ABUJA, (CAJ News) – THE hijab, an essential garment among Muslim women, is at the centre of controversy that has given a new dimension to the religious tensions afflicting Nigeria.
A hijab is a veil that covers the head and chest, which is particularly worn by most Muslim women beyond the age of puberty in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family and non-Muslim women.
In a country divided along Christian and Muslim lines, the hijab has been on the spotlight in recent months amid calls by critics and hints by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari could outlaw the wearing of the garment owing to a spike in the incidents of youngsters mostly women clad in it perpetrating suicide bomb attack on behalf of terror group called Boko Haram.
The number of children involved in ‘suicide’ attacks in Nigeria, and neighbouring countries has risen sharply over the past year, from 4 in 2014 to 44 in 2015, according to a United Nations Children’s report released in April. More than 75 per cent of the children involved in the attacks across Nigeria are girls.
The Islamic militant sect’s reign of terror has claimed the lives of more than 20 000 civilians and displaced in excess of 3 million in the West African country.
Amid the crisis showing no signs of relent, the country’s schooling system has been sucked into the controversy surrounding the hijab in the wake of calls by critics against the wearing of the cloth at learning centres.
There have been disturbing incidents of opponents of the use of the hijab molesting schoolgirls wearing the garment.
Recently, in a landmark judgment, the Osun State High Court, southwest Nigeria, ruled in favour of the Muslim female students to wearing the garment to school.
The Osun State Muslim Community filed the case against the state government on the imposition of bans on wearing the clothing.
In his 51-page judgment, Justice Jide Falola has noted the use of hijab by female Muslims was their fundamental human right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought and as such no female student must be molested or sent out of school for wearing it.
Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) Executive Chairman, Disu Kamor, has welcomed the ruling with the hope it would stand as another legal precedent and a symbol of hope for students suffering harassment for wearing the hijab at school.
He hoped the issue of the hijab was one that united all Muslims as it is an integral part of a Muslim woman’s right to practice her religion.
“What remains to be seen is a timeline for the implementation of this ruling and clarification as to whether the current mindset allowing the discriminatory policy in the first place will remain,” said Kamor.
No sooner had the courts ruled in the Muslim organisations’ favour than the local branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) directed all female Christian students in both primary and secondary schools in the state to wear their church garments to their different schools.
Christian leaders having realised that Muslim girls now wear hijab to public schools, agreed that Christian students will begin to wear their garments such as those for Boys Brigade, ushers,
Girls Guide, choristers, band boys, and white garments among others.
This has sparked a curriculum crisis at some local schools with children pitching for studies in an assortment of gathering, defeating the purpose of a uniform.
While Osun has been the epicenter of the upheavals, in Lagos, Catholic leaders have accused the courts of a plot to make “a particular religious group (in reference to Islam more) prominent than “another.”
Archbishop of Lagos, Anthony Cardinal Okogie, alleged the courts were acting on behalf of the government.
“They are secretly trying to make Nigeria an Islamic State but that cannot happen,” he said.
The Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) have expressed disappointments at the utterances and the overall reaction of CAN.
Ishaq Oloyede has described the action of CAN as “malicious” and an attempt to cause violence in an already precarious situation.
“I do not see how hijab being worn by a Muslim lady is offensive to others,” Oloyede said.
He observed the ongoing tensions as “anti-religion tendency.”
“I am aware that there is a case against National Youth Service Corps by a catholic lady who was asked to wear what was not acceptable to her. So, Nigerians are de-Islamised,” said Oloyede.
Oloyede nonetheless denounced the use of violence by neither Christians nor Muslims in resolving the tensions.
“Nobody has the right to take laws into their own hands,” said Oloyede.
Security agencies on alert in the event of a fallout from the ongoing controversy over the use of hijab in public schools.
Regional spokesperson of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Diran Odeyemi, noted Muslims and Christians in Osun State and elsewhere had co-existed and thus blamed the ruling All Progressives Congress of influencing the court ruling on the hijab.
Osun Solicitor General, Abiola Adewemimo, refuted the claims.
“Government has no hand in the judgment,” said Adewemimo.
Nigeria, the largest African country by population, over 182 million, is almost equally divided between Christianity and Islam. Although though the exact ratio is uncertain, Christian are slightly more.
The majority of Nigerian Muslims are Sunni and are concentrated in the northern area of the country, while Christians, mostly Protestant, dominate in the Middle Belt and south.
– CAJ News