Hijab: Unveiling the Female Muslims
In the same week that Aisha Alabi, a young student of Kadara Junior Grammar School, and a number of students of St Paul's Grammar School, Ilobu, Osun State were mercilessly flogged and humiliated before the rest of the students for wearing hijab, another student of Mafoluku Senior Grammar School, Barirat Tajudeen, was harassed, threatened and then suspended by the school principal who ordered her to pull off the hijab she was wearing outside the school premises. Deliberate attacks on defenseless students under different guises are not unheard of in the country, but the rate of the recurring incidents involving the use of hijab in public schools and the worsening nature of the attacks, make these cases particularly alarming. Limitation on the use of hijab in public schools is not only extremely unhealthy, the closeted bigotry that must have informed such action and the simple tactic of the perpetrators to exclude students from learning despite the clear position of the law on the issue of hijab in public schools, should be seen as a manifestation of the wider anti-Muslim bias that still exists in our society.
The Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) regards these unfortunate and potentially dangerous developments as a confirmation that sadly, Islamophobia is alive, thriving and even respected within some sections of our society. MPAC continues to follow with increasing concern the spread of an annoying rhetoric attempting to justify these actions, which clearly demonstrates a lack of understanding and appreciation of the implications of aggravated assaults caused during the attacks. The use of hijab by female Muslims is part of their religious identity, and the decision to embrace that identity is entirely their own choice which once freely made is constitutionally protected. If anyone has problem with these facts they should deal with the law, rather than persecute defenseless students put under their care. The government of the states concerned must be held accountable for allowing tyrannical school officials create their own separate rules where they set themselves up as some sort of semi-gods to psychologically torment young students they are paid to look after. Ultimately it will be the decision at a grassroots level of female Muslim Nigerians to wear the hijab which will prove that the islamophobic policy of beating young school girls for a piece of cloth on their heads is both idiotic and unsustainable. Our collective action as a community is to intensify working diligently to secure the legal rights of those who make the free choice to wear the hijab and, going forward, to ensure their legal protection as enjoined by the Nigerian Constitution, international human rights instruments on freedom of religion as well as freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment is understood by all and respected.
Our democracy does not need bigots who prey on defenseless kids, and our society should not tolerate fanatics who taunt and humiliate young school girls or severely punish them due to misguided belief that religious intolerance implies commitment to one's own religious beliefs. The disgraceful abuse of office by the desolate individuals will not be propped up by our silence, and like a dust in the wind, their orchestrated plan to put a wedge between faith communities will meet with abysmal failure. At a time when the entire country is gripped by events that aim to terrorize us, Muslims and otherwise, one would have thought it prudent to say the least, not to exacerbate the existing tensions by picking on students who are acting on the command of the holiest book in their religion. A situation where teachers and school authority exploit vested authority to implement anti-Islam bias, to teach intolerance and demonstrate non acceptance of diversity is something that all persons of conscience should find abhorrent. On the part of those using the hijab, these developments will only increase their determination to make a stand and defend their right to wear the hijab.
God says in the Qur'an “"And say, “My prayer, my devotion, my life and my death all belongs to Allah, the God of the universe. Nobody is equal to Allah. I have been ordered like this. I am the first among the Muslims (submitters)." Qur'an 6:162.
This means that in all his words, decisions and actions, a Muslim must pay attention to whether God alone is pleased with him or not. This is the very first criterion on which all actions by a Muslim is based, as the Qur'an is the source of divine guidance which Muslims follow both in their private and public life. In respect to female dressing, the unequivocal command that forms the central and most important text in shaping the self-identity and modesty of a Muslim woman is as follows:
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veil over their bosoms ….” [Qur'an 24:31]
In today's climate of heightened sensitivities, MPAC feels now is the time for people of faith to better acquaint themselves with sacred texts of each other, promote shared values, encourage mutual respect, accept diversity and enjoin peaceful co-existence. The flawed logic that the hijab threatens our secularism, which is the manufactured lie that is used to try and justify the illegal actions, is as moronic as saying that bearing a Muslim name threatens our secularism. It is a grave concern therefore that intolerance and Islamophobia are being taught at school so blatantly, and that many Muslim students are preyed on or forced to study in an atmosphere of fear, hate, intimidation and (threat of) corporal punishment. The dreadful condition of such students must make everyone who believes in justice share their stories and their grief, and these specific cases must be seen for what they are- another examples of a much wider and deeper hostility and discrimination against hijab, which exist in our society, at schools, in the workplace and in the worst of all places: in people's hearts.
While condemning these acts in the strongest terms, MPAC calls on all women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and on all those truly upholding the principles of freedom, justice and respect of human rights, both female and male, to join hands in opposing this tyranny and erosion of basic religious and civil rights. Surely, the motive of the principals in the schools where those innocent students were set upon demand a formal judgement from the government of the states concerned, but beyond and above this, the largely unchallenged Islamophobic attitudes and illegal actions of those discriminating against Muslims in hijab, in schools and workplaces, demand formal judgment in the court of law. MPAC therefore calls on the affected states and indeed all states in Nigeria, to quickly implement programmes and policies to protect the right of female Muslims and ensure that their schools operate zero-tolerance policy against hijab discrimination specifically and Islamophobia in general.
Nigeria is a deeply religious country, and that should be our strength. The Nigerian legal system already secures the right to decide whether or not to wear hijab, all we need to see now is government action to secure the freedom of citizens to act on that decision in all public life. Like those who committed similar crimes before them, they should not only be named and shamed; they should also bear the full brunt of the law. On our part, these events will only strengthen our resolve and determination to pursue the cause of defending our sisters' rights through consistent and comprehensive campaigning.
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC