By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The Nigerian Islamic human rights organization, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), has waded into the hijab imbroglio in Kwara State. Some public school teachers had recently forced female Muslim students to remove their hijab within the school premises. This has generated controversy across the state leading to the closure of ten schools by the state government.
In its own contribution to the debate, MURIC has vowed to take all necessary constitutional measures to stop the oppression of innocent female Muslim pupils across Kwara State. This was contained in a public statement issued by the director of the Muslim rights advocacy group, Professor Ishaq Akintola, on Tuesday, 23rd February, 2021.
According to MURIC, “What is happening in Kwara State today regarding use of hijab in schools is exactly the manifestation of the five evils which Neville Chamberlain spoke about: namely, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution. On our own part, we will not allow those five evils to prevail in Kwara as they did in some states in the South West on the issue of hijab.
“The authorities of those ten missionary schools should be ashamed of behaving like oppressors and slave masters. They are making a mountain out of an ordinary molehill. A mere headscarf! Britain allows hijab in its schools. The United States also allows it. Who are those Kwara teachers trying to emulate? It is anachronistic, myopic and parochial. The world has moved on but they have chosen to be stagnant. It is an exhibition of colonial mentality and gymnastic religiousity. It must stop.
“Missionary schools that insist on stripping Muslim children of their Islamic identity should be ashamed of themselves. Perhaps they are not aware of the impression they are trying to create. ‘It is our school so anybody who comes here must conform with Christian dressing style, Christian way of life, Christian faith…’
“That was exactly what the colonial master did in those days and that is why we accuse them of displaying colonial mentality. The colonialists would not allow any Muslim to attend their schools without changing his or her name to a Christian name. Rasheed became Richard. Ishaq became Isaac and Mikail became Michael. The Muslims bore the persecution with patience and perseverance until the colonialists left in 1960. But are we still in pre-independence Nigeria? Even apartheid has collapsed in South Africa. How then can we stomach religious apartheid in a predominantly Muslim state?
“Yes. We say it boldly, loudly and clearly. Kwara is a predominantly Muslim state. It is absolutely absurd for any group to think it can subject Muslim children to oppression in such a place. Infra dignitatem. Take your missionary schools to Rivers State if you want to change the identity of Muslim children by force. Nyesom Wike is waiting with open arms to accept you. Afterwards he has illegally declared his state a Christian state in violation of and to the chagrin of Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“But not in Kwara State. It is an abomination to deny Muslims their Allah-given and fundamental human rights in a state where they enjoy a comfortable majority status. Muslim leaders and Islamic scholars in the state have to wake up. Female Muslim children are being stripped of their hijab in Ilorin, the city of Alfas? It is incredible. It had better not be.
“Are the schools not grant-aided? So you want to use public money to persecute Muslim children until they submit to forceful conversion? Even if they are missionary schools, must they force female Muslim students to strip? We are not surprised because it is part of their old way of forceful conversion. Nigerian Christians should desist from using Muslim children to subject their parents to psychological trauma. We will not go back to slavery. Enough is enough.
“MURIC advises Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq not to provoke Kwara Muslims by making illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional compromises to the persecutors of Muslim children. The Nigerian Constitution is the font et origo of all byelaws, rules and regulations in the land and Section 38 (i) (ii) not only guarantees freedom of religion but also its ‘manifestation’ which is the role hijab stands to play.
“We may need to be reminded of earlier court judgements in favour of the use of hijab and anything to the contrary can only be contempt of court. Exempli gratia, in the case of Provost Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin vs Basirat Saliu Suit No. CA/IL/49/2009, the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Judicial Division held thus: ‘The use of veil (hijab) by female Muslims qualifies as a fundamental right under section 38 of the Constitution.’
“Also in the case of Abidemi Rasaq & 3Ors Vs Commissioner for Health Lagos State & 2 Ors, Suit No. ID/424M/2004, the Lagos High Court declared unconstitutional a circular issued by Lagos School of Health Technology banning the students from wearing hijab.
“The landmark declaration of the Court of Appeal in Lagos State v Miss Ashiat Abdkareem CA/L/135/15 is equally didactic. In his lead judgment, Justice Gumel held that the use of hijab was an Islamic injunction and also an act of worship hence it would constitute a violation of the appellants’ rights to stop them from wearing the hijab in public schools.
“We are shocked to our marrows that at a time when the whole world is laying emphasis on girl-child education, missionary schools are depriving the girl-child of access to education on account of religion. Article 14 of the United Nations Convention on the rights of children guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It says inter alia, ‘Children have the right to think and believe what they want and to practise their religion, as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights.’
“The people of Kwara must learn how to coexist peacefully. Those children have been using hijab in those schools all these years. Why the sudden déjà vu? What has changed? Who incited them against their Muslim neighbours so much so that they are taking it out on innocent school children? This new face is an exhibition of deep-seated hatred.
“The only way we can interprete it now is that they are opposing hijab because it reminds them of Islam and Muslims. It is those who hate Muslims who cannot stand the sight of hijab. They know that hijab is the symbol of Islam and they have developed a phobia for it, nay, they have gone paranoid.
“The use of hijab by so many Muslim girls in those schools gives them a sense of failure because their cardinal aim is to convert all Muslim students to Christianity. Usually, too, the use of hijab in schools also proves the large size of Muslim population. They love to pretend and lie that they are the majority, that they had taken over the whole of Nigeria. But it is all lies concocted to attract foreign funds and to deceive the Western world. And what do they use the foreign funds for? They buy private jets. Or has anyone seen any Islamic scholar in Nigeria who has a private jet?
“Kwara State Government should be careful not to run foul of the constitution. Government must be bold, truthful and pragmatic. The Kwara Muslim community must reject this attempt to deprive their children the right to education without duress.
Furthermore, we believe that the change of a child’s faith begins by changing her face. You are addressed by the way you dress. Any policy that allows the proprietors of faith-based schools to determine the mode of dressing in their respective schools is another attempt to undress female Muslim students in public and to supplant their Muslim identity with a Christian entity. This is deception, greed, selfishness and child-stealing by style on the part of such proprietors. It is wicked, tortuous, unlawful, illegal, illegitimate and unconstitutional.
“In loco parentis, the parents must guide and protect their children from being coerced into compromising their faith. This is a duty which parents must not abdicate. The children may have to blame the parents in future if they fail to stand up for the kids now. Islamic scholars in the state must not sell the children’s rights for a pot of porridge. Posterity will judge all of us.
“There are no two ways to it. Female Muslim students in Kwara must use the hijab. It is their Allah-given fundamental human right. MURIC will not hesitate to take all necessary constitutional steps to ensure that the students use hijab. No retreat. No surrender”.