Much ado about hijab in Nigerian public schools By Muhammad Ajah New York[RR]Abuja–The much noise across the country, especially in the Southwest of Nigeria, about the use or disuse of hijab is uncalled for. Let this madness of seeking to ban what is part and parcel of an internationally accepted creed stop henceforth. Let every […]
Much ado about hijab in Nigerian public schools By Muhammad Ajah
New York[RR]Abuja–The much noise across the country, especially in the Southwest of Nigeria, about the use or disuse of hijab is uncalled for. Let this madness of seeking to ban what is part and parcel of an internationally accepted creed stop henceforth. Let every Nigerians girl be allowed to dress in public and private schools according to what is obtainable in the constitution. The Muslims girls of Nigeria are entitled to freedom of worship, just like other children of diverse faiths. What is wrong in wearing the hijab to school or anywhere the girls choose to be. Does it harm anyone’s sight or existence? Does it take away anything from anyone around the girl? Or is it just another concealed devise to fight Islam? And if the last be the reason, then it is a war to finish because no man can change a divine instruction or win a war against God’s will.
Hijab is part of a Muslim female dress code. Historically, it is also a dress code that was practiced by the earlier followers of Prophet Jesus whose mother is today donned in Christians in that attire. A Muslim female child is not supposed to expose her head for foreigners – those who are unknown or related to her. Some Muslim females, however, by fear, sheer ignorance of its divine consequences or mere sensation from inferiority complex neglect to wear it. The negligence of few does not justify why those who choose to obey their religious guidelines should be forced to do otherwise. Just wondering why wearing Hijab is a problem to Christians.
There has been no much apprehension over the many social ills eating up our society: nakedness on the street, prostitution everywhere, sexual harassments everywhere, fornication and adultery even in worship places, child abuse and trafficking, baby factories and moral decadence, amongst others?
Hijab is a dress code that signifies nobility in womanhood. Despite the ban on use of hijab in public places by some anti-Islamic states, others have become increasingly aware of its socio-cultural significance and allowed it. Our children must not be let down by the anti-Islam crusade against them. Muslim parents should explore all legal means to protect the rights of their children. It is yet another quandary that Muslim children are forced to learn Christianity in areas where they are in minority; they are forced to recite hymns in the school assembly and they are denied Islamic studies during extra moral classes.
Once, the television beamed the hijab controversy in Lagos and Osun states. My older children were dumfounded that a government of everybody can be cowed to act in a way that infringes fundamental right of its citizens. “I think Lagos is no man’s land”, one of them fluttered. My five year old baby girl asked what was happening and I explained to her. She proclaimed: “but our aunty and my friends wear it in our school.” She could not remember that she often wears it to school too. She attends a private school owned by a Christian with majority of the staff composed of Christians. They allow Muslims to wear hijab in some of their private schools, why the ban of same in public schools. Why should Muslim children be subjected to go against their religious ethics and culture which do, in any way, not pose security threat? Though, attempts to discredit hijab by incorporated suicide bombers dressed in hijab, it should not deter the Muslim children from being proud to perform their religious obligation. The story that large quantities of hijab were found in some non-Islamic worship houses in the north has been an eye-opener. Human plans against divine instructions are lethargic.
The Lagos government had banned the wearing of the hijab, arguing that it was not part of the approved school uniform for pupils. Following the ban, two teenage Muslim female students under the aegis of the Muslim Student Society of Nigeria, Lagos State Area Unit, went to court May 27, 2013, seeking declaration of the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education. Justice Modupe Onyeabor of Lagos High Court sitting at Ikeja on October 17, 2014, dismissed the suit instituted against the Lagos State Government. The students were dissatisfied with the judgment and appealed against it for the protection of their constitutional rights.
However, a panel by the Court of Appeal in Lagos on Thursday 21st July, 2016 upturned the judgment. Justice A.B. Gumel held that the use of hijab is an Islamic injunction and also an act of worship, hence it will constitute a violation of the appellants’ rights to stop them from wearing hijab in public schools. He held that the lower court erred in law when it held that the ban on wearing the hijab is a policy of the Lagos State Government.
In Osun state, all schools were said to have been acquired in 1975 by the state government from religious bodies, individuals, communities, groups, amongst others. So there seemed to be total freedom to religious practices. However on one case, the Muslims dragged the state government headed by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola – apparently a Muslim – to court over the refusal of some ‘Christians’ public schools to allow their female students wear the hijab. Justice Jide Falola of Osun State High Court on June 3, delivered a judgment in favour of the case instituted by the MSSN. The judge declared the wearing of hijab in public schools by female Muslim pupils as legal and appropriate. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Osun state instructed Christian pupils to wear church robes to the school – Baptist High School, Adeeke, Iwo – if the state government dared implement the judgment. Some Christian pupils obeyed and were followed by CAN leaders to ensure that they were not turned back.
The entire quarrel over the hijab is routed to the hatred of Christians to it. One hears of them molesting Muslim women over it. “Are you not feeling the heat?” they would mock. “What sickness are you hiding?” they would squeal the other time. Some would shout at their subordinates to remove the hijab. The worrisome aspect is that non-Muslim women now wear hijab in different manners – tying it around their necks or just dropping it on their shoulders. By so doing, they corrupt the Muslim females who, quick to emulate, cannot differentiate between real Muslim women and pretenders.
But why the hatred and opposition to hijab? There are serious issues that demand the attention of Nigerian individuals and organizations. CAN, as a very responsible and responsive organ that defends the interest of Christians in Nigeria, should engage the government or perceived individual that tramples on their fundamental rights headlong. There is no reason for it to interfere in the ethics and culture of Islam which it knows is its main opposition. It should work hard to purge its member churches of the inclination to worldly than divine essence. Even if Christians hate Islam, hijab should be the least thing that they should fear because their children are not forced to wear it.
It baffles one that CAN went to court to stop Muslim children from dressing according to the demand of their religion which does not harm anybody. It is more baffling that the judge who is supposed to be learned about the constitution of Nigeria – lawyers being the only learned men, will entertain such case and give unjustifiable judgment. And funny enough, lawyers went to court to argue what is like the day and night. They are Muslim and Christian private schools which have specific dress codes or uniforms. They teach their religions to the full. But in public school which is for every child, no one should be denied. After all, there is no internationally recognized dress code for Christians, save the nuns and Reverend fathers. Christian children dress more western than religious. Except if western dress code is Christian, people should be enlightened.
Nigeria being a secular state does that infer the infringement on fundamental rights of citizens whose freedom to lawful associations and religions is guaranteed in the constitution. The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibajo, who happens to be a pastor, on June 20, 2016 at a conference in Abuja on law and religious freedom in Nigeria noted that laws should not be enacted to hinder religious freedom.
Rather than fight the hijab which was the dress code of earlier Christians, CAN should preach its adoption to reflect its attachment to Christendom. Nuns dress the same way. It is pertinent to say this because Christians in Nigeria have been trying to adjust theirs to equal the Muslims. A typical example is the formation, like the Muslims, of organized trips to their holy lands. It is believed that nowhere in the world are trips to Jerusalem organized in the name of pilgrimage, nor a full-fledged organ constituted by a government to organize such trips. It is visible in Nigeria because Muslims go on the obligatory Hajj every year and for which a national body was constituted to regulate.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail mobahawwah@ya