The Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the court of appeal sitting in Lagos on 21st July 2016 which approved the wearing of hijab (the Muslim veil) for female students in public schools in Lagos state. By this judgement, the verdict delivered by justice Grace Onyeabo of the Lagos high court on 21st July 2016 is now history and female students in Lagos state can wear the Hijab in line with their faith. The 7- member panel in a 5-2 verdict, held that restrictions on the use of hijab run counter to the provisions of the 1999 constitution (as altered) and is a violation of the rights of female Muslim students.
Albeit the judgement didn’t come as a surprise, what beats anyone’s imagination is the needles controversy generated by the issue of hijab (the Islamic dress code for women) in some states in Nigeria.
Indeed, I always wonder why any state in Nigeria, presided over by a governor who has sworn to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria will stop female Muslim students from wearing hijab when the same constitution has granted every Nigerian the unalienable rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This includes wearing the hijab and portraying their religion in teaching and practice.
Obviously, the restriction on Muslim female students to wear the hijab contradicts multiple sections of the 1999 constitution. It is hare-brained that despite the provisions of section 38(1) of the 1999 constitution, any state government could muster courage to ban the wearing of hijab. It is also preposterous that it took 6 years for the Supreme Court to put this needless controversy to rest.
Section 38(1) of the CFRN 1999 (as amended) is very clear, explicit, unambiguous, and unequivocal that every individual (whether in school or any public space), can wear the hijab.
This relevant section states that:
38(1): Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to MANIFEST AND PROPAGATE his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
The line in section 38(1) says it all: ‘to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
The CFRN 1999 allows all individuals to practice their religion and also ‘to propagate his religion in PRACTICE.
Wearing of the hijab is a propagation of Islam in practice so one wonders why anybody will ban the use of hijab in schools and universities even when the constitution allow it.
Additionally, section 10 of the 1999 constitution has clearly established Nigeria as a secular state.
This relevant section is clear that:
- The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.
To this end, there is no state religion in Nigeria. If there is no State religion, why should there be any restrictions on practicing a particular religion by wearing the hijab? Why should the hijab be banned in public schools by the LASG?
Somepeople reckon that the secularity of Nigeria means the hijab should not be on parade but I disagree. Actually, the secularity of Nigeria means if you don’t ban the Christian female veil mantilla, you cannot ban the hijab. It is interesting to note that the fiercest critics of the hijab do not see anything wrong in the dress for Christian nuns. Mother Theresa, the Roman Catholic nun who worked hard for the poor wore her white Sari (a replica of a hijab) without any controversies.
The charismatic Mother Theresa who dedicated her life to working for the poor in Calcutta India, is an example and a proof that the hijab is not a hindrance to a woman doing her work.
Section 35 (1) of the CFRN 1999 (as altered) is clear that every individual is entitled to personal liberty. This relevant section states that:
- (1) Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law –
HIJAB IN ISLAM
The holy Quran has spoken about the hijab and asked female who believe, to dress modestly and cover their bosoms and beauty to avoid the gaze of men who are not their muharrams. Men who are not their husbands or fathers.
The holy Quran in Surah 24 An Nur verse 30-31 Is clear on a modest dressing for women:
An Nur 30-31: Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed’
In verse 59 of the Surajh An Nur, the holy Quran also spoke about a modest dressing for women.
‘O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them [when they go abroad]. That will be better, that so they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful’
These verses of the holy Quran enjoined women to wear the hijab in public as a religious obligation and also to avoid any attractions to the opposite sex where the man is not the husband, father, son or Muharram of the female. However, a woman is allowed to wear a hijab that suits her work callings. For example, a woman working in a laboratory can wear loose trousers and a long shirt to give her more flexibility and allow her perform her duties effectively.
The hijab is much more than just a veil covering the hair. It is a complete dress code for Muslim women. In Islam, women are asked to cover their bosoms so as not to reveal their beauty to men who are not entitled either by marriage or birth to see such beauty. Obviousl, the hair is part of a woman’s beauty hence the need to cover it with a hijab. Also, it is not mandatory for a woman to wear a hijab in her house where she lives with her husband or father.
ANG LUPET ANG POGI KO
Justice delayed is justice denied. There has been some form of slavery for female Students in Lagos state while the controversy lasted. One wonders why it took the Supreme Court so long to pass judgement and secure freedom for the innocent Muslim female students in Lagos state.
Apart from public schools, it is noteworthy that some private universities such as Afe Babalola university Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD) have also placed restrictions on the wearing of hijab for female students. It is now mandatory that such institutions whether public or private, should remove any restrictions they placed on the use of hijab because the apex court has spoken.
Despite the controversy, there are some lessons to learn from the hijab ban in the south west of Nigeria. One major lesson is that we must never allow cultural or any form of bias to overwhelm our sense of reasoning and we must ALWAYS abide by the dictates of the law.
Dr Àbubakar Alkali
Convener, Movement for a New Nigeria (MNN)