Ilorin and the Hijab Question

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By Abdullah Abdulganiy

Last week is better known as the “week of protest” in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. From the sunset teachers who were bent on stampeding the government to dance to their tune to some party faithful of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who came all the way from Ifelodun Local Government, picketed the Office of the Deputy Governor to lodge complaints about the ongoing revalidation exercise, through to the demonstration in Surulere, Ilorin over the Hijab, it won’t be out of place to name the outgone week as such.

Of all these protests however, the one that piques my interest is the one that happened at Surulere over the Hijab. It is so because of the conflagration that can ensue from the development if things are not handled properly. I must commend the government for its swift reaction to the matter, especially in dousing tension. Superb. The tensions in the land are already heightened, and adding the religious dimension to it may not bode well.

The women in Hijab have always been contending with discrimination, harassment and maltreatment from some overzealous persons who feel threatened by the religious apparel. The discrimination is well pronounced in schools and of course workplace and has been largely underreported.

It is my view that there is no point treating a woman with disdain for choosing to be modest, chaste and well dressed. The act of violating the Hijab is wrong in both law and morality. Nobody should be victimised for practising their religion. It’s a fundamental right that should not be tampered with.

There are a couple of verdicts that upheld the use of Hijab as a basic right. It therefore amounts to illegality, intolerance for anyone no matter how highly placed and in whatever capacity to prevent Muslim ladies from exercising their religious rights, whether in schools or workplaces.

When you ask these overzealous persons the reason for disallowing Hijab, they say it does not conform with their rules and regulations. Is there any rule bigger than the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Same constitution declared that any rule that appears inconsistent with its provision is null and void. The grundnorm also states that there shall be freedom to practice any religion without let and one must not be discriminated against on that basis.

Some of these officious persons would even say the Hijab is an alteration of the conventional uniform. I do not see how the head covering alters conventional uniform. Correct me if I am wrong. Nigeria cannot be more conventional than the United States or the United Kingdom. In these places, the Hijab is tolerated in school, workplace and other institutions. Can anyone be Catholic than the Pope? These are the havens of conventionality and modernity.

One of the write ups I have come across since the Hijab protest occurred was the one by Barrister Shola Sambo. It was an educative piece that made an interesting read. He presented the position of the law on the debate. And the law was of course clear on the matter: right to freedom of religion is basic.

He also presented a regulation by the Kwara State Ministry of Education where a fine was associated with violating the religious rights of a pupil/student. The regulation particularly states that any school, be it private or public, should not introduce any religion to a pupil except that which is approved by his parent or guardian, adding that no student should be denied admission on the basis of religion.

What this connotes is the nullification of such idea of setting up a fully Western Islamic school or Christian school. Every school must be open to all shades of religions and respect/accommodate religious diversity. Talk more of a public school owned and financed by taxpayers’ money. Some people must start to face the wrath of the law if we are serious about the issue on hand.

It’s fine that the government has constituted a committee on the Hijab question and already shut down the affected schools. Without prejudice, what is expected of the committee is to review existing laws and come up with a clearcut position. Justice should be dispensed on anyone found wanton. A society can always endure in the face of disbelief, no society endures with injustice, so says Shaykh Usman Dan Fodio.

The Muslim girls who were locked out of the school over the Hijab at Baptist Secondary School, Surulere and even reportedly harassed by teachers and security agencies, with many having their Hijabs yanked off must get justice. Injustice to one is injustice to all.

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