Hijab imbroglio in Nigeria: A clarion call

IN the last few months, there has been no subject that is more recurrent in the Nigerian news and on social media pages than hijab. There are cases of students being denied the right to wear hijab in several schools, refusal to register students with the hijab under a false claim that it is a WAEC directive, denial of interview just for wearing hijab and rejection of a corps member at a place of primary assignment because she donned hijab. There are several other cases that are largely unreported: workers being threatened by their supervisors, applicants being harassed during passport procurement and complaints even over SIM card registration. I am baffled beyond words.

The questions I have not got answers to are: why the hate? How does the hijab I put on affect anyone? What negative effects does it have on someone else? I cannot even force a Muslimah (Muslim woman) to wear it; the best I can do is advise her. So, how does it affect a non-Muslim? I read the story of a parent in International School Ibadan insisting that his child signed a six-year contract with the school and that until the child graduates, hijab must not be approved because his child (a male) cannot sit in the same class with a girl that wears hijab. Till this moment, I still wonder what the intent of that parent is. What did he really mean? How does the hijab of a girl affect a boy in class? How does it even affect other girls?

Unfortunately, this is a country where we claim to be religious. No religion preaches intolerance. We must learn to live and let live. There are numerous developmental issues we can focus on. Why can’t we just ignore the head cover and face productive things? Those who under-dress are no longer crucified. Why must I be blamed for following the commandment of my Lord? It is a command from Allah that all believing women must wear a garment that draws from their heads and covers their bosoms (Q24:31). Allah specifically mentions in that portion of the Qur’an those who are permitted to see the believing women without the hijab. This means all other people excluded from the list must not see a believing woman without the hijab. That is why we must wear the hijab in public, a clear injunction we must obey. Hijab is a protection from our Lord from all forms of molestation and a means of recognition (Q31:59). Our right! Why deny us? Why threaten us? Why do Hijabphobics make us feel like second class citizens in our own nation? Why?

Superior courts of record have ruled in support of hijab. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in its Section 38 guarantees the freedom of religion and the right to propagate and manifest same which encompasses dressing. This is a religious right. It is innate, fundamental and irrefutable. But it is so sad that Muslim women and girls face this discrimination every day. It is gloomier because there seems to be no feasible permanent solution to it, especially in the southern part of the country. Hence, the need for this appeal.

The first set of people I will appeal to are my brothers and sisters in Islam. As Muslims, we have the responsibility to defend Islam and fellow Muslims wherever we are. What will be our response to Allah if He demands from us our contribution to Islam?

It is usually more painful when opposition to hijab or any other subject in Islam is done by a fellow Muslim.  The Prophet (saw) had advised us to say what is good or keep quiet. If you know that what your buccal cavity would emit is something against Allah’s injunction, then your silence at that moment is more profitable than incurring Allah’s wrath.

It is, however, better for us not to sit on the fence when the rights of our fellow Muslims are being denied. It behooves us to speak up and let our voices be heard. I do imagine what my situation would have been if my Law School hijab crisis was not embraced as it was. I owe this nation and in fact the whole world a debt of gratitude for the wonderful support I was given. I must use this medium again to say jazakumu llahu khairan to the Nigerian Muslim community once more. If no one heard about the issue, maybe right now, I would be in a corner of my room suffering in silence, thinking of what to do with my LL.B. certificate, giving up on becoming a lawyer.

Aisha of ISI is currently in that situation because up till now, she is still denied the right to wear hijab. Khadijah of LAUTECH Staff School is facing this same challenge. This same situation is happening in Abeokuta. Ditto for Lagos, where the students suffer assaults on a daily basis despite the Appeal Court verdict allowing the hijab. If this is happening in the South West, what do we think would be the situation of the Muslim minorities in the South South and South East?

So, my dear Brother Muslim and Sister Muslimah, you can’t sit on the fence in this matter. It is a cause we must fight till the finish. And I believe by His will, we shall succeed. Therefore, whenever you see your sister being forced to remove hijab, stand your ground and defend her. If you can’t do it alone, contact the Islamic organisations in your locality or the popular NGOs like Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative and Muslim Rights Concern. Those who strive in the cause of Allah will never regret. May Allah make it easy.

To the non-Muslims, I know not all are intolerant of hijab. I know that some are indifferent about it. In fact, some non-Muslims even condemn the idea of going against the use of hijab. But to the few not-so-tolerant ones, please accommodate us. Hijab is a religious duty, our identity; it gives us honour, and keeps our modesty. The hijab is our pride.

Please, find a way to appreciate this difference or at least be impassive about it. Hijab harms no one. Please, stop harassing our daughters in school for choosing to appear as their Lord commands and their parents encourage. That junior colleague under your care should not go through hell for donning the hijab. The world is a beautiful place. It is up to us to make it look so. Please, live and let live.

Lastly, the Islamic organisations and the non-governmental organisations on hijab rights, I know we have done a lot. But it is surely not over until it is finally over. May Allah crown our efforts and reward us in both worlds. Ameen.

Amasa is a University of Ilorin law graduate who caused a stir in December 2017 when she insisted on wearing the hijab to her Call to Bar ceremony. She was denied entrance to the International Conference Centre, Abuja, venue of the programme and was finally called to Bar in her hijab seven months later.