MPAC Expresses Deep Concern Over the Call To Ban The Hijab
(Lagos, 31/12/2015) As the nation confronts grave issues that affect our national security, unity and prosperity, we are plagued with excessive and unnecessary talk about secondary issues and folklore like the role that a piece of cloth on the head plays in countering terrorism. Amid calls to curtail the religious freedom of Muslim women and ban the hijab, two journalists, in a cavalier manner, lured His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari during his maiden media chat to actually declare that he would consider banning the hijab to "safe lives".
Mr Ibanga Isine, the Regional editor, Premium Times prodded the president to know what he would do with the hijab given the residual capacity of the Boko Haram to conduct bombing attacks in some parts of the North. Mr Isine prodded further: "In that case, some countries have banned the use of hijab, who are also fighting insurgency or terrorists, do you intend to go that way? Because if people wear those things (sic) and ...." The claim that some countries which are also fighting insurgency have banned the use of hijab is erroneous (there is actually no single country in the world that has banned the hijab specifically as a counter terrorism tactic. Perhaps Mr Isine and his colleague are mistaking the common hijab for what has been banned in Cameroon, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon- the full-length burqa).
That aside, the argument that religious profiling will enhance counter-terrorism efforts is manifestly flawed and counter-productive. Those who support the use of this measure and calls on the government to stop Muslim women from fulfilling one of their religious obligations are stuck in a constrained model of thinking, refusing to shift their focus and policies to positive models of constructive engagement. One would have thought that after declarations of Boko Haram “strategic defeat”, most public commentators, journalists and activists will understand that our domestic policies cannot remain focused only on national security. With cautious optimism, is it not time to close one painful chapter and elevate a new one of hope and strength?
Our job now should not be to react the way the terrorists want, but to think and act rationally and critically. Banning the hijab to enhance security will amount to nothing more than taking one step forward and two steps backward as the terrorists will simply act out of character and change their tactics. Putting a ban on an issue that unites all Muslims as an integral part of a Muslim woman’s obligation to Allah will potentially set the administration in a direct collision course with the Muslim community, and strengthen the will of those bigots who have always made life difficult for the Muslim woman. The path of Islam for most observant Muslims is not an option of convenience and its pursuit is not possible without a clear choice, single-minded devotion, steadfastness, reason, intellect, and compliance with the command of our Creator. Muslim women will thus resist vehemently any attempt by the state to force them into near-nudity (if the hijab is banned), and they will use all legitimate means to secure their rights as equal citizens who deserve the same high standards of protection under the law.
The purported rationale for the call to ban hijab is that once the hijab is banned, the suicide bombers will be easy to detect, or unable to conceal their weapons. If the hijab is banned and the sporadic bombing continues, what will be the next extreme measure to put on the table? Perhaps shaving the beard and spying on the Muslims? Eventually, some will start to call for the Muslims to be interned as they, the Muslims, only fit the stereotype of suicide bombers. This is the slippery slope that the wishy-washy campaign to ban the hijab will set us on.
MPAC calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to reject the vision of those who call for the misadventure of banning the hijab. We urge His Excellency to exercise extreme caution in allowing the media to cheer lead him into taking decisions that may pit his government against the Muslim community or slow down the steady progress he is already making in the war against terrorism when he takes his eyes off the ball. Terrorism will continue to be a concern for the foreseeable future and the battle against the terrorists will be easily worn when all stakeholders are on board. Of course, all Nigerians will have to accept to make alterations to their lifestyle and way of life given the threats we all face from the terrorists, but policy-makers should not shape effective policy in a way that will clearly marry religious affiliation with criminal activity.
We also urge the President to provide essential and timely information to the leaders of the Muslim community, particularly the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, on all issues that will affect the Muslim community, and see the Muslim community as a credible partner in formulating and driving policies to defeat terrorism and for peace building. Just as our men and women are dying on the battlefields to defeat terrorism, we join hands with them in our prayers, thoughts and co-operation.
The call for the ban on hijab is the latest debris to be washed up on our shores and Nigerian Muslims, Imams and Muslim organisations should continue to take important opportunity to make their voices heard on this and similar issues pertaining to terrorism. It is time for the government to listen and make a difference in how it treats her citizens- and how it responds to the threat of terrorism. As Winston Churchill (British Prime Minister during World War II) once said “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Anti-terror tactics, and not implausible banning of the hijab, will make us any safer.
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC
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