamic Association of New Zealand and Mufti of New Zealand.

“A mufti is a scholar who is well versed with Islamic theology, so a person who is very senior in the community who has been highly educated where he is able to issue verdicts or fatawa,” he said.

“It is not an issue for us,” Amir said of the use of the word today in schools.

“It is more of if you have better terminology to use then that would be better.”

He said a change by one school might lead to other schools making changes.

Trident High School science teacher Annetjie Botha said they decided to drop the word “mufti” after learning the origins from a Spinoff article.

The article, by historian Katie Pickles, describes mufti day’s colonialist origins, how it came to be used by schools and calls for it to be banned when used to describe non-uniform days. The term was coined by British military leaders in India during the early 1800s to describe the clothes, loose robes and slippers, they wore when off-duty.

“None of us knew about this, so since this is our first mufti for the year, I thought that we should stop using the word,” Botha said.

She said te reo Maori department teacher Te Manaakitanga Pryor and a year 13 student suggested they combine kakahu, which means clothes, with kainga, meaning home, to form the term “kakahu kainga”, or “home clothes”.

She shared the Spinoff article about the origins of the word mufti with all of her classes and they had discussed it.

“I think the more students know and understand why the word ‘mufti’ is inappropriate, we might eventually be able to use Kakahu Kainga and everybody will understand what it means and not use the word mufti anymore.”

Amir said his children had grown up in New Zealand and he was familiar with the word being used by schools, although it had a different pronunciation.

Schools pronounce the word as mufti, but it is pronounced as “moofti” when referring to a Muslim cleric.

The Human Rights Commission said it welcomed any action that promoted social inclusion and cohesion.

“The public’s understanding of issues and language changes over time and some words are seen as inappropriate in a present-day context,” the spokesperson said.

“Communities impacted by colonisation are increasingly deciding to reclaim their words, culture and traditions.”

– Whakatane Beacon

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